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‘I would not want to do anything else’ - Building a future in farming

Starting out in farming has been a steep learning curve for Rosie Howes and Scott Brame, but as they told Clemmie Gleeson, they have lots of ideas and plans for the future.

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Scott Brame and Rosie Howes
Scott Brame and Rosie Howes

Before Rosie Howes met her partner, Scott Brame, farming had never been her career plan.

In fact, during her school years she wanted to become a dancer, but illness in her early teens prevented her from pursuing that further.

 

The couple got together when Rosie was 19 and Scott was 22. He was working on a dairy farm, a job he adored, and his passion for farming soon intrigued Rosie too.

 

Fast forward five years and the two are also partners in business, with a sheep flock, two small suckler herds, a fledgling dairy goat herd and a lot of ambition.

 

Rosie was brought up in Bury St Edmunds and is a lifelong animal lover but had no experience of livestock.

 

Scott, who was brought up in south Norfolk, was also not from a farming family, but had been inspired by his grandfather who had worked on a farm. As a young teenager he had been fascinated by tractors, buying his first machine at 14 and spending hours fixing and servicing it.

 

First step

 

Sheep were the obvious first step into having livestock of their own and encouraged by the landowner who rented them their first two-hectare (five-acre) field, they purchased three Jacob ewes.

 

Rosie says: “I wanted a native breed and liked the Jacob. We started buying more and building up the flock slowly.”

 

The three ewes lambed in the first year and Rosie’s love for sheep grew along with the flock.

 

The Jacob flock grew to 30 ewes, plus a couple of rams, but they also started investing in commercial types, including continentals and some Mules. The decision to sell all the Jacobs and concentrate on developing the ewes into more commercial types was made this year.

 

The flock now stands at about 150 ewes and is constantly growing with new purchases as funds allow.

It contains a mixture of breeds including Lleyns, purchased as orphan lambs, and some Mules, as well as

Texel and Beltex crosses.

 

Beltex are a particular favourite of Rosie’s.

 

“I would love to start a pedigree flock one day. I like their nice cube shape and they are a really good meat lamb.”

Sheep were the obvious first step into having livestock for the couple.
Sheep were the obvious first step into having livestock for the couple.

“We eat, sleep and breathe farming. It is our hobby and our life. I would not want to do anything else.”

Rosie Howes

Lambing starts in early March. Lambs are all sold as stores but if the couple can secure more land they would like to start finishing and selling meat boxes in the future.

 

Scott says: “We would like to get up to 500 ewes eventually.

 

“We sell the stores soon after weaning. Our land is not well suited to finishing lambs and we do not want to go down the route of having to give lots of concentrates.”

 

Rosie adds: “We have a lot of marshland and permanent pasture. It is really hard to get land around here, but it has got easier since we had a good number of livestock.”

 

The pair now rent about 61ha (150 acres) of grazing which is in three different areas roughly 20 miles apart, so travelling to check stock has become part of their routine.

 

Scott says: “At first we got offered a couple of acres here and there – we had to take what we could get but we would like to increase our field sizes now.”

 

Cattle

 

Scott was particularly keen to have cattle too, which started with some Dexters initially.

 

“We started with sheep because they are easier to get started with,” he says.

 

“My passion has always been cows but I would not be without the sheep now. The Dexters suited our small acreage at the beginning.”

 

While it gave them confidence with cattle, the pair were not keen on the Dexters themselves, so instead they purchased some Simmental cross calves at Norwich Livestock Market.

 

Rosie says: “We knew a few people there, but it was quite a daunting experience.

 

“We had our own trailer by then – just a basic one that did the job. We had to buy a crush too, but we already had a couple of tractors as Scott was doing some hedge-cutting contract work.”

 

The continentals were a success and the couple decided to keep the heifers to begin their own suckler herd.

 

This year they have bought a young Limousin bull via a private sale and some pedigree Simmental females too. The plan is to continue keeping heifers and sell males as stores.

 

They have also started a small herd of Red Polls.

 

“We both really liked the Red Poll,” says Rosie.

 

“They are native to this area and, as they do not need much cake, it keeps costs down.”

Travelling between fields to check livestock is par for the course and is only really challenging when they need to transport water.

 

“If you want to get into farming you have to be really passionate about it,” says Rosie.

 

“We eat, sleep and breathe farming. It is our hobby and our life. I would not want to do anything else.”

 

British Toggenburg goats

 

As well as grazing at Heywood Hall, near Diss, they have use of one side of a large barn which they use for lambing and over-wintering cattle and now also for housing their fledgling herd of British Toggenburg goats.

 

Rosie says: “I fell in love with the Toggenburg. They are docile and lovely but real characters.”

They are keen to develop the goat herd further, buying nannies as they can afford and have recently purchased a billy.

 

Rosie has her sights set on diversifying into goat milk cosmetic products in the future.

 

She says: “I would love to get into making cosmetic products like soaps one day. I have problems with eczema and use goats’ milk soap myself and it is lovely.”

 

While renting land from seven different landowners adds some complexity, the main challenge to their business has been cashflow.

 

Scott says: “There are so many things we would like to do but cannot just yet.”

 

Selling stock gives them the funding for investing in more animals and they were particularly pleased with this year’s lamb crop.

 

“We had 170 per cent from 120 ewes,” adds Scott.

 

“We have bought some more ewes since then.”

 

Away from the business, Scott continues with his job for Mike Potter’s Holstein herd in Long Stratton where he works as cowman four days a week.

 

“They do all our baling straw and silage baling for us as well which is really helpful,” says Scott.

 

He also works on a local pig farm when needed and offers hedge-cutting and other tasks on contract with his own tractors.

 

Rosie was working in a cafe too, until lockdown hit, the extra income from which she said was helpful.

 

However, the end of that job encouraged her to investigate other income streams and she has since launched herself as The Norfolk Shepherdess, offering foot trimming, clipping and shearing to smallholders and farms.

pic 1

The continentals have been a success, with the couple deciding to keep the heifers to begin their own suckler herd.

Day courses

 

Rosie also offers day courses to people wanting to learn about keeping livestock and is particularly keen to help other newcomers to farming.

 

Her Facebook page has a following of more than 1,000 people and Rosie shares regular updates including live videos to promote the farm and her services and also to encourage other new entrants to farming.

 

They both agree that social media has helped propel the business forward and helped to get them noticed.

 

“We have learned a lot along the way, often through mistakes. Now we want to help others who are in the process of setting up,” says Rosie.

 

“It is a struggle when you are starting up, especially when you have nothing and no money. We are still working very long hours each week to make it work.”

 

Despite the ongoing hard work and long hours required the pair remain as committed to their business as ever.

 

Plans to grow the sheep, cattle and goat numbers continue and Rosie is already researching her idea for a diversification into goats’ milk cosmetic products.

 

But above all, top of their wish list is a farm of their own where they can live and work on one site which would not only be more practical, but enable more time to be spent on developing the business rather than travelling.

 

“It would be brilliant to have everything in one place,” Rosie says.

pic 2

The Toggenburg goats are docile, but real characters, says Rosie.

Farm facts

  • Started their business in 2015
  • Mixed breed sheep flock totals 150 ewes
  • 25 suckler cows, a mix of continental crosses and Red Poll breeds
  • Lambs and steers sold as stores
  • Just starting Toggenburg dairy goat herd
  • Rent 61ha (150 acres) of grazing in south Norfolk from seven landlords
  • As ‘The Norfolk Shepherdess’ on social media, Rosie offers help with husbandry to smallholders and small farms
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