Welcome to Farming Friday! To kick off our brand new blog series, I spoke to Laura Gilmour the lovely lady behind Girl About The Farm, you can visit her website and read her very own latest blog posts here – girlaboutthefarm.co.uk
Those of you who have the Summer 2017 issue (our very first issue) may find that Laura looks familiar, and you would be correct.
Laura featured in our first ever edition, she wrote passionately about her experiences as a first time farmer.
It seemed only fitting that, in welcoming this new blog series, we catch up with Laura and find out how she is getting on almost 6 months down the line.
If you follow Laura on social media, have read her blogs, or have read her article in the magazine – I hope this will give you a little bit more of an insight into this amazing lady’s life.
1. Before farming, what was your job?
For the 7 years previous to Farming I worked in the Marketing and Advertising industry as a Client Account Manager – first of all in London and then in Brighton. I absolutely loved it – it’s definitely something I miss!
2. Did you ever think you could become a farmer?
If someone would have told me 10 years ago that I would become a farmer I would have laughed in their face – its crazy, to be honest I’m still getting used to it!
3. How did you get into farming?
My husband’s family are first generation farmers and so when Andy had the opportunity to go back to the family farm a few years ago and I moved onto his family farm too. For the whole time we have been together I have loved helping out on the farm, so much so, that I used to take time off from my day job to help out at busy times.
We saw the opportunity come up for a tenancy of our own, and jumped at the chance. When we got the tenancy I decided it was time to try farming full time alongside Andy.
4. Tell us about your farm?
Cocking Hill Farm is a tenant farm which is part of the Cowdray Estate. It is situated on the glorious South Downs and consists of around 700 acres of mainly chalk grassland, rising up to 800ft above sea level.
We run a 2,000 head flock of NZ Romneys on an extensive outdoor system, predominantly for breeding stock. We lamb outdoors and only bring sheep in if they have a problem that needs monitoring.
All our sheep have a forage based diet and live on grass and then turnips/fodder beet over the winter. We also have a small calf rearing enterprise in the barn (plenty to keep us busy!).
Cocking Hill Farm is run in conjunction to Locks Farm (Andy’s family farm). The family farm is on the Wiston Estate (the estate also makes delicious wines)and is the main base for the stud flock (Wairere UK), just down the road which also has NZ Romneys aswell a pedigree herd of Sussex and Belted Galloway cattle which we hope to bring some of over to Cocking Hill in the future.
5. Why farm NZ Romneys?
We farm NZ Romneys as they are hardy sheep that can lamb outside without intervention, they are also an extremely maternal breed and therefore are great mothers that look after their lambs. They do best on a natural grass/forage based diet and therefore we can farm on a very low input extensive system – which suits that current market at this uncertain time within farming. To quote my father in law ‘within farming, the only cost you can control, is the cost you put in’.
6. You experienced your first year of lambing in 2017 – how did you find it?
Honestly, pretty tough. I’ve obviously helped during lambing in previous years, but living and breathing it for 6 weeks straight was a completely different experience. It went really well, but it was filled with intense, emotional and stressful moments.
7. Are you looking forward to doing it all over again in a few weeks?
I am actually. This year, I feel I have much more knowledge going into my second year. I have learning’s that I can take from 2017 and put them in place to make the system a bit better this year. I’m planning to get more organised earlier than I was last year. Just little things like batch cooking and freezing a load of meals that Andy and I can just pop in the oven after a long day, and setting up the barn with a tea/coffee station with plenty of biscuits. So that when we’re on the go, we can fuel up!
8. Tell us about your first experience driving a tractor?
It was pretty good actually, Andy has taught me from scratch and its fairly intuitive. We have a John Deere and the controls are really user friendly – it was mainly just getting my head around the size of tractor, and reversing with a trailer on! I love driving it now though – you can spy on people in their gardens as you’re so high up!
8. As a female farmer – do you think there are any challenges or equality issues
in our industry?
Eeek. That’s a controversial question. I’ve come from a very gender equal (in terms of male/female split in the office) industry. So coming into the farming industry has been different somewhat, just because there just aren’t as many female farmers as there are males. It’s something I have thought about a lot since farming as I still find that as an industry, it has a bit of catching up to do. It is still a bit old fashioned and archaic in some ways.
I think that its important that we show young women that agriculture is a viable potential career choice, even if you aren’t a farmer’s daughter. From my perspective, at school it wasn’t even floated as an option to go into as a career choice – it was basically University or nothing and actually as I’m quite practically minded a career in farming would have probably suited me down to the ground from the get go.
9. What has been your farming highlight so far?
Probably selling our first lambs in 2017.
I was just really proud that we had successful raised good stock that would go on for breeding.
10. Low point?
I’d say that last year around February time was particularly hard.
I was around 4 months into farming, and I was frustrated that I didn’t know anything, and couldn’t be as valuable on the farm as I would have liked. It was also whilst we were constantly electric fencing in the mud and everyday I would come home and everything would be covered from head to toe – our hallway was just a mud bath!
11. You started a blog to document your first time farmer experience – what opportunities has this bought you?
Starting the blog has been really good for me, it’s given me a focus away from the farm and its now really nice looking back at everything I have documented in the past year. It has also introduced me to lots of lovely like-minded people, and thrown up some opportunities to work with some great brands.
12. You have been accepted onto the 2018 Tesco Future Farmers Foundation? – Tell us about this?
I’m incredibly proud to have been on of the 50 accepted to the 2018 Tesco Future Farmers Foundation. The programme is 12 months, and offers a mix of activities designed to give your farming career a kick start with the help of workshops and supply chain visits. For me, its going to be great, because It will allow me to grow my farming knowledge of areas other than sheep/beef farming. Really looking forwards to getting stuck in!
13. As part of your tenancy you have been provided a stunning farm house, this has been a work in progress. We LOVE what you did with the kitchen – tell us more, how did you do it yourselves and on a budget (I remember reading the blog post)?
Yes, we’ve been really lucky that the house that comes with our tenancy is lovely. We upcycled the kitchen on a minimal budget and did as much ourselves as possible! This year we plan to sort both of the bathrooms out. I think its really important to create a nice home environment for us, as we won’t be going on any big holidays in the near future due to not being able to leave the farm. So having a lovely cosy home needs to be a priority!
14. You got married last year, on the farm. The wedding was beautiful – had you always dreamt of getting married on a farm? What did doing so mean to you?
It was really lovely to be able to have the wedding on the farm. We held the reception in a marquee just below the hill that Andy proposed to me on. Having it on the farm allowed us to really personalise the space and make it our own. We had pink silage bales as a backdrop for photos, and our burger food pop up for the evening food – it really was the most perfect day. I wish I could do it all again this year!
15. Often I see on Instagram, images of your farm dogs out and about with you on the quad or working the sheep. Can you work with the dogs or is that all down to your husband Andy? Do they listen to you?
We have two incredible working dogs, Joe the Kelpie and Zack the Collie. As they are so good they make moving the sheep a breeze. I honestly don’t know what we would do without them.
When I first started working full time on the farm the dogs wouldn’t listen to me, as they just weren’t used to working for anyone but Andy. But a year on, and they will work for me as well as Andy which is great.
16. You recently attended a workshop to discuss Livestock Partnership Sheep Nutrition do you think this kind of networking is important for the British Ag industry moving forward?
Yes definitely. I’m very much a people person. Basically, there is nothing I love more than meeting new people and having a chat – so I make sure that Andy and I attend as many events as possible. I’ve gone from working in an office of 100 to farming, and I think it can be quite a lonely existence if you let it be. So making the time to meet up and share thoughts and opinions with others in your in industry is important.
17. What do you think the biggest challenge the British Ag/sheep farming industry faces?
My learnings from the last few talks I have been to, is that we aren’t doing enough to revive the sale of lamb within consumers. It needs a bit of an image change in my opinion. It’s a really healthy protein source that is just as versatile of beef.
18. What, if anything, does Brexit mean anything to you when it comes down to farming?
With the UK being a net exporter of lamb the sheep industry will probably get hit harder by Brexit. But like everyone else, we just don’t know what is going to happen really. I think the only thing farmers can do is try to limit/control their overheads.
We want to say a massive thank you to Laura for taking the time to talk to us and to be our very first Farming Friday featured farmer. If you would like to be considered for a future Farming Friday, please drop me an email at: [email protected]
Until next time…
Lots of love,