In this week’s Farmer Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to Zara Wilkinson of Rosemount Cottage Farm Meats about venturing into livestock from scratch with her partner and establishing a farm shop.
Life is a juggling act for 21-year-old Zara Wilkinson, a mother-of-one and pig, beef and sheep farmer.
The County Armagh native does not hail from an agricultural background, but her move to the countryside ignited a “keen interest in farming”.
She worked on a local pig farm and in a large animal vet clinic before establishing a mixed enterprise with her partner, Colin Capper.
“I worked on a local pig farm- around weaning time – when I first met my partner. We both helped out on a range of different farms, working in a layer house, collecting and packing eggs, relief milkings for a few other farmers and a beef fattening unit.” Zara told That’s Farming.
“All of these little jobs started earning us a bit of money to start up our own farm and business. It just got to the stage where I could put my hand to anything, which is the best thing in the agricultural sector! I love learning new things and different ways of farming.”
They established their farm in August 2019, which was the month they acquired their first batch of livestock. The new farming entrant admitted it took a considerable period to attain their herd/flock numbers and set up their business ID.
“This is something we both always wanted to do and something we talked a lot about from when we first met. It took us both to push it forward and make the dream our reality.”
“Admittedly, it took a lot of time and paperwork to get it all sorted and ready to be able to buy livestock. The farm we are currently farming is actually in Colin’s family.”
“Colin’s dad inherited the farm; he decided to go into the building trade, so the farm had not been used until we started buying livestock!”
“Most farms are passed down through generations as they have already been registered long ago with their flock and herd numbers, but that wasn’t the case with us!”
Mixed enterprise on 17-acres
The young couple farm 17 cattle, 20 ewes, ewe lambs and followers and 10-15 pigs across 12-acres.
They sell produce directly to consumers through their newly established farm shop and cite their meat’s distinctive flavours as a key selling point.
They rear Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, Dexter cattle, including Angus, Hereford and a Galloway and Dorset, Easy Care, Zwartbles and Mule-crosses.
Rosemount Cottage Farm Meats
The couple opened Rosemount Cottage Farm Meats on March 7th, 2020, before national lockdowns arising from Covid-19 were imposed. They specialise in rare breed and traditional pork, beef, and lamb and goat meat where available.
“We have always wanted to have a farm and start our own business, so we made it happen! This has always been the dream for us both, and when we met, we clicked and just started our journey!”
“It started with the idea of goat meat and making use of the waste product of the goat dairy industry, billy kids.”
“We were very successful with this but have hit a bump in the road, for now, the second time where we cannot find a factory that will slaughter the goats.”
“Goat was our main product in the farm shop, but at the moment, we have put that on hold. We had to recently sell our goat meat herd of Boer nannies and buck, which was upsetting as we had worked very hard to get that going.
“Our livestock are slaughtered at a small family-run slaughterhouse in Crumlin, Lakeview Farm Meats. We leave the livestock off, and they deliver the carcasses directly to our butchers, so this works well!
“It is butchered and packed at Mawhinneys of Newtonards. We work with Sam, Steven, and their team – our butchers are amazing and very accommodating! Finally, we sell the produce.”
“To note, we have a small farm shop with fridges and freezers as we call ‘our base’. We regularly attend farmers’ markets to sell our produce. Also, we supply our meat into a farm shop, Kelly’s Farm Shop. He is an-18 year-old boy who wanted to start up his own business, and we have helped him in every aspect we can.”
Small scale and juggling roles
The couple’s main objective is to show consumers the whole farm to fork aspect of their enterprise and farm shop. Secondly, they have a desire to educate the public on the origin of food as “this is something that our population lacks in greatly.”
“We also want to keep our farm small and manageable so that we can provide the best care for our animals and the best produce for our customers. It is so important not to overdo it.”
“In recent months, we welcomed our daughter into the world, so as of then, I have taken a little bit of a back seat on the actual farm. I am still very much involved where I can be.”
“I bring Ellie with me to check the sheep and cows. Colin, as well as part-running (alongside myself) our own enterprise, works on a beef finishing unit full-time!”
“I just love getting out with the animals and seeing them thrive how they should and educating everyone on the importance of our farmers.”
“The other thing I love is how I can showcase what we are up to on different social media platforms. I have recently joined TikTok where I create videos of the farm, farm shop and our daily activities.”
“Colin and I work together; it is a partnership. Whilst I am the only one that runs the Facebook page, and Colin would do a lot more of the day-to-day farm jobs, while I am caring for our baby, we do both pull our weight on both the farm and in the farm shop! We are working with customers and clients daily; we work with chefs, butchers and more! It is a 24/7 job!” Zara added.
The biggest challenge Zara and Colin had was getting established, and since then, they have gone from strength to strength.
“We have had a very successful first year, and it is with thanks to the amazing customers and our butchers and other local farmers we have worked with to get where we are, and we cannot wait to see what the next year has to offer.”
“Looking back at this time, last year we have expanded livestock numbers and on our meat sales, which kind of go together. The more of the demand, the more of an upkeep of demand we need to do.”
“I love that we can give our daughter this lifestyle to grow up in. I never had the opportunity to grow up on a farm, and I would have loved it! Especially in lockdown, it has been amazing to be able to head down to the farm to check the livestock and enjoy the peace and quiet while the world goes crazy.”
“Some people told us we were silly, that it would never work and that we were wasting our time. If we were to have listened to that, then we would not be where we are now!” Zara of Rosemount Cottage Farm Meats concluded.