Revolutionising Shetland’s Livestock: Boosting Conception Rates by 40% Through Collaborative Farming Efforts

Revolutionising Shetland's Livestock
Source: Laurence Odie

Revolutionising Shetland’s Livestock: Boosting Conception Rates by 40% Through Collaborative Farming Efforts


  • Laurence Odie, a seasoned farmer on the Shetland Islands, manages a 150-hectare farm with 650 breeding ewes and Shetland cattle, balancing farming responsibilities with aiding at the local livestock mart.
  • Shetland’s diverse conditions foster hardy livestock, allowing for successful outwintering and in-bye grazing, showcasing the region’s reputation for resilient, healthy animals in the market.
  • Collaborative efforts in feed procurement, selective breeding practises, and stringent health protocols contribute to boosted conception rates and sustained success in Shetland’s livestock farming.

Farming on the Shetland Islands presents a unique set of challenges, but for Laurence Odie, it’s been a successful journey that spans several decades. Together with his son, Laurence tends to a 150-hectare farm on Yell, one of Shetland’s northern isles, nurturing 650 breeding ewes and a modest pedigree Shetland cattle herd. Beyond his farm duties, Laurence plays an active role at Lerwick’s bustling livestock mart, lending a hand during busy periods by penning up sheep and cattle, loading livestock onto trucks, and ensuring the smooth functioning of the business.

An avid believer in the Shetland environment’s suitability for resilient livestock, Laurence notes the ever-changing conditions as conducive to rearing robust animals. “Sheep thrive here,” he mentions, highlighting their ability to withstand the island’s diverse elements. Grazing both on the hills and in-bye areas, Shetland’s sheep, according to Laurence, offer buyers healthy and resilient stock, renowned for their adaptability.

While Laurence’s roots lie in farming, he also founded the Laurence Odie knitwear factory. However, in 2019, he transferred ownership to employees, allowing him to refocus on his farming pursuits and extend a helping hand to rural neighbours managing their livestock. At his farm, the wool from the sheep contributes to making knitwear, with quality maximisation achieved through supplementary nutrition.

Navigating the remote island’s challenges, Laurence simplifies the procurement of supplementary feed by pooling resources with fellow farmers, collectively ordering a 28-tonne load from East Coast Viners, a mainland supplier. For over two decades, Laurence has maintained a consistent relationship with the company, benefitting from both the feed’s quality and a specially formulated Shetland blend that suits the island’s unique terrain.

Reflecting on his flock’s productivity, Laurence credits the feed’s positive impact on conception rates, citing an increase from 130% to 170% when lambing from mid-April. His farm follows a selective breeding strategy, crossing Shetland ewes with Cheviots and using Shetland tups for breeding stock, ensuring a mix of pedigree and commercial breeding lines. Suffolk tups feature in the commercial Shetland x Cheviot ewe flock, producing store lambs destined for sale at the mart.

Maintaining a closed flock, Laurence adheres to stringent health measures for animals entering Shetland, ensuring disease-free status by subjecting them to rigorous testing and isolation protocols. Despite being 70 years old and a lifetime resident of Shetland, Laurence attributes his good health to the strong sense of community, daily outdoor activity, and the uplifting mart atmosphere, fostering a collaborative spirit among all involved.

Laurence finds solace in the collective effort, where the community bands together, lending support and camaraderie to sustain their shared way of life on Shetland’s challenging yet rewarding landscapes.



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