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Backbone of Britain: 86 year-old grandad inspires 12 year-old grandson to farm

For grandfather and grandson team Ron Tyson and Jack Bowles, nothing could be better than working side-byside on-farm. Lauren Dean finds out all about their latest adventures.

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Inspiration is the theme 12-yearold Jack Bowles keeps coming back to when referring to his grandfather Ron Tyson. It is evidently clear for the youngster, his 86-year-old best friend has played a huge part in his upbringing as a budding young farmer in Lincolnshire. From adopting the farm name Upperhill to his prize pedigree Southdown flock, and even in his plans to become a hobby blacksmith, everything on young Jack’s mind is following in Ron’s footsteps.

 

The self-confessed tractor-loving, sheep-obsessed youngster, who grew up in Upton, near Gainsborough, has his sights firmly set on becoming a farmer, with his love of history reflected in his choice of stock and wish to embrace tradition on-farm. At the age of one back in 2007, Jack was the proud owner of two Suffolk ewes and one Charolais cross Mule thanks to his mum, Rachael, and Ron.

 

Although the plan was to keep it at two lambs, Ron encouraged three. The agreement was, if Jack was old enough to walk, he was old enough to bottle a lamb. And the rest is history.

 

Ron says: “We are a team – Jack allows me to pass on my love of the countryside and farming, which has not always been easy.

 

“I am really grateful I get time to spend with him, whether it is sat up all night lambing, talking business at the cattle market together, at the showring, or just having fun with him and [younger brother] Thomas.”


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Farming history

 

Although stemming from a strong farming history with Jack’s greatgrandfather farming as the first generation, the family farm has not run sheep since the 1940s. Jack’s flock has picked up where his great-grandfather left off, on about 16 hectares (40 acres) of locally owned land. He had a brief dabble with Texels, but is gradually moving to Southdowns, with 14 pedigree Southdowns and the remainder commercial crosses. All of Jack’s stock is bought only with his own money, earned from market lambs, and profit from breeding stock.

 

Jack says: “I bred Suffolks for a few years, then when I was seven, I went to buy five Texels from my friend and local breeder David Fenwick. But the condition was I had to show them.” According to Rachael, Jack had a list of specific requirements for his growing flock.

Working together

 

Jack’s flock of Southdowns is steadily growing. It is a breed he chose for its strong and early heritage in the UK.

 

He says: “I chose Southdowns because they are one of the first breeds we had in history. They were quite common in the Tudor era for farmers.

 

“I like the fleeces and how they look and when they are lambs they have a little beard. They are super cute.”

 

The grandfather-grandson team is especially prevalent during lambing time, when, in Jack’s words, he acts as the personal assistant to Ron, who is still very active on-farm.

 

Rachael says: “He is particularly good at doing jobs like ‘go fetch that’.”

 

Jack says: “That is my main job. Me and granddad feed up together. During lambing time, I stay over at the farm and I run and collect milk because I am the fittest and fastest.

 

“I keep my eye on the ewes when they are lambing, but I am a bit squeamish sometimes.”

 

Ron adds: “Jack stays over at weekends and holidays to assist with sheep duties and lambing. Making up milk, bedding, assisting with lambing, making cups of tea, as well as looking after the rest of the flock which isn’t being lambed.”

Showing

 

For ‘Farmer Jack’, as he is recognised in the local community, it is more his time spent dominating the showring he so pleasantly glows about. So far, with 29 rosettes to his name, he stands proud in his own-branded white coat, embroidered with a tractor drawing and the words ‘Farmer Jack’ he drew when he was younger.

 

The buzz of the showring shines right through him and it is obvious to see why. It all comes back to profitability and growing a reputation, he says.

 

“My first show was in 2014. I was told you can get a lot of money from showing, and a good reputation.

 

“This year I am taking nine sheep to Lincolnshire Show and entering 10 classes. I like to go to shows and have fun because it is a nice community.

 

“I have a lot of friends there and everybody helps everybody out. In the showring we are in competition, but out of it we are friends and all look out for each other.”

 

The past few months have been busy for Jack, as he has been making preparations for local shows, including Lincolnshire, Winterton, Wragby and Heckington. One of the more difficult tasks, he says, is halter training, which at the moment is proving hard work.

 

Jack suffers from dyspraxia, a form of development co-ordination disorder, meaning he sometimes struggles with hand-eye co-ordination.

 

Rachael says: “In the showring, nobody can tell. Everyone is equal and he is a happy little dude.”

 

As well as teaching Jack day-to-day farm skills, including how to scythe and stook, Ron is always on standby in the showring.

 

And with a laugh like his, there is no doubt it gives Jack a last-minute boost.

 

Community has a huge role to play in Jack’s showing career, and the business-minded youngster often finds himself on the receiving end of heaps of top tips from local agricultural hero Farmer Wink, former Southdown Society chairman Sidney Cook and Sophie Arlott of Lavinton Lamb.

 

Rosettes

 

Jack says: “In rosettes, I have all the way from eighth to first, so I have a lot to live up to this year. We got first prize with a pair of tups last year at Lincolnshire Show.

 

“Winning awards means more people will want to buy your stock. There might be somebody with an equally as good sheep as you, but if they have not been in the showring and won first or second place, not as many people will want to buy it.

 

“Awards make your flock stand out more.”

 

Looking back on his own time farming, Ron says the day the dairy industry stopped paying was a turning point for the family. He now farms only suckler cows, before selling them at four months old. Other time is spent looking after Jack’s pedigree flock, alongside a handful of free-range hens, which is something Jack is keen to farm in a few years’ time.

 

Ron says: “I have been farming all my life and I was brought up with it. Now I am teaching Jack how to do it all.

 

“The sheep are all his. He only wanted three and we paid £15 each when they were lambs. “I remember when Jack was really little and he would pick up my flat cap and say ‘come on grandad, we’ve got jobs to do’.

 

And nothing has changed. “You can’t beat a day when you are feeling your age and the boys run in to give you a hug and say ‘guess what’ or ‘I have had an idea’. It usually means work.

 

“The boys and the sheep give me a reason to get out of bed in a morning.”

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