Our Story So Far...
In spring 2016, with Nicks 30th birthday present delayed, a chance meeting with the Gillan Family at Drumcarrow Farm lead to three orphan lambs coming home as a surprise. Three lambs became ten and soon we began to think bigger.
Lucy began looking into New Entrants and Young Farmers Grants from the Scottish Government.
We sat down and thought about what we would like to do, and why, and then tried to work out the How. Our final business plan was based on a high-welfare, low environmental impact, great tasting end product all while keeping within tight economic constraints. These ideas, along with a lot of numbers, figures and extra hoops needed to jump through, the plan was submitted to the Scottish Government in June 2016.
Competition for these grants is very fierce with the majority of submissions being rejected so, though hopeful, we were very realistic about our chances.
With this in mind, and still wanting to start a flock, plans were undertaken to expand without the added assistance. Nick, having zero farming experience, sought to rectify this by taking a position as a herdsman on a 600 head, spring calving, grass-based dairy farm. The experience proved invaluable, learning both good and bad practice really helped to consolidate how we wanted our farm to run.
In April 2017 we got the grant, having one of the highest-scoring applications that year. So that’s it, right? Off we go, we are sorted and we are farming! Incorrect. Farming is really expensive! From buying sheep to the equipment that's needed to handle them effectively, to the small matter of having somewhere to house them for lambing and of course somewhere they can graze throughout the year - it all costs money.
We soon realised that effective management of our time was going to be the most important factor, especially as all of our work was done in the evenings and weekends. So we bought a Combi-Clamp handling system from Ritchie, an Ifor Williams stock trailer and a sheepdog called Chief - three things that would save us an awful lot of time.
Only having 13 sheep, all of which were lambs, meant we weren't going to expand anytime soon. Not to be deterred, we contacted some friends in the Lleyn Society (including the Gillan Family who started this whole adventure) and another farm near to us. They were all registered, pedigree, and MV-free Lleyn's, just what we were looking for. We now had 60 sheep.
The first year we sponged the sheep to make our lives easier. We both still worked full time, so it made sense to ensure we could get our annual leave to coincide with our lambing period.
Putting the sponges in with no real handling equipment involved many sheep gates, Nick having to physically catch and hold every ewe whilst Lucy inserted the sponge - times 90. Safe to say when we eventually finished at midnight we slept well.
Our first lambing was in 2018. In an old dairy shed (rented from one of Lucy's clients) it was small but perfect for 90 ewes. I say 90 because just before we housed all the ewes we bought 30 in-lamb ewes with triplets from South Wales.
When we house the ewes we scan them to see who is in lamb and who is not, the empty (not-in-lamb) ewes will go back out to the field and the in-lamb ewes get shorn and split into single, twins and triplets.
90 sheep went in and 283 came out, of those 71 were ewe-lambs which we kept for breeding stock to up our numbers.
Wanting to increase the flock size further (and do so quickly), we also took on 43 pet/orphan lambs from the farm that started it all. We initially raised these by bottle-feeding and then, when able, they went on to a Heatwave milk warmer which is filled in the morning and the wee lambs have constant access to warm milk at all times.
In the middle of lambing 2018, we decided to take on five Jersey Bull calves. These have been a great addition to the farm and we are looking forward to taking on more cattle and livestock soon.
Meat boxes were sold to friends, family and a few new customers in 2018 when we started to move the marketing of our product forwards.
In summer 2018, and with very little warning, Nick lost his job and our tied house. Finding ourselves homeless with five dogs, a cat, a smattering of hens, five calves and a large flock of sheep was scary. It really looked as if the farm would have to be wound up.
Amongst all the stress and turmoil of this time, two incredible people stepped in and offered us a roof. Our very wonderful friends Ros and Iain had thrown us a lifeline and so the Easter Keith Farm adventure began! Moving in with friends wasn’t something I imagined I would be doing again since I left university but the experience was amazing. During our time there we were made aware that the agricultural barn neighbouring their property was going up for sale. Without hesitation we approached the owner and, after around 6 months of waiting for the bank and solicitors to align, we completed on our very own barn and 14 acres.
Having the stability of a base, storage, and land that couldn’t be withdrawn at a moment's notice was huge for us, not just in a practical sense but also an emotional one.
2019 saw 140 ewes lambing, our first farmers' markets, the introduction of pigs to the farm and feasibility trials with poultry.
Articles in the Farmers Guardian, nominations for the British Farming Awards and Filming for The Farmers Country Showdown were real highlights for us and it is incredibly exciting to imagine what the future holds!