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 Polly Reid (@pollyreidlifestyle), who is a shepherdess. Polly is a sustainable fashion designer and produces a range of clothing that is sewn and grown on her own farm as well as rearing rare and minority breeds. Read more below about her journey and life in farming…
I’m Polly, a goat / sheep herdess and fashion designer. My grandparents were dairy farmers, so I guess farming is in my blood. But I was brought up by a mum who couldn’t wait to get away from the country and live in a town, so I started my career as a Research Chemist working in the oil industry.
I was very lucky to be living/working near to London at the time of making the first change to my career and was accepted to study Womenswear at the London College of Fashion. After graduating, I worked as a designer in the bridalwear industry before setting up my own business.
In May 2012 my husband, Stuart, secured a new job and we moved to a smallholding in North Aberdeenshire. Although I love animals, having four border collies at the time, I had no intention of keeping livestock. Famous last words, the grass in the fields grew rapidly and I soon realised I needed some help. Reinforcements arrived in the autumn of that year – three Angora goats and five sheep and from there my farming life and “woolly” family grew.
I have dedicated my smallholding to rare and minority breeds. It’s taken 10 years to develop a small, closed flock of Angora goats and Ouessant sheep. Caring for goats and sheep is a steep, expensive learning curve. Each one has different requirements and there is the need to take necessary steps to ensure they get through the toughest of seasons here, from wild, cold, snow swept winters with six feet snow drifts, autumns with winds over 80 mph to occasional hot and dry summers.
I’ve learnt about farming along the way through joining groups, asking advice from farmers, online courses and attending vet run courses such as lambing. I have also learnt the hard way that goats and sheep should never cross graze, due to the worm burden, so other animals (Kune kune pigs, an Eriskay pony, donkey, Sebastopol geese and chickens) have joined the gang to help manage the fields after they have been browsed by the goats. Contrary to popular belief goats are fussy eaters and forcing them to graze can create health problems.
Typically my day starts at about 4:30 am, doing all the farm chores, feeds and taking the goats up the hillside from the barn before walking across the yard to my studio at 8. In between orders, I check on everyone and once I’ve done the post at 5, farm work starts again with supper typically at about 8ish. The rest of the evening is spent doing paperwork.
Weekends are pretty much spent mucking out the stables and barn and doing jobs such as muck spreading, topping, haircuts etc depending on the time of year. I have very little free time but any I do have is spent baking or my new hobby, photography.
Until the pandemic I was running the smallholding by myself with Stuart working away. He now helps out in the evenings and some weekends, “the sooner Polly gets the jobs done, sooner I get fed,” type of help.
I have 2 working border collies, Moss and Hollie and a pyrenean livestock guardian dog, Aran. I have attended sheep dog training courses over the years but with Aran it has been on the job training. He’s been brought up with the goats since a pup and they see him as one of the flock. As I can be out late at night kidding, the goats are happy for him to lay near keeping an eye on the proceedings and I don’t have to worry about my safety, as I know he’s got my back.
I’m not going to kid you, no pun intended, but to anyone thinking of running a smallholding, it needs an income to support it. With the goats needing two haircuts a year I was faced with the dilemma of what to do with the mohair and wool from the sheep. I decided to combine my love of fashion with my love of farming.
My new business Polly Reid Style is a clothing brand designed to showcase the value and diversity of wool from knitwear, evening dresses to faux fur jackets made using wool fibres not plastic
However, I don’t want to be seen just as another sustainable clothing brand. With the recent focus on climate change, farming has borne, somewhat unfairly, the brunt of blame. With wool being amongst one of the popular fabrics people shop for when looking for eco-friendly options. I thought what if farming could help consumers see “farm to fashion” in the same way they now see “farm to fork.”
It’s an image I want to create in the public’s mind: people visiting farms with pastures of sheep, goats, alpacas and really understanding where their clothes come from. Clothing should no longer be just this thing that shows up on the high street or online. So in 2024 it is my intention to have open days and workshops to allow people to visit and meet the animals and show in the studio how the wool and mohair is turned into clothes and accessories.
To anyone thinking of farm life/work, we found that adjusting to rural life came easily and we settled in quickly but it can be lonely. We love having nature on our doorstep and being able to walk in the surrounding countryside. Apart from the weather and the physical and mental demands of keeping animals, the biggest challenge has been balancing the smallholding with our full-time jobs. Our task list is endless and there’s never time to do everything we would like to, but we enjoy it enormously and I try to keep things manageable by developing the smallholding slowly. I would recommend doing a lot of research beforehand to identify animals and breeds that would work your land as sustainably as possible and be well-suited to smallholding life and most importantly you.