share farming, share farming - matt the shepherd

MEET SHARE FARMER: MATT THE SHEPHERD

matttheshepherd

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been interviewing the share farmers from Stream Farm and finding out just how small-scale farms can build and strengthen our local food systems, improve long-term sustainability, and economic viability in our communities.

Matt is Stream Farm’s shepherd, and together with his wife Claire and their beautiful daughters, raises a flock of organic pedigree Hampshire Down sheep. Matt and Claire are the real deal! Their passion for genuine sustainable living and farming is evidently clear in the way they raise their daughters, how they care for their sheep, the strong commitment to do what’s best by the land, and the ethical way they run their business. They are truly practising what they preach.

Today, they give us an inspiring insight into the heart of the share farming model. They explain how their agreement works, chat about how farming is definitely a family affair, and what makes their lamb taste so good.

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ABOUT BEING FARMERS

Matt and Claire, tell us about yourselves…

We have a flock of organic pedigree Hampshire Down sheep on Stream Farm. We have 3 daughters, Meadow (2) Beau (7) and Nell (8). We live about 15 minutes from the farm in Bishops Lydeard in a house that we recently renovated, pretty much from scratch! During that time we lived in a converted barn on Stream Farm which was great fun. The girls loved running round the farm all day, and it was great being so close to our flock of sheep so we could really keep an eye on what they get up to!

Tell us how you got into farming?

Both Claire and I had ideas about how we would love to have a small holding, maybe grow some vegetables or keep some animals, but we never really pursued the idea because we just couldn’t see a way in. Before I became a shepherd I was working in property maintenance – doing building work and fitting wood burners. I was self-employed and one year my work just dried up. It served to nudge us towards farming. We knew Stream Farm used a share farming model so we got in touch and agreed that we would take on a flock of sheep there.

ABOUT SHARE FARMING

Do you think you could have ever farmed outside of a share farming context?

No we couldn’t have. You need the money, the land, the kit and the livestock. On your own it’s very hard to imagine how you would be able to scale up a worthwhile business without spending a lot of money.

Tell us about your share farming agreement…

Well one of the good things about share farming is that it’s a very flexible approach to farming. I find that looking after my flock of sheep doesn’t take up all my time. Some weeks it is 100 percent, all hours of the day – for example in lambing season. Other times it’s much less busy. So I spend some of my other time working at the farm, renovating barns, putting in storage spaces or processing rooms so that the other businesses can thrive. In that sense, I can contribute to moving the other businesses towards a financially sustainable position. It helps us get closer to proving that small-scale farming is a viable option. I do some work away from the farm, mostly fitting wood burners these days when I can get away.

How do family and farming go together?

Our daughters all love to get involved with whatever I am doing on the farm – we quickly realised that farming was definitely a family affair! At the moment Claire is taking the girls out with her to bottle feed any lambs that need it. During the lambing season my two eldest daughters come up to the farm and stay with me – you wouldn’t believe how fast they learn. Both will happily deliver a lamb.

Over the years we’ve seen the kids really blossom as they’ve grown up in a friendly and safe environment. It’s an amazing place for them to explore and learn. They get a chance to spend time with people from all sorts of backgrounds. They’re not like us adults, they don’t put people into categories; they will quite happily make friends with whoever is on the farm of whatever age. We love the fact that they also get to grow up in a community where people are really looking out for each other, both on a practical level with our farming and on a personal level because of our shared faith.

What have you learned since becoming a share farmer?

Put simply I have learned how to be a good shepherd – there’s a lot of practical knowledge that you need for the animal husbandry side of things. On that front I am always learning. I’ve got some friends who have been rearing and breeding sheep for many years longer than I have. So I’m still learning from them.

I think an interesting aspect of coming from a self-employment background was that I had to learn to apply my business skills to farming. It’s a very different industry to what I was used to. James has taught me a lot about how to market and sell my lamb – at the moment it sells very well. So I think we’re getting there!

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ABOUT YOUR ORGANIC LAMB

Tell us about your flock…

So we’ve got 213 breeding ewes, 59 ewe lambs coming through from last year, and 4 rams called Bilbo, Baggins, Browning and Brezhnev!

Your leg of lamb won the maximum 3 stars at the Great Taste Awards last year. What makes your lamb taste so good?

People ask me this a lot – my answer is that it tastes so good because it’s organic. They graze on our pasture all year round. When they have to come into the barns to lamb they eat grass cut from our fields. We don’t mess around with our soil; we don’t use synthetic sprays, fertilisers, pesticides, or herbicides. So the grass grows naturally, with some manure spread on it in the spring – and even that we produce from our own cows and sheep. With a reasonably small flock you can also have greater attention to detail with each animal. We aim to produce well finished, quality lambs pretty much all year round so that our customers always get the very best meat.

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