A Welsh Borders farmer has been both humbled and delighted by the response of fellow farmers and agricultural suppliers to his initiative to turn a personal tragedy into hope for others. Howard Walsh reports.
Following the untimely death of his wife Eve last year, Emyr Wigley is determined to perpetuate her memory by raising money for charity in several ways, not least of which is the establishment of a new herd of British Blues.
In the first year of his efforts, the donations and pledges in memory of Eve have come via neighbours, friends and businesses, some match-funding by the bank, and money raised by a charity lunch and auction organised by Emyr himself. The funds will go to Ovarian Cancer Action.
It was the tragic passing of Farmers Guardian’s young livestock reporter Louise Hartley from a very aggressive form of the same disease, which prompted him to contact FG to acknowledge the tremendous way in which sectors of the industry were pitching in.
“The generosity of people has been unbelievable and to date, we have just over £12,000, including £8,500 which came from the lunch. All this will be donated to the charity.”
Emyr’s longer term aim is the creation of the Old Stackyard Blue British Blue herd and most of the on-going returns from that will be donated to both Ovarian Cancer Action and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.
First announced in the British Blue Cattle Society’s newsletter, the new herd will, he says, be his hobby and admits he does not need to take income from it himself.
The proceeds from progeny sold at auction out of the dozen or so females, will be split between OCA and RABI.
Only the returns from any culls will be ploughed back into the new herd. In support, the breed society has agreed to waive transfer and registration fees.
"The generosity of people has been unbelievable"
His wife, Dilys Evelyn Wigley, had been passionate about her own small ‘Cefnrhos’ herd of British Blues, which she and Emyr ran alongside their 120 dairy cows.
They had married in 1972 and built up their business over several years and both having also worked for other farmers to generate capital. They eventually bought their own place near Deytheur, Llansantffraid, in the early 1980s.
The dairy herd had always been profitable and they had managed to pay off a sizeable mortgage within 21 years.
They decided to sell up and retire in 2007, take life a little easier and pursue their interests including gardening and walking.
The proceeds from the farm sale enabled them to build a fine new house with a large garden, not far away.
But as Emyr says: “The wheels came off our plans when Eve was diagnosed with ovarian cancer four years ago.
“She passed away last October aged 69, and they had been very difficult times.”
Just into his 70s, Emyr enjoys good health and apart from maintaining his own garden, he has thrown himself into undertaking all manner of jobs for other people and fundraising.
With news of his plans to erect a new building and access road for the herd on a Greenfield site near the house, the supplying industries’ generosity has given added impetus to the fundraising.
The main contractor for the building for example, Paul Huxley Construction, is now working alongside OCA to help raise awareness and funds for the charity.
In September and October each year, the company has pledged to donate 0.5 per cent of all buildings sales to OCA and will issue leaflets to customers showing the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Emyr has also had free plant hire for a month, hardcore, and many other benevolent gestures.
He already has some foundation females secured, although still on their farms of origin, and calculates a total start-up cost of £80,000-£90,000.
“The money is not helping anyone where it is, but we had a fantastic, although hard, life together, and I want to give something back. Eve would be right behind me on that,” he says.
The 11-hectare (27-acre) field in front of the house has been re-seeded and divided up into paddocks. The whole site will be ‘badger-proofed’ and fodder and straw will be bought in.
The original Blue herd which the Wigleys developed, followed on from the successful use of Blue semen on the dairy herd.
They were early users of sexed semen on heifers for dairy replacements, but any heifers that did not hold to AI, along with the cows, were put to a Blue bull.
“We made a lot of money with our cross-bred calves and suckler men were keen to buy the heifers, as we had big, strong dairy cows.
“I reckon over 20 years we must have had 300 Blue calves out of dairy heifers, and not one caesarean,” recalls Emyr.
“But you have to watch the feeding management in the last few months.”
“We were great fans of the breed and eventually bought our first bull in 1987 for 1,350gns.
“We had him for four years and sold him cull for £1,000. We then bought a Bringlee bull in 1991, and also came home with two heifers.”
Cefnrhos was never a big herd and was closed. But it produced some decent sale prices with bulls up to 3,600gns. The emphasis was on easy calving, as will be the case with the new herd.
Six females are already bought at 13 and 15 months old. Emyr has also secured two cows with big heifer calves at foot and in-calf again and would rather like to find another two, ideally with bull calves.
Those already bought, from herds including Pendle, Stonebyres and Greystone, have been secured on the understanding they are from naturally calving lines.
However, Emyr is keen to promote the charities at every given moment throughout the latest chapter in his life.
He says: “This is not about me, it is about raising awareness about this terrible disease. I want to acknowledge how everyone I know has helped this charitable cause.
“It’s typical of farming folk to support my plan and help further raise awareness.”