Last Friday morning I go the chance to meet cattle farmer Jeremy Buxton and his herd of native Hereford cattle. Jeremy established his herd of Eves Hill Herefords at his family farm in Booton in March 2013 and I was lucky enough to meet them. It was a rather dull drizzly morning, which sadly has really been the ongoing saga of this winter and spring. However, the Herefords still looked a picture on the fresh Spring grazing. There is nothing better than seeing cows and their new calves turned out and enjoying the grass. It was great to be introduced to the herd by Jeremy and hear a little more about his story.
How long have you been interested in cattle?
When I was growing up on the family farm my father run a herd of commercial beef cattle, I always use to help him as most farmers sons do. Cattle have always been my favourite farm animal and I’ve always enjoyed seeing cattle out at grass, they are amazing animals and I really believe they are good for the soul!
What made you decide to introduce cattle back onto your farm?
When I returned to the farm in 2012 we had some permanent pasture which I felt wasn’t being used to its full potential (rented to another nearby cattle farmer) so I decided that we would get back into livestock. This decision was also supported by the fact that I felt our farm was best suited as mixed farm, using the FYM on our arable land. At first I thought sheep would do a good job, but may people told me sheep either want to escape or kill themselves! So cattle it was.
What characteristics attracted you to the Hereford?
We went for Hereford cattle because we wanted a native breed that would suit our grazing. I also wanted a breed that was easy to handle as most of the time its just me on my own, so the docility of the Hereford was another reason we chose them. I also think that Herefords are such beautiful creatures and they look fantastic out as grass, their rich dark brown coats against the green grass.
What is the breeds history?
I’m no authority on the breeds history, but they have changed a lot over the years. From big animals to small cattle that would fit onto boats to export abroad, I think they were called belt cattle as they only grew to belt height at this point. Since then they have gradually increased in size to the cattle you see today. Sorry not too hot on my Hereford history!
To find out more about the Hereford breed and it's history take a look at the breed society http://www.herefordcattle.org
How many Herefords do you have in your herd?
At present we have 50 cattle in the Eves Hill herd, with another five calves expected in the coming weeks. We started with 8 cows with calves at foot, two heifers and we bought a stock bull. We are a closed herd, except for buying in stock bulls, so herd growth is slow but this is the way we want to go to reduce bringing disease into the herd. We have worked hard to achieve Elite Hihealth status and don’t want risk losing this by buying in stock.
A few of Eves Hill 2018 born calves.
How has 2018’s calving gone? Do you find the Herefords easy calvers and good mothers?
2018 calving has gone very well so far, we’ve had nine calves (3bulls and 6 heifers) the last heifer did decide to enter the world backwards but is doing really well now. Herefords are excellent mothers and they are easy calving. Our stock bull Bondes Hubert (from Denmark) is a really easy calving bull, producing small calves at birth that grow on really well. The only thing with Herefords is that they get fat on fresh air, so it’s really important to keep the weight off them prior to calving so they do calve easily.
Do you plan to sell this year’s calves or retain them for your own breeding stock?
We will sell all bull calves from our stock bull, providing we are happy to sell them as breeding bulls. Otherwise we sell them in beef boxes at 16 – 18 months, we are really strict on selling breeding stock. If we wouldn’t use a bull ourselves then we wouldn’t sell it to someone else to breed with. This is to maintain both our own reputation and that of the Hereford breed. We are now at a stage where we are more selective about heifers we keep, only the very best stay in the herd and then we either sell the rest as breeding stock if we feel they are good enough or again put them into beef boxes.
In the Autumn we are expecting are first AI calves from 4 of Huberts daughters which we are very excited about as this is a great opportunity to progress and develop our herd!
What is your favourite thing about owning cattle?
I love working with the cattle, they give so much satisfaction from calving to showing. They are also a vital part of our farming business, they still have to pay their way despite how much we love them! I love spending time with young calves and earning their trust, which pays off later!
What advice would you give someone looking to choose the Hereford breed?
Go for it, you won’t regret it. The Hereford breed is so well suited to our climate and grazing which is why it is such a successful and popular native breed. AND of course come to Eves Hill Herefords to buy your cattle!
There is a big promotion around ‘Native Beef’ at the moment, have you felt a positive impact on your business?
Most definitely, this is illustrated is our beef box sales. We sell a carcass in 24 hours. We have a loyal customer base who cant get enough of our beef which is predominantly grass fed and Red Tractor assured. A lot of consumers are not so interested in food provenance and want to know where their food comes from and the story behind it.
As well as arable and livestock, you also run a successful caravan and campsite on the farm, do you feel it is important for farms to diversify to succeed these days?
As a small family farm we have no other choice but to diversify. We would not be able to survive for long on just the arable and cattle. Which is why we are always looking for opportunities to diversify, the campsite is going really well and we are planning to expand on this next year. We are also planning to open a farm shop/tea room in the not too distant future, and there are lots more ideas that we hope to get going as some point!
I would like to add that despite all our diversification farming will always remain our core business and none of our diversifications will ever detract from this or how we farm, in particular our love of the countryside and nature. Everything we do at Eves Hill is aimed at improving what we have and hopefully leaving it in a better state than we found it. We feel that our diversifications add value to our business whilst at the same time bring people on to the farm to hopefully learn about British farming, food production and the countryside.
A huge thank you to Jeremy for taking the time to show me round his farm, and introducing me to his fantastic herd of Hereford cattle. If you want to find out more about Eves Hill Farm and see what they are up to, you can follow them on Facebook and Instagram for updates.
Doug, Fern and Skye.
After visiting Zara's farm and meeting her Southdown and Texel Mule sheep, as well as her beautiful dogs I was really looking forward to getting back to the studio and looking through all the pictures I had taken. I haven't done any prints of dogs before, so this is a complete first since starting 'IzziRainey'. I really wanted the dogs to be part of my design's as they are an essential part of Zara's work, she shares such a close relationship with them, especially Doug,
These are the pencil sketches that I did of the ewe's and Doug and Fern. It was actually more difficult than I thought, drawing the dogs, I think I tried to draw them too small. There is so much detail, expression and personality in a dogs face.
These are the hand stamped prints that I created from taking the most simple shapes from my pencil drawings. I am really pleased with how they have turned out. Especially this print of Doug, Zara's 'main man' I feel that it really portrays Doug's loyal nature as he never takes his eyes of her. I like the way in the print he is looking away as I know when I took the photo he was looking at her, always waiting for his next job or instruction.
Another BIG thank you to Zara for taking the time to show me round her farm at probably one of the busiest times of the year!
Last week I got the chance to have a quick catch up with my friend, Zara with her Southdown and Texel Mule sheep. This is an extremely busy time of the year for Zara so I was very grateful that she could take the time to show me her latest lambs and tell me a little more about her sheep. As well as having her own sheep, Zara contract lambs at this time of year, often covering the night shifts. Then when the shearing season arrives she will be out and about contract shearing for whoever requires her. Never a dull moment with Zara!
Twin Southdown lambs with their mother keeping a close eye.
How long have you been interested in sheep and how did you become so involved with them?
I always loved being outside, around animals. From an early age I knew I would either work with animals or in sport…. animals it was. My family always had sheep, enjoyed working with the sheep and the partnership with the dog, there’s always something new to learn and a challenge to overcome.
Zara with the expectant Ewes, both Southdown and Textel Mules.
What made you choose Southdown sheep?
They are easy to handle, very good meat and good wool which excellent for knitting as it has a short staple which is converted into a light arran wool which makes a very warm soft garment, perfect for the British winters!!!!
What you looking for in a good Southdown Sheep?
Good conformation, alertness, wool needs to be fine and dense, even in colour. Bright in the eye, good mouth and must not be lame!
The Southdown wool makes excellent knitting wool.
What you do with the wool?
Once I’ve sheared them, we send the Southdown wool off to The Natural Fibre Company, Launceston, Cornwall to get made into knitting wool which we sell at local craft markets across North Norfolk, or from our home address. We have a small team of Knitters that make anything from socks, gloves, hats, scarfs and jumpers. For the house the wool is made into pillows and throws for the sofas making it extra cosy in front of the fire during the winter months, it’s a rewarding feeling to know that the produce has come from the animals you have breed on your own farm and is being used in its natural form.
The rest of the wool is sent to the British Wool Board where it is graded and depending on its quality is either used for carpets, loft insulation, packaging and many other useful products, all being environmentally friendly.
This is a cushion and throw, created from Zara's Southdown wool and made by her mother, Ann.
Cecily wearing a couple of jumpers handmade my Zara's amazingly clever mother, Ann. The Southdown wool creates a light arran wool which makes a very warm soft garment. Zara and her mother sell their clothing and homeware and products at local fairs.
You also have Texel Mules, what made you choose these?
The Texel Mule is a commercial breed, it’s a North Country Mule crossed a Texel Tup. They are good strong ewes, don’t need as much food pre-lambing, plenty of milk, strong maternal instinct and the lambs are fast growers.
A Texel Mule Ewe.
You are in the middle of lambing as we speak, how come you are lambing your flock later?
Usually... apart from this year! It is warmer and the grass is starting to grow, the lambs get more of a kick start from the better weather. The ewes milk well and keep their condition up on the fresh new grass. As I don’t have much barn space it also means I don’t have to worry about the bad weather taking its toll on the sheep.
How many lambs are you hoping to have by the end of the years lambing.
Always try to get the best from the flock as I can, be happy with 1.8% upwards.
What do you plan to do with this year’s lambs? Will you be selling them on or retaining some for breeding stock?
I will keep back the best ewe lambs for the flock, the rest will be sold on in the meat trade.
A Texel Mule ewe with her twin lambs.
Do you find the Southdown’s easy to lamb or do you have to help out a lot?
We don't tend to have too many problems for lambing they are easy lambers most of the time. They’re very good mothers, they look after the lambs very well and a majority of the time the lambs will get up and suck, but sometimes they need some help finding their way onto the ewe’s teats. The lambs are born with a very thin coat so on very cold days or nights they tend to need a bit more attention, but soon pick up and grow very well, makes a good carcass.
A Southdown ewe with her twin lambs.
How many dogs do you have? How important are the dogs to your work?
I have 3 dogs, Doug being my right-hand man, He’s the main man really, he is a strong dog, listens, works well on the sheep, makes my work a lot easier with a good dog and they make good company as well. Doug gets the sheep where I want them, so I can’t complain. When I contract out, lambing, shearing, etc its good to have a dog you know that will be well behaved and quiet and do the job.
Zara with her three dogs Doug, Sky and Fern. Doug is her 'right hand man'.
What’s your favourite thing about owning sheep?
Seeing them do well, that all the hard work, time and money you have put into them has paid off, going to the field and being proud of what you have got.
What advice would you give someone looking to get sheep?
Sheep can look like it’s a walk in the park, they are very enjoyable and rewarding at times, but you need to know what you are doing, so do your research. If you can, get some experience with them, make sure you are well equipped and have good fencing as they will find the smallest of holes and escape but not be able to find their way back! Make sure you have time for them… helps if you know someone who already has sheep. Let the fun begin!
One of my favourite quotes…. Piss poor preparation leads to piss poor performance!
I would like to say the biggest thank you to Zara for taking part in this blog. I know she has been up most nights for many weeks now and will continue to do so in the weeks to come, until lambing finishes. I just wanted to take the opportunity to share Zara's story and her work, she is so talented in everything that she does and I really admire her skill and determination. I am really excited to get back in the studio with all the photographs I have taken, especially of the dogs as this will be the first dog print I have done. Watch this space!
I am Izzi, farmer’s daughter and textile designer at IzziRainey. If I am not designing or sewing you will find me out in the farmyard with my cattle. I am constantly seeking inspiration for my prints, not that I have to look very far. Growing up on the farm, I have always been influenced by my surroundings and this combined with my passion for farming is what inspires my designs. I love spending time on the farm but I also enjoy learning about other people’s animals, passions and stories, which are also influential to my design process. I hope you enjoy reading ‘Over the Farm Gate’