Sustainable





Will and Sam Sawday are brothers who grew up on a small sheep farm in the Black Mountains and are now working meticulously with their mother to run the farm.

Will knew from a young age that he always wanted to play a part in farming. However, he was less interested in school academia and more interested in cycling around the county to woo girls. To all the families surprise — and Sam’s annoyance, he still managed to gain a first class honours degree in Agriculture.



sheep

Interview by Samuel Moppett
Photography by Robert Wyatt




Where is your farm located?
Just below the northern tip of the Black Mountains at Hay Bluff. It’s part of Brecon Beacons National Park and a stone’s throw away from Offa’s Dyke. There are many small old farms in the area that haven’t changed much in the last half century. The peaks always look different and you always find another spot or aspect to admire them from. I don’t want to sell it too much as it might cause an influx.
I hear the lake district is much better …

How have your mother and stepfather’s experiences
informed the way you run the farm?
Before we were born our parents took on some land in Kent and started their own flock. Richard, our stepfather, was from a farming family. He’d worked as a shepherd and shearer, and gained a scholarship that took him to New Zealand and Australia where he studied wool production.

He was impressed by how advanced and forward thinking they were, and wanted to bring this to the UK. Richard was one of the first people in this country to pregnancy test sheep. He travelled the world teaching and scanning hundreds of thousands of sheep a year — his record was 3,500 in one day. Richard sadly died in 2011, leaving a massive hole in our lives.

What effect has the farm had on your relationship as brothers?
It’s a big emotional tie. Although at times we get frustrated with each other, it gives us a common bond and will always be our home. When we are out on the farm we can still see the marks Richard left. He was practical, resourceful and built, invented and fixed almost everything on the farm. Most of his handiwork had an ‘agricultural’ finish to it — it's known as the ‘Butchy-Bodge-Job’ (Butch was his school nickname). I find it warming to be reminded of him regularly.

‘scanning hundreds of thousands
of sheep a year — his record was
3,500 in one day.



You have gone from one block of land to three …What are your plans for expansion?

It’s tripled in size in eighteen months, but we need more land and sheep to support three of us. However, we are not using what we produce to its full potential so we would like to explore ways to better market our products. We have fantastic wool and great tasting lamb.






What about your buyers and their needs?


Our income comes from three streams. Firstly, there’s the sheep sold for breeding to forward thinking farmers. They come to us for the genetics we produce. Then there’s the wool which is taken to a local collection centre run by the British Wool Marketing Board where it’s sorted and stockpiled. It’s then bought at auctions in Bradford. The buyers might be exporters or buying for large mills. Fat lambs are sold during the autumn and winter to a local farmers’ cooperative. They’re taken to an abattoir and distributed around the UK and Europe. This is one area of the business we’ll expand.

Sheepish personalities?

Some of them are distinctive. This year we had a young ewe who grazed in the field next to the farmhouse. During lambing, the gate was often open and she’d sneak out with her two lambs and graze the front lawn and look about the yard. We are pretty sure she is the daughter of another ewe that wanted to do exactly the same thing.

How long are your days?

At lambing time from first light to sunset. Mum always picks up the early shift. Will and I are later risers. We try not to do ridiculously long days.

How many people work on the farm?

Three at the moment. We often have to employ contractors to do jobs like shearing or hedge-cutting, and occasionally have to borrow an extra set of hands.

Most memorable farm moment?

One that sticks in my mind is when Mum was in the yard and turned around to see the tractor disappear through the fence and over the edge of the bank at the bottom of the drive. Richard had been moving the tractor and she assumed the worst. We rushed down to find Richard — red-faced and scratching his head, looking at the remains of the tractor in the stream at the bottom of the bank, engine still running.





What does the farm do regarding its impact on the environment?
Sustainability is important for all farmers, whether they realise it or not. If you erode your resources, you won’t  have anything left to farm. We believe in sustainable farming. Our primary business is breeding genetically superior sheep for breeding stock. They require less human intervention, less medicine and do it all from grass. This is done by stringent performance recording and with the aid of statistical models to analyse the genetic merit of each animal. We aim to increase output through lamb growth rates and meat/wool yield and reduce input through feed, medicine and labour.

Other farmers benefit from buying our genetics. In addition, they improve their animal welfare as there’s less disease and the sheep require less handling, meaning less antibiotic use and less antibiotic resistance.

Farmers have a bad reputation when it comes to caring for the environment, sometimes rightly so. We appreciate the place where we live and work and understand what we do could directly affect it. We manage the woodland, using a small amount for heating the farmhouse and replanting, and we closely monitor the soil and use a rain water collection system, piping the water to troughs.

We are clever in the way we feed the sheep; we can increase the productivity of our pastures simply by grazing them with the sheep in the correct way. We do many different things that ensure that we sustain the environment of the farm so that in 50 years’ time the farm will still be able to do what it is doing and still be an amazing place to inhabit.



What’s special about the High Country Romney?
The breed originates from Romney Marsh and found its way to New Zealand becoming the breed of choice. New Zealand has a varied climate and landscape and needs a hardy, high performing sheep. Political changes during the eighties meant farming subsidies were scrapped and the Kiwis had to adapt their sheep to meet their needs.

The Romney produces two lambs a year, often in poor weather with little or no help from shepherds. Their mothering ability is incredible. They don’t need supplementary feeds and thrive on grass. The Romney also produces a high quality fleece of wool and a good amount of it.

What’s your relationship with the sheep?
The sheep are our business and life at Hill Farm. General daily shepherding tasks require you to spend time with them and in doing that, you pick up things. You begin to recognise certain individuals, the inquisitive ones, the big pushy ones and the quiet relaxed ones. You also see them progress or change through the year and it gives me a lot of pleasure seeing them out in the field happy and with full stomachs.

We each like different aspects of being around sheep. Will for instance loves the sound of the sheep munching away at the grass — it’s a unique noise. Ultimately though we all know that for us to have a healthy business we need healthy happy animals and so we are always doing what we can. Checking them, making sure there is enough grass in front of them. Managing and recording. We play our part through caring for them — our relationship is two way.