25-year-old Kerry Angus of Angus Farm Shop in conversation with That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in this week’s women in ag segment. She discusses running Blackabbey Kerryhills, exhibiting at agricultural shows and her passion for tracing the journey from farm to fork.
“I count myself very lucky to have always lived on the Ards Peninsula, which is along the East Coast of County Down, Northern Ireland.
We are situated just outside Greyabbey, and we are within five minutes of both Strangford Lough and the Irish Sea.
Like many others, farming has been a constant in my life. Looking back, I think over five generations have farmed – it goes back as long as any living relation can trace.
My grandfather, father and uncles farmed a herd of suckler cows and ran a flock of breeding ewes, each of them also had a trade; a cattle lorry, diggers, and undertook various types of contracting.
Earliest farming memories
Memories at the farm are amongst some of the earliest recollections I have.
I can remember all of the actual things, such as the general everyday feeding, shifting stock, busy times, like lambing and the busy summer months for baling and wrapping.
In retrospect, I feel I can trace nearly all of my core values in life back to my childhood at the farm.
I witnessed first-hand that farming is certainly not a ‘nine to five’.
Never would I have heard anyone complain about working long hours, and when working with stock especially, it was always a case of you work as long as you need to, to do a job right.
I will always remember my granda Angus would have said, ‘where you have livestock, you will have deadstock’.
From a very young age, I feel this gave me an understanding of the circle of life. You care for animals with the utmost respect and care.
But also, at some stages, unfortunately, and inevitably, you must deal with losing them.
This also, as a child, allowed me to grasp the concept and see, first-hand, whenever stock would be going to the family farm shop, the importance of giving them the best life possible and, furthermore, how meat can be ethically produced.
Pedigree Kerryhill sheep
We have a flock of pedigree Kerryhill sheep under the prefix, Blackabbey Kerryhills. I had got two ewes for Christmas in 2011 after admiring them at any of the agricultural shows we attended.
This year past, we lambed fifty Kerryhill ewes. They are a Welsh mountain breed of sheep, and at one stage, were considered endangered.
They make fantastic mothers and very rarely give any bother in terms of feet and general health.
Furthermore, they can get the name of being flighty enough from time to time. However, as with every breed, you will always get the odd one that is a bit wild.
Anything registered as pedigree must have all the correct black markings and meet the flock book regulations.
We put lambs through our butchers and farm shop for stock that we would not register as pedigree.
Like all traditional breed cattle, we allow that bit longer to mature and do so naturally on grass.
With the Kerryhills being a traditional breed, we usually lamb mid to end March. This gives us a good supply of lamb to work with throughout the autumn months in our shop.
I am a member of the Kerryhill Sheep Society, and hold the position of secretary for the NI Kerryhill Sheep Society.
Before the pandemic, we thoroughly enjoyed going around the various agricultural shows in the summer months.
It was a rare day out for us as a family, and the comradery and craic with the other breeders was always great.
It is nearly as enjoyable preparing stock for the shows as attending the actual event itself. There is a great sense of anticipation whenever you are packing up and preparing for an agricultural show.
Even the ewes who appear to be flighty will stand up the very best as if they are nearly enjoying a hot soapy wash the night before a show!
Farm to fork journey
I am so passionate about that farm to fork journey. I think as consumers, we have a right and a responsibility to know exactly where our food comes from.
Also, I think that agriculture is very quick to get bad press in today’s world. Furthermore, I feel a lot of the mainstream media show only the large scale and intensive farming systems to promote veganism or vegetarianism and also to pin environmental issues onto farming.
I find a lot of people forget that this country was once and is still made up of so many smallholdings and family farms.
Honestly, I feel very grateful that through our shop, we can showcase the journey from farm to fork, from local farms, and source beef, lamb, and chicken without leaving the Ards Peninsula.
Regardless of how many years pass, lambing time is always one of my favourite times.
Although you have a lot of extra work, it always renews my deep appreciation and love for farming.
You cannot help but feel privileged to be doing the rounds of the lambing shed on a spring morning. I do not think that feeling at that time of year will ever go away.
Angus Farm Shop
Angus Farm Shop is in Greyabbey, a small village on the Ards Peninsula.
My uncle had started and operated the shop for over 17 years. Then my father and I took it on in July 2018.
We specialise in traditional breed, locally produced meat. Since we took the shop on over three years ago, we have used exclusively traditional breed beef and locally sourced lamb.
Our ethos and core values are at the forefront of everything that we do.
Our view is that if you are going to consume meat – you should know exactly where it comes from and how it is prepared.
The stock used in our shop have all been slowly produced and given the respect to mature as nature intended.
Locally sourced native breeds
We are so passionate about using locally sourced native breeds obtained directly from the farmers who have reared these animals with the utmost level of care and consideration.
Furthermore, we take so much pride in having this level of transparency.
We love the fact that we can inform our customers of details such as:
- The breed;
- Its characteristics;
- What age the animal was at the time of slaughter;
- How long we have aged the particular cut;
- Also, how the farmer reared and fed the animal;
- The farmer’s name and farm location.
Irish Moiled beef
We tend to work with several key breeds – Belted Galloways, Aberdeen Angus and Irish Moiled cattle.
We are currently using pedigree Irish Moile Beef, reared by Robert Boyle, of Beechmount Farm, Millisle, just under five miles away from our shop.
The Irish Moiled are one of the oldest indigenous breeds of Irish cattle and the only native surviving breed left in the province of Ulster.
Records link these cattle as far back as 640AD with reports showing the breed surviving raids by the Vikings in 1000AD.
After popularity throughout the 1800s, in 1970, there were only 30 remaining Moiles.
With the hard work of enthusiastic breeders and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, their numbers have now increased, and they are gaining the recognition they so deserve.
By choosing to buy traditional breed beef, our customers are not only supporting the farmers who work hard to preserve this part of our past, but they are actively securing the place for these breeds in our future.
Product range and supporting local
We put a kitchen into the upstairs of the shop, and in previous years, my mother and grandmother cooked for the shop.
Mummy now works full-time baking in the kitchen. Although my granny, unfortunately, is no longer with us, we still use all of her recipes from her little book.
We increased our range from cakes, buns and traybakes, to homemade pies, sausage rolls, quiches and tartlets and various salads. Also, I go twice-a-week, to Total Produce, the fruit and vegetable market outside Belfast.
We source all local and seasonal fruit and veg directly from local farmers and producers.
Then, we also source more exotic items from inside the market to have a good range of produce in our shop.
We also stock a range of artisan products from local independent makers.
My tasks can vary from day to day in Angus Farm Shop. Towards the weekend, you will find me cooking in the kitchen.
Other days, I am in contact with suppliers, managing admin – emails, messages, and also trying to keep on top of our social media.
I head to the market on Tuesday and Friday mornings just after 3 am and then go into the shop to get started.
I like to try and get downstairs from time to time and onto the counter to serve and chat with our customers.
Our butcher, Joe, has a lifetime of knowledge and experience in butchery and has been one of the main reasons the shop has succeeded since we took it on.
A family affair
Our entire family now works full-time in the shop. My younger sister, Susan, had her flights booked for Australia last year. Due to the pandemic, she was unable to go.
This has worked out in our favour as she is now full-time in the shop and throughout Covid managed all of the orders coming in and coordinated the delivery runs.
It has been fantastic to have her in the shop, and she is picking up butchery skills under the watch of Joe. This also allows daddy and I to work with the sheep and balance our time between the shop and the stock.
Women in ag
We are very proud to say that although our type of business is usually male-dominated, Angus Farm Shop is made up of over 70% women.
A lot of the time, there are comments, not meant in a spiteful way. Still, many people remark about how many girls are working in the shop, (after I have done a few corrections. I find it shocking that so many people assume that the ‘boss’ running a business will be a male.
In terms of dealing with suppliers and others within the business, I feel as if I have always been treated with respect and equality.
But, I hope that the next generation of girls never feel the humiliation of a farmer saying it’s a ‘terrible job your father only has two daughters’, when they are so passionate about pursuing a life involving agriculture for themselves.
I hope in years to come that people evolve, that the undercurrent of sexism towards women in certain careers will disappear.
I, although easier said than done at times, have taken it as a source of strength. It has only added to my determination to succeed in doing something that I am equally as passionate as any man about.
Personally, I feel that farming is a vocation. Any female who is considering a career in agriculture will likely already have the passion and capabilities to do so!
I know that we have been incredibly fortunate and privileged in that we were always encouraged by great family and friends that we could ‘shatter the glass ceiling’ and do whatever we wanted.
We were never made to think any different because of our gender.
In terms of the future, I hope that our business will continue to go from strength to strength.
I hope that we can continue to show customers and potential customers the benefits of shopping with a conscience and to encourage more people to go and support their local shops and help preserve the infrastructure of their local villages and towns.
My goal is for people to realise that they are investing long-term in their community and farming families whenever they choose to shop in this way.
They are also contributing to maintaining the rich biodiversity of the wonderful area of natural beauty that we are so lucky to call home.
I have every faith that the current situation with Covid-19 has only highlighted the need for our small shops and producers within rural areas to be supported.
We have another few plans in the pipeline. In the near future, we plan to launch a catering trailer and put Angus Farm Shop on the road.
Looking back, I knew I always wanted to do something to do with agriculture.
Also, I wanted to be self-employed. I am so thankful for how things have worked out.
I believe if you have that strong aspiration to do something you’ve always loved, to go for it.
If it is something you have a real passion for, it will get you through any of the harder times.
I think farming is an incredible and unique thing in that it can be something that you have never known living without.
You can have the chance to create your own path and story whilst carrying on traditions and practices as old as time.
‘Worried less about what anyone thought’
If I could turn back the clock, I would have worried less about what anyone thought about me and had more confidence to follow what I always wanted to do.
I went to a school where university was really the only option discussed; anything else was seen as falling short.
I would love to have told the Kerry then, that she would have everything she wanted, and more with hard work and determination and not to feel inferior because she wanted to take a different path.”
To share your story with That’s Farming, like Angus Farm Shop, email – [email protected]