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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘My aim is to be at 500 ewes’ – Styles on starting enterprise from scratch

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Matt Styles (27), in this week’s Farmer Focus segment.

“I reside in Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire and am originally from Suffolk. I am the fourth-generation of my family to farm, having grown up on my parent’s 300-acre arable farm.

Due to some family differences, I left home, and a few years ago, I decided to start my own farming business from scratch.

As early as I can remember, I had an interest in farming and used to daydream in school about being out in a tractor, working the fields.

I tried my hand at music and drama while I was a teenager, and I have done some work in construction, but farming is where my heart lies.

It has been a constant set of challenges in that as soon as you overcome one hurdle, another is put in your way.

We have been lucky but also tried to always look after the land we rent as well as the landowners and leave it in a better state than when we took it on.

Officially I was 19 when I began farming, but I had been doing harvest work through my school holidays in my young years.

I spent the last nine years working on a range of different farms, large scale, small scale, contractors, and all manner of livestock, so I really am a jack of all trades.

Micklewaite Flock

I run Micklewaite Flock with my wife, Floss, and we have a 116-strong flock of various breeding, including Llyen, Welsh Mule and Herdwick

The Llyens and Welsh Mules run with a Llyen tup, and the Herdwicks run with a Herdwick tup.

We are totally outdoor based, so I wanted something hardy enough to survive well outside on mainly just grass.

The Lleyn ticked all the boxes, and plus, they are good mothers and easy lambers, as are the Mules.

The Herdwicks are our more niche flock, mainly to provide a hardy grazier for conservation land.

We have bought ewes each year so far to up our numbers, and this is the first year we will be keeping back replacement breeding ewes and culling a few of the older ewes out.

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Matt Styles (27), sheep farmer, in this week’s Farmer Focus segment.

Sheep farming

We operate an outdoor lambing system from April 10th each year in the hope of better weather and grass growth, and later into the spring will bring warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours.

At the moment, we keep most of our ewe lambs as replacements, with possibly a small selection sold as breeding gimmers.

Good health is the first and foremost trait, along with being good mothers, easy lambers, and not too wild.

Most of our land is all electric fencing, so I need sheep that have some respect for a fence.

It is very cliché to say but being outside in nature; I hate being stuck inside even when the weather is miserable.

I get a huge sense of satisfaction after a day spent out in the fields working my sheep.

Planning for the future can be a challenge – times are uncertain at the moment, and for a fledgling business like ours that is just getting its feet off the ground, making sure I make the right decisions is a constant source of worry.

For me, it is all about producing top-quality food. If I can get my lambing right, get my grassland management right, keep the lambs in good health, and end up with some really well-shaped fat lambs that taste fantastic. That is my passion; It helps that I love food, also.

I take care of a lot of the physical tasks (I am basically the donkey) as well as the grazing management then my wife manages the meds/health side of things as well as the paperwork.

If you can produce quality lamb from a very low input system, then I cannot see how you not be successful.

It is important to take all advice given to you with a pinch of salt (except this), learn as much as you can, ask lots of questions, attend workshops/webinars, and read stuff from the likes of NSA and AHDB; there is a wealth of knowledge out there.

At the moment, my plan is to keep expanding our flock with our own replacements. I want to run a closed flock from a disease management perspective.

Hopefully, if I keep picking the right tups, I can get the type of ewe I am after and at the moment, I think I have the maternal side down 95% of where I want it. My aim is to be at 500 ewes.

On the right scale, I think that sheep farming is viable – it is less restrictive than cattle, and it fits well into most farming systems, just lowland grass, a mix of lowland and hill ground, or a mix of grass and arable.

Reflection 

My ultimate goal is to be farming in my own right; my grandfather built up quite the legacy, and farming was his one true life’s goal.

I have certainly got the love of farming down, and I hardly do anything else.

Farming is one of the greatest challenges I have ever undertaken; it is tested me mentally and physically, and the rewards personally are beyond words. It is just a feeling that I get that I am doing my life’s purpose.

Do not be afraid to start off small; I had fewer than ten ewes when I started, and it is quickly grown from there; from small acorns grow big oaks, as the saying goes.

The future of agriculture is uncertain, but I hope that there will be a revival of more nature-based farming on smaller scales feeding local communities.

My worry is that global food on an industrial scale is not long-term sustainable for the planet or its population.”

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