The decision to come back to the family farm was an easy one for Neil Davies, sheep and beef farmer from Llangammach Wells, “because once you sell the farm you will never get it back”, and he didn’t want that that happen. A partial return 15 years ago, whilst still working as a carpenter, saw long days and so 12 years ago the decision was made to farm full time.
Neil was very busy following the same system as his grandparents; 50 Belgium Blue x Lim suckler cows and 2000 ewes, kept on the Epynt, lambing at home and taking lambs through to finish.
Having moved to live on the farm 4 years ago, Neil and his wife Sian started to think about making changes to the traditional system. Lack of labour was a key driver for them to seek to build efficiency and ease of management into the system. Traditionally lambing and calving took place at the same time however too much time was being spent with the cows mean lambing performance suffered.
Hiring out his shed to Farming Connect for an on-farm event was the catalyst of change. Neil is a keen participant in farm walks and discussions groups and was interested in becoming a Farming Connect demonstration farm; with emphasis on making the most from grass, slurry and re-seeding trials. This was also an excellent opportunity to take the advice and guidance from Precision Grazing to improve their farming system.
One of the most important things for me is to see with my own eyes how someone else is doing it, and to learn from their mistakes and triumphs.
Neil had been following a 5-year re-seeding regime and had improved his swards with a ryegrass, clover mix, but felt the grass was not being utilised properly. This is where working with Sarah from Precision Grazing offered an opportunity to step back from the day to day work, review objectives and implement a system that put pasture first.
Sarah Morgan says “The first step to change was aligning the enterprises on farm to match the pasture growth curve as closely as possible, maximising the amount of grazed grass utilised. This involved using farm management software FARMAX to produce a number of scenarios and analyse which would suit the farm going forward best, in terms of production, profitability and sustainability. To utilise the pasture and reduce the peak work load the suckler herd was dispersed, and a dairy beef system was set-up with 150 Angus X dairy calves arriving weaned in the spring and being taken through to finish at 20-22 months.”
Once a plan for the type of livestock enterprises was in place, Sarah then assessed the existing fields and infrastructure to design a low cost but effective paddock system ensuring paddock sizes were as even as possible with a plan for access water.
We had quite a few small fields already, so we’ve kept them the same but split the bigger ones into paddocks, especially the 18 acre fields!
The previous system saw fields being set stocked, with sheep grazing for 2 weeks before being moved on, the sheep were selective and grass went to seed. Turning to a rotational grazing system sees the grass being grazed quickly and evenly, allowing the plants to then recover before being re-grazed again once they have fully replenished leaf and root reserves. This has seen the quality and yields of the pastures improve and allowed the percentage of clover in swards to increase.
Another advantage of the regular move is less poaching, the cattle aren’t standing around field corners and gateways, and on the wetter days the cattle are moved every 12 hours. The system offers flexibility and is adapted to weather and time constraints.
It’s easy to work out the grass demand and therefore area required for grazing each day for 150 cattle on farm for 12 months, it’s been more complicated with the sheep, but having Precision Grazing at the end of the phone has been a great help in making it work.
Precision Grazing came in and looked at the whole farm, from the hill down to the farm ground. One of the main changes was to reduce the number of livestock groups on the farm and ‘mob up’ existing livestock into larger groups allowing for reduced labour and more effective grazing pressure.
We still set stock at lambing, but when they are about 5 weeks old we bunch them up into bigger groups and start them rotating. This has eased management and allowed us to reduce the need for so much subdivision. Initially I was worried about stock performance in larger groups, but they have exceeded expectations.
Cattle growth rates are monitored throughout the grazing season, aiding decision making and provide confidence that the cattle are performing. This year they averaged 0.9kg Liveweight per day on pasture alone which Neil was very pleased with considering the dry summer. The focus has moved away from sale price per head to margin per head and per ha.
Multi-Cut silage is fed when they are housed along with a whole crop forage, minimal blend is mixed in as they move away from feeding concentrates. They are then turned out to grass the following spring or sold when they reach their ideal store weight of 500kg.
I’m pleased with the cattle they’ve averaged 0.9DLG over the summer, we made some lovely silage so I hope this will push them over the winter. I was worried going from 50 sucklers to a 150 Angus X but they really fit well alongside the sheep and there is a lot less labour involved.
The paddock system is set up each year in January, using the Rappa fence system, to ensure it is ready to go from April onwards. Most of the fields are split into 2ha paddocks, fencing is easily removed when the silage fields are closed, or as like this year, a field of turnips have been planted. 3 strands of wire are used to ensure that flexibility for cattle and sheep to graze the system.
Water was the biggest problem for Neil, however working with Precision Grazing and mapping out the paddocks and trough locations has made this doable. Previously mains fed water troughs were in the field corners so these were moved and now service multiple paddocks.
Using permanent troughs, although a greater investment, keeps the system simple, which is a must for us when we are busy during lambing, we know everything for the cattle is set up and ready to go.
Having Precision Grazing come in and look at the whole farm made Neil look at the farm differently, instead of seeing fields that were ‘just’ for calving cows, or some ‘old pasture’ just for a few ewes, every field is now part of the farm and not looked at in isolation, it has become a whole and the positive changes in those fields are already noticeable from using the paddock grazing system.
The farms PH levels have improved since using this system, from averaging low 5s, most of the fields are now up to a 6 – 6.5. The increase has been a result of spreading lime and paddock grazing which sees organic matter and improved phosphate and potassium indexes through the livestock doing the work of leaving their muck behind evenly distributed across the field.
There is still room for improvement, our P & K indexes are around 2, but we are definitely going in the right direction. It is 4 years since Farming Connect did a whole farm soil sampling, it will be interesting to see the changes.
Having the Precision Grazing team on board has seen Neil make less mistakes than if he started paddock grazing on his own, watching online tutorials can take you so far, but having the help and advice at the kitchen table will take you further.
Get advice from day one. Looking back it is something I should have done, regardless of being a Farming Connect demo farm. This is a big change to your farming system, so it’s worth getting it right.
Neil is now confident in using both Agrinet (Pasture measurement programme) and Farmax (Farm Management) hand in hand to assess the quantity of pasture on the farm and forward plan key decisions to ensure he has sufficient feed looking ahead.
It helps me have a clearer picture of where I will be and what actions I need to take such as, housing stock, supplement feeding or to sell stock. This saves me a lot of time and minimises procrastination!
Measuring and monitoring the pasture available, moving the stock regularly and resting the paddocks for >35 days, set the farm up in a good position for when the rain arrived following the dry summer of 2022.
How we are using the farm has changed quite a bit, we are making use of fields we once overlooked, and making the bigger fields into paddocks has really improved grass growth in them.
The most challenging part of changing to a new system was for Neil to ‘get his head around it’, working out stocking rates and having more cattle on the farm. Having Precision Grazing to help with advice and guidance made it a doable change.
Neil feels the return on his investment of time and attending meetings is ‘massive’ and a figure really can’t be put on it. He knows he is fortunate to have received this as being a Farming Connect demo farm, but the investment into setting up the system, taking the time to grass measure and use the apps has so many benefits to him and the business.
I would never go back to what we were doing before
Being part of a Prosper from Pasture discussion group and Welsh Pasture Project, run by Precision Grazing has been an important part of the journey, being able to speak and meet with other farmers who are facing the same problems, means Neil has not felt alone during this time, which was especially important during the dry summer and knowing they were all facing the same issues.
Losing the BPS is a concern, and Neil feels he is not yet there in terms of farming without it, however the new system means he can carry a lot more stock and selling the 150 head of cattle yearly ensures more income.
We are definitely in a better position than we were 4 years ago. Using the paddock grazing system means we are managing the grass better which results in higher yields which in turn has meant we can produce more to sell with less inputs
The next five years will see Neil concentrate on getting water into all the paddocks, look to split them even more, start with some herbal leys and to improve on what he has already done.
I will never for back to that system, going forward we are going to build on what we have achieved and make it even better.
260 Acres owned / 230 Rented
Common rights for 2000 breeding ewes plus followers
600 Texel x / Mules – lambing January- March
1400 Epynt Hardy Speckle ewes – lambing April
150 Angus x Dairy finishers
Grass mix – Various but mainly Wynnstay mid-term ryegrass mixes
Standing 1400ft up on the hill watching 700 sheep run into new paddock, heads down grazing within minutes is an impressive sight. Knowing that the whole move took less than 15 minutes, including fence down, sheep through, water trough moved, fence up meaning Tom can head home to have the rest of the day free to get on with other jobs is even more impressive!
After a dry summer seeing grass that had ‘looked like a desert’ only weeks before, being greened up with ewes putting on flushing condition is even better. Going from worrying about how to out-winter sheep without creating a muddy pit to a planned grazing system where sheep out-winter on differed grass and bales, whist lambing fields are rested ready for ewes in April is a great testament to the positive impact Tom has seen.
Tom Burge, 4th generation farmer at Oaremead Farm on the Exmoor coast, had left the farm to become an engineer but the farm called him back. 6 months in New Zealand was spent seeing forage-based sheep systems and on his return Tom knew he faced a cross road, taking these new learnings, a new road was travelled. Tom took over the sheep enterprise, his parents main passion being the cattle, he was left to make his mark. Introducing a NZ Highlander ram and Romney ewes into the system, to improve the genetics, increase lambing percentage from less but more productive ewes.
I achieved this pretty quickly, within 3 to 4 years, I was producing more live lambs, more kilos of live weight but then I hit a point and couldn’t get above it.
Tom started to look at the quality of feed he was putting in front of the sheep, and he turned to fertiliser. A few years in, his fert rep, Sandy Campbell came to tell him he was joining a new company called Precision Grazing, and that there was another way to improve forage quality– paddock grazing. Wanting to grow grass without fertiliser interested Tom, and he became one of Precision Grazing first customers.
Working together they set out to trial 150 acres on the big upland fields; the land was GPS mapped and marked out to 0.1ha, to make it easy to divide into 1ha paddocks. 3 wire permanent electric fencing, using Kiwitech Arrow Posts was erected down the middle of each field with a 25mm water pipe laid on the surface underneath the fence with quick release hydrants every 200m.
I tend to run 1ha paddocks, it just makes it so much easier for myself.
Starting with a mob of 250 ewes and moving them every 2-3 days he soon saw the benefits of the new grass growth growing behind them.
I was convinced straight away and knew we had to get more land into the paddock grazing system.
Tom has kept to the 1ha paddocks but has increased the size of his mobs, post weaning he will run 700 ewes in a flock which are moved more frequently, leaving longer rest periods.
Tom’s next challenge for James was to get the ewes out-wintered and move to outdoor lambing. Previously in the winter all the field gates would be opened, and the ewes given a free rein of the farm, resulting in a muddy pit, with ewes tracking through gateways to find grass.
I knew I wanted to lamb outdoors but there just wasn’t the grass for them in the spring.
Under this management there was no grass for outdoor lambing; instead there were the high costs of indoor lambing including labour and feeding cake. Moving animals regularly through the paddocks has increased pasture growth with some of this carried forward as differed grass for winter. Adding in some silage bales has meant that the lower farm fields were closed after they had been used for tupping, giving them a 4month rest before the ewes came back down to do a pre-lambing rotation before being set stocked in April.
When the ewes came down to lamb the grass behind them up on the hill was already recovering – thanks to the paddock system – I am convinced this is the way forward.
James gave Tom the confidence to move away from feeding 50+ ton of concentrate, knowing he had enough grass for ewes and lambs. This is massive cost saving to the farm along with the ‘hidden’ costs of labour, machinery and time saved.
We actually have less problems lambing outdoors, the lambs aren’t picking up bacteria and our losses have reduced.
As well as the permanent electric fencing Tom started with just 2 x 300m 3 wire Kiwitech temporary fences, moving them leap frog style to create paddocks for the ewes. This did make the job harder, as fencing had to be moved every couple of days, but it proved the system would work with minimal investment. Tom soon bought more equipment and now has 14 x 300m 3 wire kits. One day a week is set aside to set up the next weeks fences, this is done with Josh, their stockman which means they both know the coming weeks moves, giving Tom the confidence to leave the farm knowing there is a plan in place.
Seeing the new grass shoots growing, improving the grass quality, achieving higher yields and seeing ‘new’ old grass species come back to these permanent leys has really opened Toms eyes.
We are seeing better water infiltration, we aren’t seeing the run-off the hills anymore, and if there is some, it will be caught by the paddock below, it’s no longer running down the road.
Better water infiltration, more earthworms and better soil biology all lead to the farm faring well over the extended dry spring and summer. The grass recovered quickly after the first bit of rain, due to its rest, enabled by planned grazing and weaning early to get the ewes up onto the upland grazing so the lambs could have the best pasture.
There was no market for early store lambs, so I had to keep them and prioritise them until the market came back. To achieve this we culled out the older cows and leaner ewes to reduce our feed demand. This also protected ewe body condition and helped to ensure we have enough grass on farm for winter and a successful spring.
The rotations were slowed down, but whereas other farms were opening all the gates, Tom kept to the paddock grazing, making sure they didn’t go back to the same place too quickly.
The beauty of paddock grazing is the flexibility it offers, enabling you to adapt to the conditions, be they dry or wet, long swards or short swards. Tom started with 21-day rest periods but now pushes them to 30-35-day rest periods depending on the paddock.
Some fields are just naturally slower to recover than others.
Toms knowledge of his land has grown since using this system, helped by James and Sandy to get the system in place and learning from them, Tom is keen to keep splitting the paddocks more and create more moves for the sheep.
Water has been key to the system and Tom, with his engineer hat on, has devised the systems, taking advantage of streams, springs and bore holes. Making his own solar panel water pump; moving water 100ft up hill, watered 40 cows and 250 ewes throughout the summer. Water is fed from source, to holding tanks, along blue pipe and into Kiwitech quick release hydrants and moveable troughs.
The savings are huge when you invest time and money into water, it allows you to concentrate on the animals and paddock rotations. When you finally stop using fertiliser it makes it worth it.
Once spreading 50 ton of fertiliser Tom has gradually reduced this amount to 0 tonnes thanks to the changes in grazing management. Removing the use of chemicals has helped improve the soil biology resulting in increased pasture growth. Tom has introduced little wins, grazing the sheep on the top of the hill in the day and moving them to steep fields at night, for them to drop their dung and build the organic matter on fields which is the past have seen soil depletion from soil run off in high rainfalls.
Knowing his costs is important and he uses a farm account management programme and spreadsheet for budgeting, inputting predicted and then actual costs throughout the year to show how much each lamb needs to make, identifying where savings can be made and guiding investment for that year.
I like to know what things are costing me and the time spent on the computer is invaluable. It also makes me thinks of new ways to do things to save money.
On the hill round hay bales are lined up, for the suckler cows to out-winter on. Still under the control of his father, Tom is keen to see them calve outside in the future, but in the meantime, he has them out-wintering until they are housed for calving in February. The hay will be rolled out to be eaten and trampled, to add organic matter and seed back into the soil.
When I first did it my neighbours thought I was crazy, but the most rewarding thing is now seeing them do it.
Taking everyone on the journey can be difficult, your vision is not everyone’s, and long-standing systems can be hard to change, as humans we fear the unknown. However, Tom has worked out that by planting a seed in his parents’ mind, water and care for it, will see it eventually come to fruition.
It took a bit for my parents to get their head around the new sheep system, but now they love it.
As farmers it is too easy to fall into the trap of being too busy, a place that Tom knows well, however like Tom, you have to find a way to do it, not necessarily all by yourself but with help from James and his team. Learning from others and creating a flexible adapted system is what Precision Grazing bring with them, the knowledge and access to other people who are also facing the same challenges and great rewards as you. Creating a hub of people around you, maybe not geographically but via technology means you are not alone. There are answers and reassurance at the end of the phone.
Tom is now at another cross road, he has seen the positive changes that paddock grazing has made to farm, better and more quality grass, improved soil biology and water infiltration, his brain has expanded and he wants more; organic, regenerative, getting the whole farm in the system. Putting hedges back, planting trees for shelter belts are all on the part of the future of Oaremead Farm.
Start small, but start, contact James come for a farm visit, but start and grow the system. Seeing that fresh growth within a few days is the lightbulb moment and it is addictive.
In the grand scheme of things this is a low-cost system, with big savings. Cutting back on fertiliser and feed and using the BPS to get this system in place is time and money well spent.
Having got through one of his toughest farming years, weather wise, Tom knows this is a system that works and is excited about where he can go next. A growing interest in soil, carbon storage and regenerative agriculture, he hopes to increase cattle numbers on the farm and create a premium mutton from his Scotch Blackfaced ewes.
This system has helped Tom adapt, the system and himself. Being less reliant on the inputs gives you back control, and if there ever was a true word ‘less is more’.
Looking for new ideas to make things simpler on farm has seen Tom start using Bokashi to compost the cattle manure. Sprinkled onto the straw beds, Bokashi ferments the muck and aids its decomposition, stored under cover, the composting process speeds up the breakdown of the muck and straw, reduces the quantity and produces a better end product to go back out on the field, helping store more carbon and nutrients.
1150 Romney x ewes
500 scotch blackface ewes and wethers
100 Angus suckler cows
North Exmoor – looking over Bristol channel
Farm yard – 750-1400ft (230-420m) – runs up to 1400ft
Average rainfall – 62-66” (1600-1700ml)
Soils – Peat on the hill – down to a sandy loam
Aim – to build up organic matter on the steep hills to improve overall farm productivity. Selling Exmoor Premium Mutton for scotch blackface and in time selling our own beef.
I know growing up in rural Wales it was all about the magic mushrooms, but smoking weed and farmers… surely not?!
No.. not at all, BUT they are getting addicted to seeing their grass and bank accounts grow!
Rotational Grazing; the New Zealanders have been doing it for years, the dairy lot have caught on and well… its time the beef and sheep farmers got on it and take back control!
Meet the farmer
I met Aled Evans, beef and sheep farmer in West Carmarthenshire who came back from the corporate world to take over 400ha of family farmland. Aled wanted control over his profit, not to be at the mercy of the market or processor and the only way to do this is to Save Money, by cutting the Cost of Production.
Build up your confidence
Start small and build up, gain confidence and grow the addiction of seeing grass grow!
(I thought the addiction to Tractor Porn was bad (no not like that.. literally 16-year-old boys ogling the blue one, the green one, the red one…. No weird positions, unless you are a JCB)) but seeing grass grow… IS addictive!
Aled started by splitting fields into 2 0r 4 paddocks, depending on their size, cattle grazed for 24 hours then moved onto the next fresh paddock….that’s when he saw it… new grass growing, green and lush, with no fertiliser added, and what else was growing well… the cattle and sheep… they were utilising this wonderful ‘free’ feed source… and looking great!!
Upping the game
2 years ago Aled met James Daniels of Precision Grazing at a Farming Connect ‘Prosper from Pasture’ and quite frankly has not looked back! He upped the game, GPS the whole farm to create 0.45ha Cells, that ensure consistency and ease of management. Gone is the manual plate meter and replaced with the bells and whistles of Bluetooth plate meter which sends the data to the mobile phone and then onto the computer where AgriNet works out how much grass you have on farm, days of grazing, growth, too much too little… suddenly there is a plan, a goal, Proactivity!
This is flexible grazing system, grazing a cell from 24 – 72 hours, decisions are made on Supply & Demand, each season can be consistent with the aim of a nice straight line on the graph… no ups and downs here, just a nice straight line of beautiful consistent green grass!
Spend it to Make it….
Spend it or invest it? Investing in rotational grazing will work out about £300/ha, this includes the new water trough system… BUT done correctly, this system will return your investment within a year, with a potential 5 figure saving on winter feed and fertiliser going forward. Surely a no brainer… change the way you say it… Investing in the farm system… investing is powerful, investing is achieving a goal, spending Is wasteful… Invest! Invest! Invest!
We’ve always done it this way…
And it is now time to change. 30 years ago you got £60 a lamb, you still get £60 a lamb and costs have gone up.. so how much is that lamb or beef animal actually making you?
Each year farmers ‘invest’ in feed and fertiliser; you can see it, touch it, you know it does what it says on the bag.. it grows animals and grass…. but get your mind around the fact that an electric fence, efficient grazing, a re-growth period, rain and sun grow copious amounts of grass…. for ‘free!
A hungry cow is an efficient cow…
Pray Tell! Aled houses the cattle over winter, they were housed on the 23 November 2019 after 9 months grazing and are fed their winter ration of silage and rolled barley or bread. They are then drip fed out onto the grazing from early Spring, starting with 4 hours a day, until the grass growth
starts to get ahead of the demand. The cattle then come back in and nibble at some silage. It takes 3 hours of efficient grazing to fill up the cattle, no loitering or walking about the field, full on Olympic style training in the art of grazing, then in to rest and chew the cud! A new Cell each day, winter growth removed and double the grass growth off these semi grazed cells! Winner Winner Grass Clover Ley Dinner!
Working smarter, not harder
Coming back from corporate world to farming, Aled brought with him the corp mentality; management meetings involving all the team and an Agenda, Quarterly reviews, regular Consultant meeting, personal and staff development and time off!
Time Off… yep and by working an 11 hour day, home for tea, every other weekend off, weekend on is only stock checking and time off off for holidays! I know! Cray Cray! But by working smarter and more efficiently a lot can be done in a day and Aled and Llifon are better for it. Work smarter Be smarter (or not so tired that accidents & near misses don’t happen)
What’s your Legacy?
Aled is creating a business he is proud of, one that fulfils his and the team’s aspirations; a successful profitable business. Ego is left at the door, working the land efficiently means that grass, labour and stock are being utilised to their very best. How does he know this? Benchmarking! Benchmarking stocking & labour units, knowing Live Weight gain and % of grass utilisation and efficiency!
Changes are happening to farming and the red meat industry. Climate change, subsidy reductions, can leave you feeling out of control. But here is a system that gives you back control. Farming is a game of hope, hope of the weather, healthy stock, healthy price, healthy market. But hope does not give control.
What can you control? You control the Cost of Production. The end price you receive is determined by SO MANY factors…. Which you can’t control, only hope for. By reducing costs, growing a ‘free’ nutritious feed source that your animals love to eat, investing in YOURSELF, your SYSTEM, your EDUCATION will give you CONTROL.
YOU are your only obstacle
As with any system it needs YOU – 100%to make it work. It’s scary, there are systems and spreadsheets and technology and investment. There are areas of the farm to look at, (hard) conversations to be had BUT so much to learn, money to be made, free time to be had. Farming is a lifestyle but it is also a business. Don’t let the lifestyle just be about work, let it be about family, friends and enjoyment.
Rotational Grazing (in my mind) is a no brainer!
There are great companies there to help you, Farming Connect for free education, Precision Grazing consultnats, Datamars for ALL the gear and AgriNet for your software.
Thank you Aled Evans for his time, for showing what can be done, how to create a legacy, develop the ‘next generation’, sharing the gift of conversation, education and inspiration.
Thank you to Datamars for sending me ‘On Tour’ to Wales and providing all the gear and the ideas to all those amazing farmers who are getting involved in electric fences, solar powered electricity, water troughs and waterproofs all in the name of Rotational Grazing and a great farm business!
But once she just a farmer’s daughter, 4 years ago a sudden illness struck her Dad and the realisation, that our parents are not immortal, meant that this daughter became the farmer.
Llanthony, 250 acres and 600 ewes, sits in the Brecon Beacons bordering England along Offas Dyke. The family of 6 have lived here for 40 years, it is place called home, a place full of heart and community. It is definitely a place to lay your hat.
It is unique, in that it lies within the ruin of Llanthony Abbey, where you will find 2 pubs, a campsite, bunk house and private residences! A community still thrives here, swelling in holidays and high days, but still a community.
To grow up on a farm is such a privilege, a childhood of freedom, roaming and working, add to that a trekking business, this would have been the stuff of childhood dreams! The 4 siblings were schooled locally until secondary, when they won scholarships to Christ’s Hospital, Horsham – a place where you learnt to work hard until all the work was done and only then the fun could begin. This was the same at home, but the work was the horses and the fun was the local pub!
From the heart….
After studying Zoology, Bryony came home for a year of deciding what next and to run the trekking Centre. However the lure of London and the desire to see if the streets were really paved with gold, took Bryony off to the big City, a placed she loved whilst she was there, working as PA to the Head of the CEO office of the Standard Chartered Bank. A successful career was ahead of her, PA’s could go wherever their bosses went, wherever in the world. However, a weekend home, a friend’s party and falling in love with Steve, meant Bryony followed her heart back to Wales.
A job with A-Z Expeditions saw her become an outdoor instructor, a job she loved, then after her babies a job in the Expedition office, which suited her love of the outdoors and her family life.
Llanthony means so much to all the family, and everyone wanted it to stay in the family, for the future generations. With 4 siblings, 1 working away and 2 with other careers, Bryony, who was at cross road, put her hand up – she would come back to farm Llanthony and take over the running from her Dad.
Being handed the reins…
Bryony is lucky, she feels blessed and honoured that her dad has handed over the reins of running the farm, is letting her make her own mark but is there to offer advice. Being the daughter is very different from being the farmer, the one in charge, not just the one being given jobs to do. Decisions are for her to make, with support, and Dad is always on hand to get lambs to market.
Knowledge is power….
Bryony has taken advantage of all the courses, training, clinics and surgeries available to her through organisations such as Farming Connect. She’s received Young Person In Agriculture grant, which she will use to fence off the mountain and buy a new handling system, she has a Management Exchange Grant, which is using to try out early lambing with 3 Performance Recorded Innovis rams, which should bring in a higher return for early lambs and getting culled ewes off farm sooner.
She has a Farming Connect Mentor – Ben Anthony, who’s wisdom of ‘Pick 1 field as a time to improve… it will become easier as half the boundaries will have already been improved”! This has given her a plan, and reduced the stress.
The day before I met her, she had been on a Soil Surgery, learning about getting the basics of soil pH, and benefits of P & K for the soil and how to implement them.
Motivation is what you need…
Getting off the farm, attending learning days, going to market and meeting like-minded people is the motivation that Bryony needs, especially on those days that there is little to be had! A phone book that is getting fuller and a range of people to ask for advice and help or just a chat has been key for her new career. Never one to shy away from hard work, running the farm has given her a new sense of motivation and a stronger work ethic, as this time it is for her and her family, to get it right. Where obstacles lay, such as dagging, she came up with a solution, which will become even easier with the new handling system.
Just do it!
You’ve got to throw yourself into everything! Take advantage of all the learning and new experiences out there, then bring back these new skills and ideas to the farm. Meet new people, take part in challenges, get out the comfort zone.
Did I say I met Bryony whilst carrying a cow to the top of Snowdon….. (BG – I LOVED this trip!x)
The livestock market or ‘The Mart’ is a place I am not familar with. Even though Dad is a sheep farmer it isn’t a place I have frequented, mainly due to either being at school, uni or quite frankly, not finding the early morning start appealing! But a photographic assignment took me to Llanybydder and Tregaron, on two wet cold days. The Mart may have been chilly, but the welcome was warm.
A smile works wonders…..
I was slightly nervous about going along, no one knew me, I would have cameras, they might be wary of me, especially in light of recent anti farming views. But I needn’t have worried.
The key though is to smile, say hello to everyone, engage in conversation, ask them about themselves and tell them who your dad, or mum is! Boom! They relax, they smile, they ask how your parents are, and all is good! They start to relax in-front of the camera, joke with those that don’t know who I am, that I am there to check tyre tread, or make their friend look at the camera!
Thank goodness for Gwyneth… ‘do you know who this is’… she would say as she presented me to a farmer, for which I would be greeted with a blank stare – Bills daughter! A smile, a relax…. Oh so where do you live? What are you doing? How is Bill? Is he here
A place of community….
The Mart is not just a place to sell sheep or cattle, it is a place for farmers to come together, a place to meet, once a week, or once a month, yes to sell, but for much more than that.
Imagine that you live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, you are surrounded by green fields, amazing landscapes, your nearest neighbour is a mile away, your farm is at the end of the track and the only person you might see in your working hours is the postman. For many of us, we dream of such idyll, but imagine doing that everyday, with the added struggle of weather, unforeseen circumstances, ill livestock, stresses of bureaucrats… and then see how we feel about it. THIS is why the mart is so important to the farmer. It gets them off the farm, it gets them to others, it gets them to their friends.
Friendship is strong in rural areas, it has to be. You have to be there for each other, you have to look out for each other, you have to help each other. You have to come together as a community, and it is powerful.
The Mart is place to take your time. You can’t rush livestock, they need to be kept calm. Shouting and hollering will only upset them. So it is a place of routine, and a place to take your time, to have a cuppa, to eat a bacon sandwich and to chat, to lean against the pen or to take a sit down. The sale starts at 11 and no sooner.
A place of men…
The Mart is a place for the men. A few women doing paperwork, the ladies in the café and a few wives and girlfriends. But this is the place for men. This is a place they bring their livestock, it is a place they can stand, not looking at each other, talking about livestock, costs, the weather and hopefully, eventually, themselves. But if not, it is a place they have come, not to feel alone, for a morning, they will feel part of a community, part of something greater than them. And if they have done a good job they will go home with some gossip for the wife!
I looked around the Marts, farmers unloading livestock, men with jobs to do, unspoken, all knowing where to be and what to do, which gates to open, where to stand out the way and I smiled. I was in awe. In awe that on this cold wet day, there was friendship, there were smiles, there was laughter… a lot of laughter. Me being there might have added some interest, some banter, some jesting, but for that I am happy. Because being at these Marts made me happy. It made me want to be part of that community, and certainly made me want to go back and hear their stories.
For the sake of out rural farming communities’ places like these need to be preserved, their place in the community is vital to the survival of that community.
If you would like to be part of my blogs please do Get In Touch! I would love to hear from you, visit your farm and hear all about what you are doing. Or if you have some ideas of who I should visit, please do let me know!
Photography, Listener of thoughts, asker of questions, Writer of Blogs
I am Sian Mercer, the writer of these blogs, which are based on thoughts and ideas, quetions I have asked, feelings I have had and wonders which have been answered.
I am a photographer, please check out my website www.myruraltribe.com to see my work and book your own photoshoot, for your rural business or family.