Blog: Harry Frederick
31st December 2015
Harry Frederick (27) is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador 2015 from Tonbridge, Kent. Despite the family farm always having a focus on beef and arable, Harry introduced a sheep flock to the business in 2010, quickly building up to 240 ewes. He rents land from his father as part of his wages and has additional grazing agreements with neighbours, allowing him to rear and finish lambs for local butchers and farmers’ markets. There is scope to increase numbers to 400, so Harry is closely monitoring performance to aid breeding and buying decisions for this expansion. Regular engagement with the public is something Harry values, for his direct-sales business and for the wider sheep sector, so he also hosts open days and charity events on the farm.
Scroll down for entries from Harry about his farming year in 2015.
It would appear that spring is attempting to burst forth on the farm, as the days of rain are now being punctuated by a few more of sun. This hasn’t prevented about a third of our grassland being underwater in the past month or so, but it feels like a step in the right direction. It wasn’t the first time I’ve checked the sheep via canoe and it won’t be the last!
Lambing is exactly two weeks away and the sheep are looking well. It’s time to wheel out the official lambing caravan for its yearly outing, and the money I’ll save on rent for the next month has already been used on high quality concentrates for the ewes. Money well spent I think. It has already become terrifying to even look at a feed bag near the lambing shed for fear of not being able to hear yourself think for the next 10 minutes. My next step is to choose an EID system for the flock so I can follow the daily liveweight gain of the lambs and monitor the performance of my different breeds.
I absolutely loved the first session with the other young Ambassadors. It was great to meet 11 other young sheep farmers from around the UK who are equally passionate about their job and keen to learn and share ideas. We had a wide range of knowledgeable speakers who kindly gave up their time to speak to us and attempt to answer our many questions. We covered topics such as grassland management and the importance of regular body condition scoring.
At the Barenbrug grass breeding centre we learnt that it takes 17 years to bring a new grass seed variety into production, and we got a glimpse of the grasses that may well be in mainstream use in years to come. Another highlight for me was a 'Dragon's Den' type exercise where we had to pitch a new initiative for the sheep sector. Ours was to develop a breed which would become known as ‘The Super Mule.’ Look out for it soon in a market near you!
Lambing seems a distant memory now, with all 397 lambs now out and roaming the local countryside. We fell three short of our target but I won’t complain, as lambing was generally very successful with few problems at all. My new Texel ram performed dutifully alongside my two Suffolks in my breeding flock, and I was able to tag 105 Texel Mule and Suffolk Mule ewe lambs.
Having written their individual EID tag numbers on the back of the tags with a permanent marker, a method I thought would suffice until I could save up to buy an EID stick reader, I then received a very timely phone call from the NSA. I found out I had been extremely lucky to win this month’s prize draw of a Shearwell EID Stick Reader! [See www.nationalsheep.org/draw] I couldn’t believe it, and am looking forward to using it alongside my weigh crate to follow the lambs’ progress. They are already showing good weights and it has been noticeable how much faster the lambs on my new grass leys have been growing, some of them at nearly 0.5kg/day.
The dry weather in April was much needed after the not so dry weather previously. The grass has definitely not shown the same growth as last year, which is not surprising, but is coming along nicely. The main problem we usually have on our farm is a lack of grass in the summer months due to the high clay content of the land meaning the fields become dry and cracked. Our new leys have included varieties that should withstand this drought better, so it will be interesting to follow this as the weather gets warmer.
This warmer weather has brought with it an increased risk of flystrike though, which has affected a few of my shearlings. I cleaned them up with my hand shears, but with the shearing course I will be attending in the next few days, hopefully I’ll be able to go back for the rest of their wool soon!
June: I found my way to the same seat of the same Starbucks in the very same service station on my return journey from our second NSA Next Generation Ambassador session. Although only a hundred miles down the M4, it felt a million miles away from the farm we had just left. People rushed past me clutching plastic-clad sandwiches and even more plastic-looking burgers, with no concern or idea of where it came from. How very different the night before had seemed, as we had sat around a campfire at Fernhill Farm, on top of the Mendips, with our stomachs full of food that had been grown and reared within its confines. It was during this evening that someone said something that has resonated with me since: “I think sometimes we don’t realise how lucky we are.” In a day dominated by calculations and business models, it dawned on me that no one around that fire was really there because they were after making a large sum of money. True, our businesses must be viable and it is essential to be running a successful enterprise, but first surely must come a realisation that you only do this job because you love it.
The most inspiring part of our second NSA Ambassador session was its location. Fernhill Farm filled me with hope as I saw Andy and Jen’s passion to connect people of all ages from all backgrounds with farming. They were connecting the consumer to the product. Alongside their sheep and wool business they run education programmes, put on events and generally encourage anyone to get involved. In a country where 11% of 16-23 year olds think that eggs come from wheat or maize, Fernhill Farm were taking this responsibility of educating young people especially seriously. Why would anyone in that service station want to support British farming if they have no idea what it looks like? Andy described, with such enthusiasm, how teenagers that were struggling in their education at school felt so empowered when he taught them to make something with their hands on the farm. I think sometimes we forget how rich we really are on our farms and how much we have to offer.
Having been so inspired by the previous NSA Young Ambassador session, I turned up to the most recent one expectant of the same. Effort on my part wasn’t factored into the equation though as I think I was slightly guilty of hoping someone else would do the inspiring for me. A pat on the back maybe, to be sent on my way home safe in the knowledge that the future of British sheep farming was a positive one, and in safe hands.
The reality of the first two days was in stark contrast to this, and instead of a pat on the back I felt like I’d been slapped around the face. We had started our second day positively, looking around the British Wool Marketing Board head office, and had been given tentative promises of an increase in wool prices over the coming years. A fifty pence rise in clip value per ewe meant more money in the bank right?
Although a step in the right direction for wool, this minimal rise in profit was placed in harsh contrast to the downbeat discussion back at the hotel about the current price of lamb, with farmers earning up to £20 less per lamb than this time last year. The reality is that sheep farming isn’t bringing back the bacon that we believe it should, and switching to pigs doesn’t seem to be a viable option either. However, believing that we should get paid more for the hard work we do unfortunately won’t do anything about it.
The next day was another contrast as Roaming Roosters, a farm shop in Lancashire, flew in the face of any negativity that we were feeling. The farm shop refused to aim low in any aspect, and have set up a fantastic business selling local produce in inventive ways. Alongside a farm shop they run a restaurant with meeting facilities, and an online delivery service to anywhere in the UK. Only a few years into their business, last year they turned over in excess of £10 million. They are embracing new trends and are becoming part of a changing culture.
A traditional butcher would have cried as George the butcher cut up a leg of lamb into steaks and diced lamb. Only 10% of legs they sell are as joints, and they keep a close eye on what the customer wants. They are interactive and very visible on social media, promoting themselves with competitions and other ideas to interest customers. They are bringing a very direct business approach to an old model that needs updating.
As farmers, we can be guilty of continuing the same way we have for years, and blame external circumstances for our finances. True we can’t control the weather and seem pretty powerless against the supermarket giants, but we are definitely in control of a lot of things and are capable of changing our businesses. The truth is that if our future is to be in safe hands, it needs to be our own. We need to stop relying on other people to stand up for us and stand up for ourselves. I don’t want to be asked what am I doing to fund my sheep enterprise; I want to be asked how I am making my sheep enterprise pay?
If the rain streaming down the window pane of my makeshift office has put an end to the day’s combining, it has at least given me a chance to come in and write this entry. My discontent at this spell of rain has been met simultaneously with at least a hint of relief because the grass has been turning slightly brown and the sheep looking a little hungrier recently. This rain should do it some good, though hopefully it won’t last too long. The middle of the summer is often a difficult period for us and previously my lambs’ growth has lost momentum when the grass has stopped growing.