Hello! My name is Hannah Russell, I’m 26 years old and I live at Swinton Green Nidderdale which is based on the Swinton Estate North Yorkshire. I’ve always loved Yorkshire which is probably why I enjoy the outdoors so much, my parents always use to go walking on weekends taking me, my brother and two German shepherds with us.
At just 6 years old I got my first pony badger and he lived with me for 20 years until he passed away, he started my love for horses and learnt me to ride. My family have always been in the farming community but my Mum and Dad had their own electronics business, it was my extended family who where based in the farming industry. During spring time from an early age I use to go up to the family farms and feed the pets lambs, I loved seeing them grow and spending time in the barn, I think I knew back then I wanted to work with animals but wasn’t sure how and wasn’t old enough to understand that I could have my own flock one day.
I now have a small holding of my own, which is set to open as a visitors centre this Spring 2023. ‘Swinton Green Visitors centre’
I have rare breed sheep – Valais black nose sheep, I specifically focus on rare breed sheep and started with my first Valais black nose sheep two years ago – Izzy & Ida came to live with me.
After working on a few local farms through spring time for lambing I decided I wanted to specialise in the rare breed sector, mainly because I love the Valais and wanted to work with something I was passionate about, my Valais herd is growing each year and this year I started the first breeding programme so hoping for some lambs in the months ahead. My plan is to focus on the Valais for the next few years, going to shows and building up my reputation with the sheep but then look to get some other rare breeds in the future. I also love the grey faced Dartmoor sheep, so let’s see what happens in the years ahead.
The history of the Valais black nose sheep originated from the Valais canton of Switzerland. Native to the upper Valais region, the Valais black nose graze in the alps in the summer months June – September. Though houses in the winter months, they are a sturdy breed and adapt well to harsh conditions so great here when it’s snowing and raining in the Yorkshire Dales.
They are well known for being friendly sheep and if you ever see my sheep with me they will greet you with a bouncy hop and be desperate for a scratch and a cuddle, they also love treats. They are judged on wool, general appearance and confirmation at shows and need to be sheared twice a year.
The Valais black nose sheep are a rare breed sheep and come with a high value price so it’s important to me to perform regular health checks with them, before I got my own flock I wanted to make sure I got plenty of knowledge about the breed but since their arrival I’ve learnt so much.
At the Small holding at Swinton Green it’s not just sheep! I have four pygmy goats, 3 ponies including Little Alf the famous mini Shetland who I write books about, four dogs, 1 guinea pig, 5 chickens, 2 rabbits, some fish and on the way 3 alpacas….
As someone who loves the outdoors and animal industry I wanted to open up the premises to the public, it’s been something I’ve been working towards for a number of years now.
I started writing books when I was 17 about my miniature Shetland pony Little Alf and it spiralled from there, I now have 19 books published and an online retail business. I get my business flare from my parents but combined it with a farming and outdoor lifestyle.
This year is a huge year because we will be opening the doors, I have plans in the future to offer experience days with the alpacas which will involve alpaca walking around the farm. It’s very much a family run enterprise now, my Dad is in charge of the gardening and Mum is an artist so she is equally creative and steering Dad with plans for the flowers and fields.
As well as offering alpaca walking, I have plans to offer courses for budding ‘small holders’ who would like to start there own small holding one day, this would be a day course on starting your own small holding and would include things such as trimming feet on sheep, worming, shearing, grazing land and general animal health.
I was 24 when I decided to start my own small holding and work in the farming industry, I had got involved with lambing over the years and working my dogs on the moors through winter, I also studied BTEC Agriculture for two years at level 3 but never took it up as a career after college as I didn’t know what opportunities where available at the time.
I was 21 when I was diagnosed with Sarcoma Cancer, at the time I was working as an interior designer/ author, I had a few animals but not as many as I have now and during the time of being poorly and going through one of the biggest challenges I had faced it put life in to perspective and I started to think about having a small holding of my own one day, it wasn’t until I was 25 – 3 years later when I finally got remission from cancer and during that time I knew I wanted to look in to breeding rare breed sheep and continue my studies future.
I have just finished studying animal management and a livestock first aid course, I’m always looking to future my knowledge and education because even though I have experience in the industry you can always learn something new, It’s great in the farming and outdoor community because you often find people are willing to help you and offer advice. I’m also lucky as my uncle has a farm not far from my home so I can take trips up to the farm and get advice when I need it, I’m planning on heading up this Spring to get more lambing experience.
I currently have four dogs at the small holding, but no sheep dogs yet… I think once my Valais team grows I’ll be looking to add one to the pack. I love training all my animals, even my sheep love getting involved with going over jumps. I’ve always been a little bit different with my animals, it’s great to create connections with them and see their personalities and characters in the fields. I have 2 working dogs, Winston a flat coat Retriever and Elvis the Springer spaniel they work around the land we have here and head up to the moors over shooting season, I love watching dogs work out on the moors.
I also have a German shepherd Sasha, who has that natural shepherd instinct in her, she has been known to follow the sheep up and round them up. Then Pip is the wire haired dachshund, he’s the tiniest one but has the biggest personality, he’s very naughty and protective, he’s actually asleep at my feet now under my desk so looks rather cute.
It’s busy here running a small holding and a business, so I don’t get much time away from work. To be honest I love being at home, there isn’t much places I would rather be than in the field with the animals, if I get a day away it’s often spent hiking with the dogs, I love being outdoors as much as possible, I’m not sure how I use to work in the office 5 days a week.
My favourite thing about working in the farming industry is seeing things grow and your efforts paying off, lambing the sheep and seeing the spring lambs, winning at shows, connecting people with animals and as a breeder building your reputations. I personally just love being outdoors, it’s a great way to live, I do use social media as part of my business model but it’s important to switch off and just take time to enjoy what you have and I get to do this being outside. I also have a couple of work experience students currently who are helping out once a week, I love seeing them learn new things and hear about what they would like to do in the farming industry.
As much as I love what I do, there is always challenges faced, I think when you work with livestock there is a lot of diseases to watch out for but also problems that could go wrong. My biggest challenge so far is probably getting enough knowledge I need to help further my growth, but I’m working towards this on new courses.
Also the first winter when I got the Valais they got scald in their feet a few times which is a common cause with foot problems, so I needed to learn on the job pretty quick, I’ve not had any issues with them the last two winters which is great.
Anyone thinking of working in the farming and agriculture industry I would say go for it, you get to meet some lovely people, pick up jobs in sectors you would like to work in and go from there, you’ll figure out what your end goal is once you start in the industry. I think it’s one of them industry’s where opportunities are always popping up and people are willing to help.
About Hannah Russell:
Hannah Russell is a renowned Author, public speaker, business woman, charity ambassador and all round animal lover. She is the founder of ‘Swinton Green Visitors centre’ at Swinton Estate, North Yorkshire (Set to open in 2023) Where she lives with her team of animals, including Little Alf the famous miniature Shetland and Valais black nose sheep who have reached over 72 million people around the globe.
Hannah has a passion for animals and all things outdoors, she’s been seen in the media and on TV over the years talking about her enjoyment for different species and how they have provided therapy for her through some hard times, battling cancer and overcoming a back injury.
She has a global following of over 50K followers on social media, who she loves to share her love for animals and outdoor life with….
Instagram : @hannahrusselloutdoors / @hannahlittlealfandfriends
Facebook : @hannahrusselllittlealfandfriends
Websites: https://www.hannahrusselloutdoors.co.uk/ – https://www.hannahlittlealfandfriends.com/