Against the odds and with determination, new entrant Rhidian Glyn has built what started as a 15-ewe flock on 2.8 hectares (seven acres) in 2008, to taking on a 10-year tenancy on a 214ha (530-acre) hill farm at Talywern, near Machynlleth.
Rhidian and his wife Elen secured Rhiwgriafol Farm in 2014, which, rising to 1,600ft at its highest point, is made up of 93ha (230 acres) of improved grassland, plus 117ha (290 acres) of unimproved rough grazing and 4ha (10 acres) of woodland.
An additional 65ha (160 acres) is also rented five miles away, used to graze most of the sheep and for making hay and silage.
The farm currently runs 900 improved Welsh ewes and 250 replacement ewe lambs, alongside about 200 dairy heifers, which are contract-reared each year.
Although he was not brought up on a farm, Rhidian’s ambition to get into agriculture began at an early age.
He says: “My grandparents farmed about 10 miles away from where I grew up, which is where my interest in farming started. But my parents were both teachers, so there was never the option of a family farm business to go into.”
After graduating from Aberystwyth University with a degree in agriculture and countryside management in 2008, he began renting land and bought his first 15 Welsh mountain ewes.
He says: “I would rent any block of grazing I could at that time, slowly building up ewe numbers until 2011, when I took on a larger block of 40ha and upped ewe numbers to 300 in two years.”
As testament to his hard-working nature, Rhidian worked full-time off the farm in animal feed sales to fund his growing flock, farming when time allowed in the evenings and at weekends.
It was during this process which put him in touch with Rhiwgriafol initially, after buying a number of ewe lambs from the farm manager there at the time.
The tenancy was initially advertised locally in 2014 and, with the landlord keen to see it farmed as an entity in itself, and with support of the contact he had made there, he began the application process.
Rhidian says: “We knew a tenancy was the next step we wanted, so after putting together a business plan, we asked for reference letters from everyone we could think of, from our bank manager and current landlords to auctioneers, to get as many reliable character references as we could.”
After taking on the tenancy, Rhidian sold 200 of his existing ewes and bought the flock of 800 Tregaron type Welsh Mountain ewes which were on-farm.
Together with the 100 he had previously purchased from the farm, this made up the flock of 900 breeding ewes he currently runs.
The group is split with 300 going to a pure Welsh Mountain ram to produce about 250 replacement ewe lambs each year and some ram lambs for breeding, with the remaining 600 going to an Aberfield to produce breeding ewe lambs to sell.
Ram lambs from both groups are finished and will mainly be sold via the Tesco cost of production contract, which Rhidian joined recently after been attracted by its payment structure, which he says will allow him to budget more efficiently.
Ewes are out-wintered on swedes and baled silage, with lambing mainly done outdoors from late March, aside from the Aberfield-tupped ewes scanned for twins which lamb inside.
As of this year, performance recording for the 300-head pure-bred group has also begun as part of Hybu Cig Cymru’s hill ram improvement scheme, a five-year programme Rhidian is taking part in alongside other hill farmers in Wales, which will use DNA technology to determine the parentage of progeny going forward.
He says: “I am hoping to improve ewe efficiency as a result of the programme. It will mean stronger performers and their progeny can be more easily recognised and will mean those which are not performing can be pulled, so we are only breeding from our best ewes.”
Day-to-day, Rhidian manages the farm independently, with additional labour taken on at busier times. He has had a student from Glynllifon College, Caernarfon, help out during lambing for the past four years.
Although he gave up his full-time role off the farm initially, he has since returned, working two days/week, and says he welcomes the structure this gives him, as well as keeping in touch with other local farmers.
Alongside sheep, Rhidian is also contract-rearing Kiwicross dairy heifers, running about 200 in summer and 100 in winter.
Calves are reared for one dairy farm and arrive in July after weaning at about three months old and are returned in-calf at 19 months old to calve at 24 months old.
By focusing on grassland management to improve productivity of the farm’s grazing platform in the last two years, Rhidian has significantly increased his stock-carrying capacity and plans to double the number of cattle he is takes on annually.
Working with grazing consultancy firm Precision Grazing to install a rotational system, he initially converted a 13ha (32-acre) block into 16 paddocks of 0.8ha (two acres), followed by a further 12ha (29 acres) of poorer ground this year, which is split into 12 paddocks, each measuring 1ha (2.5 acres).
Rhidian started using the system for heifers, but with the wider area now set up, he has started grazing mobs of ewe and lambs on it this year.
He says: “We want to continue to push stock numbers and maintain profitability without the need for subsidy.
“We were strip-grazing before, but I feel this system is more quantifiable and allows me to budget grass growth more efficiently. With the help of farm management software Farmax, we can work out what stock the farm can carry when making decisions around upping or dropping stock numbers or taking on more grazing.
Some of the Welsh Mountain rams.
“As the unimproved hill ground has little potential, the rotational grazing has significantly improved the quality of grassland. It has also meant I have been able to increase stock-carrying capacity over the same area and push more output from the productive land on-farm.”
Throughout his journey, Rhidian has taken every opportunity to be involved in the rural community and has made the most of services and opportunities available to him, specifically those offered through Farming Connect.
Rhiwgriafol is also a Farming Connect demonstration site and has opened its gates to several discussion groups and farm walks. As well as building up a reputable profile on social media, these have to Rhidian being nominated for an award by a farmer who visited the farm on a farm walk and was impressed with his set-up.
Rhidian says: “The open day events and other communication channels benefit our business and other similarly ambitious farmers keen to work more efficiently or profitably.
“Networking has opened opportunities and looking outside the farm and engaging with new ideas is always useful to gain as much experience as possible from other farmers with a range of different set-ups.”
Going forward, Rhidian is keen to continue to maximise output from grass with the grazing platform now in place, as well as capitalise on increasing heifer numbers as the most profitable enterprise on the farm currently.
Looking for opportunities beyond the farm gate inspired Rhidian to enter the British Farming Awards, as he pays tribute to all those who have helped him along the way.
He says: “I am over the moon for everybody that has helped me. New entrants bring new ideas to the pot, but I have also listened to the experience and knowledge that has been shared with me.
“Agriculture is a brilliant industry to work in. It is diverse and every day is different. It has been a very long journey, but it really has paid off.”