2018-01-24  facebooktwitterrss

Young Sheep Farmers Embark on NSA Ambassador Programme

After its most competitive selection process yet, the National Sheep Association (NSA) is thrilled to announce the 12 young individuals selected to take part in its 2018 NSA Next Generation Ambassador programme.

The programme has gone from strength to strength since its launch in 2014 and is part of NSA’s wider Next Generation initiative, a dedicated area of work designed to encourage and support sheep farmers and service providers of the future.


As ever, individuals selected to take part this year come from all corners of the UK (pictured above) and have taken a variety of different routes into the sheep sector. From a self-employed shepherd negotiating his way into buying a 620-ewe flock in one go to an individual making his mark on a family business by introducing EID performance recording systems.

The Ambassador programme will see the group take part in a series of technical and personal development sessions across the UK through the year, set to cover a diverse range of topics relating to the sheep sector. Developing a close working relationship with NSA will also form an important part of the programme, designed to benefit both parties in the future.

Joanne Briggs, NSA Communications Manager, says: “This year’s selection process has been one of our most competitive yet, making it extremely challenging to choose just 12 out of so many worthy candidates. It is a real credit to the industry to see such passion and enthusiasm shine through from the young individuals who apply, something we should be very proud of.

“NSA is thrilled to be embarking on the programmes fifth year, with thanks owed to the continued funding from NSA regions and ram sales alongside support from several delivery partners. We look forward to welcoming the 2018 group to their first delivery session in mid-February.”

It is vital the talent among the next generation of the sheep industry is cultivated to ensure fresh ideas and enthusiasm are brought forward, which is why NSA’s work under its Next Generation banner is so important.

Joanne concludes: “The NSA Next Generation Ambassador programme helps young individuals to further their careers, but also arms them with the confidence and communication skills needed to share their enthusiasm and passion for the sheep industry to a wider audience for years to come.”

The first of five NSA Next Generation Ambassador delivery sessions this year will take place in mid-February.

Meet the 2018 NSA Next Generation Ambassadors

1. Lauren Bird (27) Oxfordshire
A new job for Lauren also brought a famous backdrop to work against. She is the new shepherd at Highclere Estate, better known as the setting for popular television series Downton Abbey. This will be Lauren’s second shepherding job the in the UK, after spending seven years working on sheep stations in Australia and picking up what she calls her ‘really bad Aussie accent’. She believes that the move will allow her to lease some land, in addition to her employed work, providing a home for a Charollais stud she hopes to restart from her time in Australia. Lauren also hopes to have opportunity to tender for a sheep share-farming lease at Highclere. Ambassador goal: Lauren would like to use her experiences working at home and overseas, as well as being an NSA Ambassador, to one day offer an apprenticeship or college training opportunity to a young person coming into the sector.

2. Oliver Brayne (31) Derbyshire
As a self-confessed ‘sponge’, Oliver says he can’t wait to absorb all the new information he’ll encounter as an NSA Ambassador. He loves learning and applying ideas to the low-input flock he’s running in the High Peak area. This is currently 100 Easycare ewes and a small number of pedigree cattle on land rented from five different landlords. He also works as a landscaper and fencer, but hopes to increase livestock numbers instead so he can farm full-time. Oliver is a first-generation farmer and, as such, is passionate about encouraging other new entrants and better informing consumers. He says: “As farmers we should want to show any member of the public every part of our business. We should have systems in place that we are proud of and confident enough to share.” One to watch: Oliver wants to be a pioneer in the breeding of an upland, maternal, wool-shedding sheep with the potential to impact the entire UK hill sector.

3. Thomas Chapman (27) Staffordshire
One of the lucky few to have a county council farm, Thomas is ambitious about using his tenancy at Eccleshall as a springboard to bigger and better things. His five-year target is to increase from his current 400 head of Mules to a closed flock of 800 homebred composites. Thomas runs a contract shepherding business alongside the farm, as well as grading lambs and scanning tags at Market Drayton and Ludlow markets. This motivates him to be ‘picky’ about the ewes he breeds from and the lambs he finishes. “I plan to continue using data collected via EID to aid decision-making and only select ewes with the correct traits to produce replacements,” he says. Thomas adds that he would like to take on an apprentice one day, to give them the opportunities he has been fortunate enough to have. Top fact: Thomas breeds and trains sheepdogs. He says this is invaluable for running his flock, but also a useful income stream when he sells some on.

4. Bleddyn Davies (25) Ceredigion
From his earliest memory showing pet lambs at the local show, Bleddyn’s enthusiasm for sheep farming has grown and grown. He is now farming alongside his parents, taking responsibility for 200 Beulah Speckled Faced, 250 improved Tregaron-type Welsh and 350 cross-bred ewes. Bleddyn started EID recording three years ago and is using this information to select replacements and move towards an improved Welsh for his breeding females. His aim is to work fulltime on the family farm at Llandysul, although he says his part-time job as a field officer for the Welsh YFC Beef Scheme is great for picking up tips off-farm. He believes that he could increase ewe numbers on the existing land through better grassland management and he wants to gain skills in this area as an NSA Ambassador, while also beginning to engage with the non-farming public. One to watch: Bleddyn likes to challenge himself by setting annual scanning and weaning targets, stretching himself each year to finish more lambs without concentrates.

5. Rollo Deutsch (22) Gloucestershire
Nothing can stop Rollo from making the most of the opportunities that come his way. Having been approached to take on a shepherding role, he instead negotiated buying the sheep and renting the land to establish his own 620-ewe flock. Keen to find his next big break, he has kept up his work as a contract shearer and freelance shepherd, and continues to make new partnerships with landowners and farmers. Rollo believes his best chance at succeeding, without being eligible for the BPS, is chasing efficiencies and establishing himself as a top 25% producer – showing people on the way just what can be achieved. He says: “I started with two sheep and worked my way up. I really want to show the older generation that it can be done and what they can do to encourage people like me. Young people want to come in, but they need support from the industry and government.” Top fact: Rollo competed at the NSA Marches Region Next Generation Shepherds’ Day in the summer, qualifying for the national final in July 2018.

6. Joe Emmett (26) Norfolk
If 1,100 breeding ewes, 4,000 bought-in store lambs and 150 sucklers weren’t enough to keep him busy at work, Joe also runs his own 340-ewe flock and 25-cow herd on rented ground near his home at King’s Lynn. His aim is to move his flock towards all pure-bred New Zealand Romneys and increase numbers but, for the meantime at least, to also continue his work as a self-employed shepherd. On both the farm where he works and the land he rents, Joe has a mix of grass/forage crops in arable rotations and poor-grade grazing on heathland. “I strongly believe in building working relationships and having a good reputation as a grazier,” he says. “I’m enjoying seeing how you can utilise marginal grazing to produce a quality product.” Ambassador goal: Knowing that local NSA meetings are great for giving him a boost, Joe’s excited about travelling as an NSA Ambassador and meeting people from other parts of the UK.

7. Kirree Kermode (32) Isle of Man
This years’ NSA Ambassador group will have something a bit different, with Kirree being the first person to be selected from the Isle of Man. Despite living off the mainland, Kirree – and her parents and brothers – are well known throughout the UK for selling pedigree Texel rams, including some via the NSA Wales & Border Sale. They’ve recently added Texel-Charollais crosses to their portfolio, as well as the Charollais rams they’ve always sold locally. Kirree takes charge of the sheep enterprise at Ballasalla (in the south of the island) managing the unit’s 250 Texel and 80 Charollais pedigree ewes, as well as a 600-ewe flock of mainly Suffolk and Texel crosses. She has big plans for the sheep, wanting to ensure the breeding ethos across them all is focused on the commercial traits that both buyers and the home farm need to survive. Top fact: Kirree co-presents a countryside show on a local radio station, broadcasting two half-hour shows each week. She enjoys finding farming stories to interest and educate listeners.

8. David McMullan (27) County Antrim
As the fourth generation on the family farm near Ballymoney, David believes he has a responsibility to push the business forward in the present and leave a mark for the future. He and his father run 350 commercial Mules and 20 pedigree Texels, with David keen to expand to 500 commercials and 30 pedigrees while also finishing more lambs off grass. Leaving a legacy is not something David wants to restrict to his own farm. He sees his new role as an NSA Ambassador as an opportunity to get involved in the wider sheep sector. He says: “We are only the caretakers for this generation. I would like to leave a stamp on this farm and on the industry for generations to come. We need to look at the bigger picture rather than think we’re just in a field all day on our own.” Ambassador goal: David is already using AI with his pedigree ewes to exploit genetics, but is also interested in utilising EBVs and even genomics.

9. Sion Morgan (28) Scottish Borders
He may be a long way from home, but Sion is making his mark as a shepherd for a large farming enterprise at Galashiels. The opportunity to work with large numbers of sheep in a New Zealand-style system was enough to lure him away from the family farm in Carmarthenshire, Wales. He is in charge of 2,100 ewes on the home farm, plus another 800 on a neighbouring hill estate. “I’m motivated and want to go wherever I can progress the best – be that Scotland, Wales or wherever,” he says. Sion is a keen competitor in sheepdog trials and has quite a following for his dogs and career on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He sees social media as a great network for people working in isolated areas, as well as a tool for promoting agriculture. Top fact: Sion qualified as an electrician before he decided sheep were his thing. He left his tool box behind to go shearing overseas, leading to a short stint shepherding 45,000 ewes on one of New Zealand’s largest sheep stations.

10. Richard Rossiter (26) Devon
Developing commercial breeding animals is Richard’s passion, with interesting work already afoot with the family’s 600 Poll Dorsets, 200 Suffolk/Aber Blacks and 400 Exlanas. Richard’s involvement in the Poll Dorset Centurion Group, promoting high performance sheep to pedigree and commercial customers, has led to an interest in prolifically, carcase quality and lambing ease. With the Exlanas, Richard is likewise involved in the SIG group and uses the low-input ewes in his own business to utilise coastal and stewardship land that’s not wanted by local arable and dairy farmers. Innovis’ Aber Blacks, marketed as a finer-boned easier-lambing derivative of the Suffolk breed, is the newest addition to the farm at Kingsbridge. Richard would like to do more performance recording with these, hoping to add CT scanning to the mix. One to watch: Richard says that the confidence he hopes to gain as an NSA Ambassador will encourage him to exploit his location in a popular holiday area to engage with the public, and integrate him into the NSA network of communicating farmer priorities to those in power.

11. Catherine Sanderson (24) North Yorkshire
The whirlwind of positivity Catherine bought to her NSA Ambassador interview is indicative of her approach to everything in life. She went into partnership with her grandparents two years ago, already updating husbandry practices on the farm, based near Thirsk, and doubling sheep numbers by adding 100 Swaledales to the existing 100 Texels. She says: “I’ve invested in different breeds so we can produce prime lambs and Mule gimmers to access two different markets and be less exposed to changes in prices. I am also trying to improve the quality of my stock all the time, so our sheep will stand out even if markets are flooded.” Catherine’s plans include more sustainable use of wormers and antibiotics and more performance recording – as well as continuing to increase numbers so she can reduce the amount of time she spends shepherding for other people. One to watch: Keen to educate the public and add value to an existing diversification project, Catherine plans to offer farm tours to people who stay at the farm’s holiday cottage.

12. Zoey Symington (21) Shetland
Being the youngest Ambassador this year, and the one with the furthest to travel, will not phase Zoey. She already runs her own shepherding business and holds down three jobs. Zoey is an important part of Shetland’s farming community, working at the island’s livestock lairage (import/export processing) and at the livestock market. She also works on a beef and sheep farm with 800 ewes and, if that weren’t enough, is in partnership with her mother and sister on the family farm at South Nesting (in the centre of the mainland island) with a 150-ewe flock. Her priorities for the future are gaining a reputation as a contract shepherd and taking on more responsibility on the farm where she works, improving the breeding flock in the process. Ambassador goal: Zoey can’t wait to get started. She says: “To get to learn more about the sheep sector, where my main love of farming lies, is very exciting. I can’t think of a better way to get involved in something I’m passionate about.”


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