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 Josie Cosham (@ewe_me_and_the_kids), who is an English farmer based in Sussex. Josie helped us understand the farm she works on, how she came to be a farmer and what an average day in her boots looks like…
What kind of farm you work on, is it just sheep or other animals too?
We have a smallholding of about 14 acres of grass and 8 acres of overgrown woodland. We have 15 pedigree rare breed Dorset Down sheep, 4 Pygmy goats, an elderly Labrador and 3 legged cat and a 10 month old Labrador puppy. We are hoping to add some cattle to the menagerie in the near future.
What’s you farming background?
I have always loved animals since a young age and always been interested in farming.
My Great grandparents farmed in Belgium and my Dad spent his summers with them and had always wanted to have his own farm. He never managed this but encouraged my passion for farming and I know he would love what we are doing now and would have enjoyed helping me out. One of my favourite family holidays when I was small was when we stayed on a dairy farm in Devon. The farmer let me join him everyday for morning milking which I thought was great and my parents loved it as I was always up early and this gave them a bit of a lie in. I still love milking now!
This love of animals led to me becoming a veterinary surgeon. During my training I always enjoyed my time working on farms and being around the livestock, so when I qualified as a vet I worked in mixed animal practice before specialising in small animal work.
Why did you decide to become a farmer?
I am not sure I consider myself a real farmer however… I have taken time off from being a veterinary surgeon to be a mum and a move 3 years ago to where we live now provided me with the opportunity to own my own livestock and with the support from my husband I took the step to get some sheep and goats. I am hoping the children, as they grow up, will enjoy having the animals as much as I do.
What led you to decide to farm the animals you have?
We started with sheep as I have always enjoyed lambing and we thought it would be a good place to start being easy enough I could manage most of it on my own. We chose the breed as we were looking for something a bit different and an easy care breed for lambing and fattening. We found a lovely local breeder of Dorset Downs and she has been a great source of advice and support loaning us Bryan the ram we used this year. Dorset Down sheep are on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watchlist so it’s great to be able to support one of our native breeds too. The Pygmy goats are just a bit of fun and are such characters, we might breed them one day. We are also planning on having some cows in the not to distant future, we are rather taken with the idea of having our own Highlands roaming in our woodland
What are the key qualities needed to do your job?
Patience and perseverance, nothing ever goes to plan when working with the animals (or children!) and I only have a few!!
How did you train for and become competent at this role?
Having been a farm vet for several years I have come to livestock ownership with a good background knowledge of general care but as this was some time ago I have read up and consulted my vets on up to date treatments and practices.
I also have several good friends (one who is also a vet) who happily come along and give me a hand with husbandry jobs such as vaccines, dagging and foot trimming.
Do you use a sheepdog? What’s his or her name and how long have you had them?
No sheep dog, thankfully the sheep are fairly tame and bucket trained so generally are happy to follow me for food.
Do you have children and run a home too? If so, how do you juggle these responsibilities?
I do have two young children and run the home, the children are generally happy to come along with me to help out with the animal checks and feeding. Most of the time they just end up running about with the goats and playing in the mud. Thankfully I do not have to work, as I am not sure how I would fit it all in! Lambing might be a bit trickier but I am hoping it will be worth the running around and no sleep to be able to enjoy watching the lambs grow up and the children to experience lambing. They are very excited about having our own lambs.
Briefly describe a typical working day (e.g. what time do you get up, have breakfast, round the sheep up etc).
My days vary greatly but my early morning routine is the same. My first task of the day is taking the dogs out and usually at this point I walk alongside the field the sheep are in and do a quick head count and make sure everyone is upright. It is then back to the house to feed everyone breakfast and make lunches (except for my husband who has quite often left for work by this stage) whilst I drink coffee.
Once everyone indoors is fed then I head out to check and feed the sheep and goats accompanied by the lab puppy and sometimes one or two kids in their PJs.
Then depending on what the children are doing we do the school run, walk the dog and the days both children are at pre school/school I will then get on with mucking out, maintenance jobs, husbandry tasks and just generally spending time with the animals.
Do you get any time off? If you do, what do you like to do?
The time off from the children and house I have is generally spent with the animals, which I really enjoy. We are lucky enough to have lovely friends and family locally that feed and look after the animals when we have been away but so far since we have owned them we have only been away in the UK for a few days at a time.
In any additional free time I have I enjoy socialising with friends and spending time with family.
What’s great about being a farmer?
I absolutely love being around the animals and being outdoors, I do enjoy all aspects of owning them. I also love having friends and family over and watching them have fun feeding and meeting the sheep and goats. One day we might take the leap and move to our own farm but for now we are very happy where we are with our small flock.
What do you think are the challenges?
I feel farmers are having a really tough time of things at present and I feel very fortunate to be able to have our animals for enjoyment and thankful that I am not having to try and run it as a business as that would be extremely stressful given all the pressures farmers are facing.
Have you always felt supported when learning and on the job?
I am very lucky to have some great friends and family who have a wealth of farming experience and knowledge and are very tolerant of me picking their brains or asking favours! The farming community are great at supporting each other and I have felt very supported by them.
What would you say to other people thinking of becoming a farmer?
Do it! I would love to do it full time (maybe one day). I would also be honest with them about the need to be out in all weathers, everyday and the financial challenge too.