Nestled in the beautiful, rolling Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, right on the Welsh border, lies a major family farming operation.
Well hidden and low key, it is not really visible from the road and at first its scale is not apparent.
The Wood family moved to Kinnerton Farm 57 years ago when they took on 58 hectares (144 acres). This has increased over the years and they now run about 1,093 hectares (2,700 acres), split between owned and rented land.
They lamb about 4,200 ewes, finish some 10,000 lambs as well as a beef herd of 450 breeding cattle, comprising of some pure Limousins with the rest a combination of Limousin and British Blue crosses.
The farm is run in partnership by Phil Wood, who lives at Kinnerton Hall, his brother Michael, who lives at nearby Brookshill Farm, and their mother, Edith. Phil’s wife, Sue, sons Martin and Simon, and Michael’s son, Tom, all work in the business, making it a full-on family operation with everyone helping out in all jobs at all times.
The home farm lies at about 305 metres (1,000 feet) and runs up to 518m (1,700ft) at its highest, and they take land to feed the fattening lambs about 25-30 miles away.
Lambing is undertaken outside at the end of March and for this they need ewes they can trust, and this is where the North of England Mule comes in.
Historically, the family bought Welsh Mules as they were they handiest to source, being so near to the Welsh border, but they have found North of England Mules to be longer lasting.
Phil says: “We can catch a good amount of snow where we are and need our ewes to be able to live and thrive outside in all conditions, so we need sheep which are good mothers and milk well. The less we have to do them the better.
When they buy in sheep they look for sheep with good skins, good frame and good on their feet, selecting the best sheep they can.
They return regularly to the same flocks year after year, partly for flock health reasons and also consistency of stock, buying around 350-380 shearlings a year out of Carlisle and Lazonby, although they have bought up to 900 yearlings some years.
Phil says: “We like to buy our shearlings from “up north” as we find these suit the farm better than those which come down south as gimmer hoggs, having that extra year in which to grow and fill out in a tougher environment, which is needed at Kinnerton.”
The Mules run with Beltex and Beltex cross tups to produce fat lambs that have shape and length, grow well and have tight skins.
They run some of the Mules with the Suffolk tup and retain the best females from this cross for breeding.
Fat lambs are sold through Shrewsbury, Welshpool and Bishops Castle markets.
Breeding their own replacements keeps down the cost of bringing more females into the farm, and the Suffolk cross females retain that milkiness and mothering from the Mule ewe to help keep the management to a minimum.
The farm was in an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) for 20 years and the sheep ground receives no artificial fertiliser.
Phil says: “The Mules thrives on this type of ground, as they have that extra hardiness built into their genetics and are able to convert the grass better, only being one generation removed from the Swaledale ewes, which graze some of the harshest grazing in the country in the northern hills.”