Part two of a comprehensive interview with Abbie Bryant (26), who runs A & A Livestock with Andy Moye (24), in conversation with our editor, Catherina Cunnane, in this week’s Farmer Focus segment. We discuss challenges they face as first-generation farmers; the first generation farmers provide advice for aspiring farmers and propose a solution to the climate crisis.
“The biggest challenge was even getting started! Honestly, I had reached a point where I thought my dream of farming was never going to happen.
I had tried finding ways into the industry, but nothing worked out. I then met Andy, who was mad enough to actually make a go of it!
He had already bought a few cattle and found land to rent. This blew my mind! He was doing it! So why could nog I?
This instantly jump-started my passion again. It had finally become possible. We then found more land to rent and expanded our numbers of cattle. Soon we then bought some sheep.
First generation farmers
Time, or lack of, is another huge challenge as we both work full-time at the moment to support our business.
We have to do everything in the evenings and our weekends are full-on.
Another challenge is money or lack of it. All our money goes on our business—vet bills, rent, paying for new stock.
The only equipment we have is the truck, trailer, electric fencing and the hurdles.
We desperately need a quad bike to make life easier, but we cannot afford one right now.
Another is not having contacts. Not being from a farming family, we have no farming contacts. We had to make all the contacts we have to date.
Some people did not want to know as we are both first-generation farmers. But most have been so helpful, and we are grateful to have met them.
Another was not knowing what the heck we are doing. A lot of the time, we are just winging it. Obviously, we never put the health of our animals at risk and so ask for advice or help if needed.
For example, this was our first year ever lambing. Almost all lambs needed lambing, of course! Talk about a crash course.
I just had to get on with it and hope that I had read enough books! We did have an experienced shepherdess friend nearby, who did help us out a couple of times which we appreciated.
Also, not having our own land. Not having a base and that space to expand from is hard.
Although we have been so incredibly lucky with the land, we went to and our landlords, we would love to have even an acre of our own land. That is our goal for the near future.
Andy is the planner. He plans out the grazing and the fencing set up. He is very practical and plans ahead. As a herdsmen, he is very confident when working with the cattle. He takes the lead with calving also.
He can be incredibly stubborn, though and likes to throw things when he is mad. We have lost multiple tools that way. He promises me nothing said when working with livestock is meant, though.
I am more of a dreamer; dream big! I am the bossier one, and I have absolutely no patience. I often get ahead of myself! Run before I can walk.
I tend to find the contacts, do a lot of the social media side of things and lots of the admin side. Although, I would much rather be out working in the field.
I tend to be the point of contact for people. I do all of the lambings as I have tiny hands! We work best together as I push Andy, and he grounds me.
Working with animals is what I like most about farming. We are both huge animals lovers, often preferring animals to people.
We love working outdoors and learning new things. Working for ourselves gives us such a sense of pride and freedom.
Yes, it is hard work, yes, it makes us poor, yes, it can be incredibly stressful. But it is both our passion. If it was not, I do not think it would work.
On a nice spring day, working outdoors is incredible. But come snow and extreme heat (especially if you are ginger), it can be hard.
The financial side is difficult as we want to expand and farm full-time, but we just can’t afford to at the moment. People not believing in us.
Not hearing that familiar family farming name and that we are both the first-generation, some people will not take us seriously.
Also, as we do not farm conventionally and think outside the box as we do not have to follow in anyone’s footsteps, we meet some controversy.
Not having the contacts and building everything from scratch is a constant battle. Also, we do not have much time. We barely get spare time for dates/seeing friends/family. Forget a holiday! But who needs a holiday from a life you love?
However, my only regret is not meeting Andy sooner and starting younger. Although I wish we knew then what we know now! It’s only been a year-and-a-half, and look how far we have come. Imagine what we could have done with five!
We try our best to take most things on the chin and work through it. This being said, some circumstances cause us to scratch our heads and get a bit stressed sometimes.
A lack of time and not living together
At the moment, our biggest obstacle is time. We both work full-time elsewhere. As we grow, we are now struggling to get everything done during a weekend.
Our system works with the livestock, so we only ever do any handling or moving at their pace. This keeps stress as low as possible. Also, this means we have to plan and book time off work for any big tasks.
With routine jobs, this is not too bad, but as anyone with livestock knows, you must expect the unexpected at all times. When this happens, it can be a mad rush to sort an issue before or after work or put off work completely to sort the issue as the welfare of our livestock comes before anything else.
The second biggest obstacle would be that we currently are not living together or living within sight of our livestock.
One day we would love to step out the front door and see our animals grazing.
Before this winter, Andy would like to buy a static caravan and have it on rented land close to our stock or even an acre or two of our own.
Now, this might be quite a large task to achieve before this winter, but like anything we do, just hope for the best, add a smidge of planning and just get on with it.
What we know now
When we started expanding, we thought we would want a pedigree herd. However, we found this was a very expensive route and a very competitive world. Now we buy any native hardy breeds. In fact, we love cross-bred, native breeds.
We would like to eventually design our own breed of cow with superior grass genetics. Also, we both say we wish we had met sooner.
We wish we had known more about regenerative farming when we started to have been further ahead with it now.
Advice for aspiring farmers
It is possible to farm even if you are not born into a farm. We do not own any land; none of our family does. We are not from farming backgrounds, but we have made it work.
But, we were lucky; we found each other. If you have a partner, make sure they have the same passion for it. If not, having someone as a support system is really important.
We have a Facebook group for first-generation farmers as a support group for advice and encouragement. Search for it and we will help you!
Financially, there are not many grants/schemes out there for people like us unless you already own land. Land/farms being ridiculously expensive to buy! No opportunity to get into the industry and not having enough courses available.
We have some advice for people considering becoming farmers. Do not listen to people telling you you will make no money! It is true (at first!) but still, do it.
If you have the passion and that is what you want to do, do it! My biggest regret is thinking I could not farm. Gain experience. Volunteer if you can. Make contacts.
Find a mentor, someone who can help you. Join farming groups locally for support. Learn as much as possible.
You can rent land even if you do not own any. We found land by emailing local farms/calling/leaving notes on gates. Someone out there will give you a chance. We are proof no matter what your background or gender, you can be a farmer!
Anyone out there who wants to become a farmer. You can do it! I hope little Abbie and Andy would be proud of us! Dreams do come true, but only if you work your butt off for them!
Goals we have set as first generation farmers
In five years, we would like to own some of our own land. Also, to have expanded our numbers of cattle and sheep and added some chickens and pigs (and lots more dogs!)
We want slightly more equipment and a steady supply of customers for our beef/lamb boxes.
Also, we want to make more contacts and feel more established in our business.
Furthermore, we have a desire to help others get into the industry and, most importantly, farm full-time with our own business. Also, to actually feel like we know what we are doing would be nice!
Short-term, we need to buy a couple of rams. This will be our first time breeding the sheep. We are getting more breeding ewes soon.
We have AI’d the cattle to a Stabiliser bull and put Apollo, our breeding bull, in for the first time.
So next year, we will be calving and lambing more animals than ever before! Wish us luck! We want to sell all our beef and lamb boxes successfully and just keep learning and expanding our business.
Besides, we would like to improve our knowledge and know-how of farming using regenerative practices. Having some land of our own and expanding our rented land would be a huge opportunity.
Organisation is definitely not our strongest point! I need to work on having more patience as I have none!
Andy needs to work on being less stubborn. We need to gain more experience as a whole, especially with lambing and calving and with breeding for certain genetics. Also, not arguing while working livestock would be great as well.
We have always stayed clear of most chemicals before, and definitely, now we run things regeneratively. We see many problems with chemical resistance in livestock and reliance on chemicals to produce meat and other products.
So, what do these chemicals do to us when we eat the produce from the animal and other produce like veg and cereal crops. What is the impact on our long-term health?
The fact is we do not need all these chemicals to farm. Our opinion is that agriculture needs to rapidly move away from synthetic inputs and farm in line with nature to benefit our soil’s health, animal health and ours too!
The continued use of chemicals will damage every aspect of natural life as we know it without returning if we do not act soon.
Solution for the climate crisis
The climate crisis gets more and more worrying every day. We believe and so do many others, that the solution is for the entire worldwide ag industry to adopt regenerative farming practices.
By doing so, we will stop or massively reduce chemical use, repair and build soil, improve animal welfare, produce nutrient-dense food and focus on quality, not quantity, sequester and store tons of carbon in the soil as, of as we stop cultivating the soil.
This would be a colossal overhaul of the industry, but we must do it. If not, we are heading to a stage where consumers believe food comes from supermarkets or labs. Our soils from which we grow all our food will either be depleted of all life or be lost entirely.
It sounds mad, but we need to stop thinking about our wallets and focus on the welfare of our natural world. Healthy ecosystems are the key to everything else being truly healthy and sustainable, but first, we need to repair the damage that has been done.”
To share your story like this first generation farmers, email – [email protected]