Ellie George – Back British Farming blog

As part of our campaign to Back British Farming we sit down with farmers on our rural community blog, and chat about all things farming. In this blog we spoke with Ellie George (@crazy.farming.mum), from …

As part of our campaign to Back British Farming we sit down with farmers on our rural community blog, and chat about all things farming. In this blog we spoke with Ellie George (@crazy.farming.mum), from Abergavenny, South Wales. Read more below about her journey and life in farming…

What kind of farm do you work on?

On our farm we have, 

500 sheep flock, 30 suckler herd, 50 rearing calves.

We rear 20,000 pheasant poults from our own laying stock, incubating, hatching etc.

And run a shoot.

We also provide Luxury Private Glamping retreats on the farm during the summer.

What’s your farming background?

I am from a family of many generations of farmers. My mum kept Galloway cattle and had a sheep flock when I was a child. 

I used to spend many hours as a very young child watching sheep waiting to lamb!

‘Best babysitter ever’

Mum eventually sold the sheep off as it wasn’t productive with the land she owned. I went off as a teenager and worked lambing on other farms and gained a huge wealth of knowledge from those experiences, which really set me up for starting my own flock in later years.

Why did you decide to become a farmer?

For a long time, I wanted to become a vet and did the relevant qualifications to A level but as I got to crunch point I decided farming was really the right path for me. 

I met my partner and got into pheasant rearing. Rearing over 40,000 in some years but have now dropped down as the farm has built up and game rearing has become a more unstable business. We also run a commercial shoot selling 14 days over the season. The game birds provided us the cash flow to invest in farm enterprises. 

Over the years I started with a few pet lambs (ewe lambs) and built up to rearing 100 within 2 years and had enough to buy a Tup and breeding our first lambs. Year on year we kept ewe lambs and a few purchases later got to the level we have now. We now keep an almost closed flock to prevent against disease. Sheep’s biggest enemy! 

We took a step to breed our own mule ewe lambs 3 years ago, buying the Beulah speckled ewe and crossing with a Blue-Faced Leicester Tup, giving us the Welsh Mule Ewe. It was a great success the first few years providing our replacements until this year where we have a huge majority of tup lambs!

What led you to decide to farm the animals you have?

We began our suckler herd in 2018 actually having to go borrow from my mum to buy 10 weaned Aberdeen Angus calves. These became our first cows, we had to hire the first bull and then the following year purchased some blue x bulling heifers. 

Calving our first 16 cows was such a monumental moment. I’m sure I kept pinching myself to see if it was real. Around the same time we started rearing dairy calves, selling half as store cattle at 18m and kept the heifers for breeding. 

We are now due to calve 30 cows in less than a weeks time and couldn’t be more excited!

Every year for a few we have reared dairy X calves. This year we have 50 and have created a sort of rotation, meaning we have cattle to sell every 6m.

We also run a Luxury Glamping site which has proved massively popular and selling out for nearly all of our first summer last year. We have plans to expand before the summer holidays as has proved a useful diversification for the farm and providing important income.

What are the key qualities needed to do your job?

Key qualities are a hard one to define. I think probably the most important one is to enjoy the job enough to be able to do the same things every single day. Without that innate passion you aren’t going to go far or have the want to achieve more.

It’s all about hard work and long hours but you have to realise you are never going to be super rich from farming. You have to love the job and find the pride in what you do, it gets said a lot but farming really is a way of life. 

Do you use a sheepdog?

No sheep dog, too many spaniels! 

Unfortunately for them the kids get drawn in for sheep herding activities, even if they try and hide at the mention of it! They are very good at the job now even with the long faces!

Do you have children and run a home too? If so, how do you juggle these responsibilities?

We have 3 boys 12,7&2 who get stuck in to all manner of farm life. Except maybe when I mention the word sheep! I still have the littlest on side feeding pet lambs. The older 2 enjoy the pheasants and rearing more so. Getting to an age where they can get more involved now.

I’d like to say there was some kind of method or plan or organisation which helps manage the responsibilities but honestly it’s just winging it!  Survival from one day to the next and if we get to the end of the week in one piece we are winning. Yes some things fail, I’m not a mum that goes to PTA meetings or reads books or does homework but the kids experience so much more from real life on the farm so I don’t believe they are missing out.

We may get the odd email about attendance on shearing days but we wouldn’t do it without them.

Briefly describe a typical working day (e.g. what time do you get up, have breakfast, round the sheep up etc).

A typical working day varies throughout the year but at the moment it goes like this. 

Wake 5:30 check and feed baby pheasant chicks, I’ve never been a morning person but it’s definitely a magical time of day when everything is waking up. Next check the cows due to calve, they are starting to bag tight but nothing acutely imminent just yet. By 6 I’m on feeding our 40 rearing calves, 5 our now weaned so getting easier. By 7 it’s in to wake the boys up for school. Pulling teeth would be an easier job most days!

Back out to finish calves and walk the nutty spaniels. 

Kids are off on buses by 8:20 and usually just after the baby (will always be called this I think) wakes up.

Days can vary but at the moment we usually check all the sheep then by 11am bell tents have been vacated and it’s on cleaning and changing bedding ready for next guests who arrive at 3pm. We are busy preparing more pheasant sheds for the next hatch which is on Tuesday, approx. 4000 chicks to come out.

After seeing new guests in at 3pm the kids are back and off collecting the days worth of eggs (pheasant) around 500 now. By 4/5 I usually get a moment to have a coffee and sit for 5 maybe eat lunch/dinner, then calves are due feed at 6pm 

After walking dogs and checking cows again then other random jobs that spring up it’s time for tea, littlest to bed and at the moment try and sit down before the suns down but not managed that yet this week! It’s definitely all go right now. 

Do you get any time off? If you do, what do you like to do?

Time off is rare, we have too much going on and really by the time you’ve organised all the help to do all the jobs it’s such a stress you just think why am I bothering!

Very occasionally I will get take the boys away in September to the seaside, can’t do better than a beach and waves and little boys.

What’s great about being a farmer?

Farming is most definitely hard work and like I’ve said you need that dedication to succeed, but it does give you endless opportunities. You can do as much as you want to push yourself to do. Yes financial constraints are limiting but over time putting in the effort you can achieve big things. 

10 years ago I would never have believed you if you said I would have 100 head of cattle and 500 ewes in 10 years! 

Only achieved through hard work, no one will do it for you, go out and get it! 

What do you think are the challenges?  

I think for some people the challenges of farming would be long hours, minimal pay, no spare time, can be a lonely job at times as well. 

For me I’m happy in my own company, it’s when I’m the most relaxed, just innately anti social perhaps, but more probably that I don’t have to be anything for anyone or put on any front.

I think the major benefit of the social media platforms for farmers is being able to speak and chat with others in the same job, without having to travel or make the effort when exhausted. You feel then part of a much wider community.

What would you say to other people thinking of becoming a farmer?

I think for people wanting to go into farming, yes there’s plenty of farming courses and degrees but really the hands on experience is the only way. From a young age go get on farms, they are always happy for extra help. Find out if this is really the life you want. It’s not all fluffy lambs and calves. The financial pressure and how that impacts life and death decisions is one of the hardest aspects of farming.

The responsibility is the heaviest weight, we can all work but managing those decisions always comes down the hardest.

What job opportunities are available for somebody, man or woman, wanting to enter the trade?

I think in farming the majority of jobs that exist are at the bottom labouring, tractor driving etc. and people shouldn’t be afraid to start there. It’s gives you an idea of every aspect of the farm work and then there is always opportunities to move up and start managing etc. if you work hard and are good at the job you’ll always move forward, but having appreciation of every job and it’s value is one of the most important things.

Any final words?

My ending note is never believe you can’t get somewhere and don’t let anyone tell you you can’t, if you have a goal go out and get it. Work hard and don’t give up. In farming persistence and stubbornness are good traits.

Go chase those dreams…

If you’re a farmer and you’d like to contribute in our campaign to raise awareness for the incredible work in British agriculture, please drop us a DM on Instagram – @howdenrural