Ewan Irvine and Emma Gray

Ardros Farms,

Sheepdog School,

Argyll and Bute

Sponsored by: Hillsgreen

DELIVERING working dog tutorials online is a niche business idea that has outperformed expectations for sheepdog trainers Ewan Irvine and Emma Gray. Initially they budgeted for 100 subscribers to cover start-up costs and a regular income but, such was the demand, they doubled that target in the first month alone. The couple had been farming in a remote part of Northumberland when they first established a school for training working dogs and for running courses for owners. They nurtured the idea of extending that service to people who were distant from the farm but with no internet or phone line connection of their own on-site, they could not move forward with that.

Gaining a 20-year tenancy at 283-hectare (700-acre) Ardros Farms on the Isle of Bute changed that, giving them access to the 4G network and the chance to connect to an audience around the world. The online tutorials are produced jointly by them both. Emma provides her experience and knowledge of training working dogs while Ewan films and records sound. Their videos have proved so popular they now generate half the farm’s income. Emma says: “In terms of return on investment, this is the most profitable enterprise on-farm.” Ewan adds: “The first month we gained more than 200 subscribers, and we have retained more than 80 per cent of those to this day. We grew to more than 500 subscribers by March and currently run in excess of 650.’’

Almost all those subscribers are farmers and shepherds and 65 per cent are based in the UK, with others signing up from countries including Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. They also breed nova scotia duck tolling retrievers, diversifying into this breed because they had so many approaches from people wanting to buy border collies as pets. Emma says: “We feel the nova scotia duck tolling retriever is a better fit for active pet homes.” Ewan and Emma are using their own social media to raise awareness, having secured nearly 60,000 Instagram followers.

Key successes

  • 650+ subscribers to online dog training tutorials
  • Subscribers as far afield as New Zealand and Australia
  • 60,000 Instagram followers

What the judges said:

“The panel felt that Sheepdog School was a unique and dynamic idea that was truly innovative in their chosen field. They felt the platform was accessible to a wide audience and the couple had thought about and delivered their idea to a high standard. Having successfully launched the platform, they demonstrated that they had a good handle on their who their target audience were and were continually thinking ahead to developing it further and had several ideas on how to elevate it to the next level.”

On winning, Emma and Ewan said: 

“Emma – Social media is crucial to our business, it’s a way to access worldwide markets and give everyone access to what we do.
Ewan – Farming is changing so we are selling our story of hope. We are so psyched for the future of farming and social media helps us to sell that story to the public. These awards are shouting about what the industry is doing and telling good news stories. “