While visiting the Isle of Man, Laura Bowyer met the Kermodes to talk pedigree and commercial stock production, and challenges of farming on the island.
Although farmers across the British Isles are faced with a myriad of challenges, the Isle of Man has its own specific quirks, due as much to its geographical situation as its governance.
So much so that, Manx farmer Pip Kermode, of Orrisdale Farm, Ballasalla, says if you can farm on the island you can farm anywhere.
Costs are high on the island, as many goods have to be imported. Land prices have escalated due to the large number of multi-millionaires who live there and there is a distinct lack of outlets for stock.
When faced with such obstacles, a business can either crumble or rise to the challenge. Pip and his family are clearly doing the latter.
Well-known in UK pedigree Texel and beef circles, the Kermodes run one of the biggest units on the Isle of Man. It is a family operation, with husband and wife Pip and Carol working at home with son Thomas and daughter Kirree, while their youngest son Caesar is still in school.
Although Pip still manages the business, Kirree takes the lead with the sheep, Thomas manages the tractor work and cattle and they are helped by family friend Craig Gelling.
Carol says: “Major decisions are made as a whole family and we all work as a team when lambing and calving and during big stock work; for example when shearing, shipping or moving stock or when preparing for shows and sales.”
It is said the Isle of Man Government often follows the lead of Westminster when it comes to agricultural legislation. Its version of the Basic Payment System goes by the name of the Countryside Care Scheme which was initially based on headage and production, but these days is a flat rate.
Pip adds: “We have all the UK’s red-tape but we govern ourselves with a Manx twist.”
The island is officially TB-free and operates a four-year testing plan.
There are no environmental payments or Nitrate Vulnerable Zones on the island, and the bee population is disease free.
The island’s lifeline, the ferry, is somewhat unpredictable and can be cancelled an hour before departure if winds are deemed to be too strong, so tensions can be high before sailing among people whose businesses rely on the crossing. It is not cheap either, with return tickets costing £3,500 for an articulated lorry or £1,200 for a truck and stock box.
Pip says: “You lose £100 per head automatically just taking stock to the UK, but in the grand scheme of things you will get more per head.”
Carol adds: “Waiting for a shipment to go can be stressful. It is okay if the weather is settled, but we have to wait for the captain to decide whether we will sail when it is borderline. We have to load the wagon before the captain decides whether the crossing will go ahead as it is such short notice. There have been times when we have been on the dock only to be turned away.”
If you are in the line of moving stock to the Isle of Man, animals need to see out a standstill period in the UK, so any sheep bought by the Kermodes lodge at the farm of Texel breeder Robert Pigg, Carlisle, who is maedi visna-accredited. This is important to the family as the sheep have to retain their MV status to travel to the island. Only certain hill breeds are able to be imported as non-MV accredited, but they have to be tested after import.
With stock exports at the heart of the business, life is not made easy as the island still abides by foot-and-mouth movement regulations, with a 21-day standstill required at both end of the animals’ journey, including a seven-day quarantine and vet inspection at both sides of the Irish Sea.
Sale stock go straight to market, or can be kept in the market fields as required. Cattle are not often bought in the UK due to the high health status of animals required on the Isle of Man, but sometimes a bull or some selected females will be imported. In this case, they will see out their standstill period with either the vendor or Annan-based livestock haulier, Andrew Ewing.
Imported stock is subject to a 60-day standstill and a TB-test on the island due its TB-free status. This is something which can work in their favour when it comes to selling stock in the UK, they say.
Feed is grown on-farm and Pip says it would otherwise cost £80 per tonne just to ship it in as there are no commercial feed mills on the island.
Each year, 3,000 grass silage bales are made as well as some hay.
With a loyal customer base in the commercial market, Kirree says the family aims to produce sheep which are general all-rounders with a good carcase and good skin.
She says: “Pedigree breeders look for something with extra sparkle and we send a small consignment to Lanark for the breed’s Scottish national sale each year which we hope will suit this market.”
When it comes to rams for the commercial market, 10 yearling rams and five tup lambs travel to the Solway and Tyne Texel club sale each year at Carlisle and they are keen attendees of the market’s continental Eurosale. They also sell at Bentham market, Junction 36 and the NSA sale at Builth and, when thoughts turn to buying stock, they travel to Ballymena tup sales.
Kirree says: “We try to focus on quality, not quantity, and we want to be even more selective moving forward.”
Their top price in the sale ring is 8,000gns for Orrisdale Paradise which sold to Will McAffrey, Cheshire, in 2009, followed by Orrisdale Viking, which sold for 7,000gns to Martin Millar and Stuart Hammond, Northern Ireland in 2014.
To strengthen their sales, the flock is performance recorded and eight-week weights of the Texels are taken by Signet Recording which incurs its own additional costs due to the travel although they believe performance recording allows them to access more customers.
There are no embryo stations on the island, which puts the flock at a disadvantage in terms of genetic progress and making their breeding more selective. Innovis has visited them to do this but it is not something they have made habit of.
“Although many dairy farmers will artificially inseminate their stock, the only person able to AI beef cattle is the Government field officer and there is no means of AI-ing sheep,” says Kirree.
The family also travel to the UK for shows, originally showing British Blue cattle and winning breed championship at the Royal Highland Show in 1988.
The family attend the Royal Highland and the Great Yorkshire Show each year and they have also shown at the Royal Welsh Show.
Back home, they have much success at the island’s two shows – the Royal Manx Show and the Southern Show.
Further to the Texels, a smaller flock of 30 Charollais ewes is kept, with pure rams sold locally and a Texel also put to some of them to produce finished lambs, which they say grade well.
Supplying the island’s abattoir, Isle of Man Meats, Texel and Charollais rams are put to the 800-head commercial flock to produce finished lambs, most of which grade out at U3.
Adding to the workload, the family produce store cattle from their 130 cows which leave the island and enjoy a good trade at Carlisle.
Cows are predominantly Aberdeen-Angus cross Limousins.
Charolais and Limousin bulls are used, although a Hereford and an Aberdeen-Angus have recently been used due to the swing in the market’s preference towards native grass-fed animals. But an Aberdeen-Angus premium cannot be gained when selling stock at Isle of Man Meats, which is soon to be under new management.
Some stores are sold through the island’s market, but sales can be irregular and prices unsatisfactory.
Pip says: “You can sell stock on the island fine but you have to take what you are offered – there is not a lot of competition.”
A group of 70 pedigree Limousin cows are also run on-farm and calves are sold at 12-15 months in Carlisle alongside cross-breds.
All the farm’s cattle have a high health status and are tested for Johne’s and BVD, having adopted a tagging system. Isle of Man law requires compulsory slaughtering of all persistently infected animals and all calves born there must be BVD tested.
“There was a derogation to stop imported meat here but it went 10 years ago and now there is a lot of Irish and Polish meat shipped to the island. There is no protection of the domestic market and those finishing cattle on the island cannot compete with cheaper imports,” says Pip.
“We used to fatten everything until the Government decoupled the support and freed the industry from the requirement to send stock to the meat plant to earn a subsidy.”
Pip and Carol have increased their farm size significantly over the years. Orrisdale is Carol’s 55-hectare (135-acre) family farm and has now been in the family for five generations but for the past 10-15 years the family have rented extra ground, taking them to 486ha (1,200 acres).
Kirree adds: “We have an enthusiasm as a family to try things and to improve. We get on great and really enjoy what we do, and we want to improve our business knowing we have the support and encouragement from each other. It is a real team effort.”
Renting from seven landlords, much of the ground is on a yearly contract. Pip says not many people can afford to buy their own farm on the island as land prices are out of reach of farmers there.
Although Kirree is kept busy with the work at home, she has been presenting the Manx Radio show Countryside for a year, having been approached by John Kennaugh, the show’s previous presenter, who became seriously ill and wanted a young person to take over his presenting role.
It is an hour-long weekly show covering everything from agriculture to sports, taking on its topics with a passion for the island and its agriculture. It is something Kirree greatly enjoys.
She adds: “There is a real drive for local produce on the island at the moment.”