On or off screen, Meinir Howells is regularly spotted in sheep rings across Wales. Presenting the S4C coverage of the show, she brings all the excitement to living rooms across Wales and beyond. Laura Bowyer reports.
Recognised across Wales and further afield from her appearances as one of three presenters on Welsh language television channel S4C’s farming programme, Ffermio, Meinir Howells is a familiar face in the sheep section at the Royal Welsh Show, both on and off screen.
Making her first appearance in January 2011, Mrs Howells has worked her way up through the ranks of the show, starting as a runner at the Royal Welsh during a period of work experience, followed by a researcher upon graduating from Aberystwyth University with a degree in Welsh with film and TV. Since then Mrs Howells explains she has directed, produced and presented the programme, currently presenting alongside Daloni Metcalfe and Alun Elidyr.
For the past four years she has been at the forefront of the action in the sheep rings with the S4C camera crew, and often the first person the champion exhibitors speak to once the judge has made his final decision.
Mrs Howells has a fond connection with the Royal Welsh Show, not only as she has been the face of the coverage programme for four years, except for last year when she was heavily pregnant, but also as a keen exhibitor of her own Balwen sheep and formerly when competing with Young Farmers.
After giving birth to her daughter Sioned on the Saturday after the Royal Welsh last year, Mrs Howells now works for Ffermio on a part-time basis – a decision which was further encouraged when she and her husband Gary Howells purchased an additional 28 hectares (70 acres) of ground close to their home farm, Shadog at Pentre Cwrt near Llandysul, Carmarthenshire, bringing their total farm size to 154ha (380 acres).
She says: “It is a dream job with a front row seat when it comes to the sheep judging. I love to see the passion exhibitors have for their sheep. We follow a lot of the breeds throughout the course of the show and try to focus on different ones from year to year.”
Mrs Howells says covering the sheep section is the ideal job for her as she would love to be around the sheep rings whether she was working or there as an exhibitor, being a keen keeper of Balwen sheep.
She adds: “Because I have shown there myself, I can empathise with the exhibitors as I know how they are feeling.”
After receiving two yearling ewes from her father when she was two years old, Mrs Howells now has a 50-head flock of Balwens and is currently chairman of the breed society.
Mrs Howells and her Eifion flock have taken five breed championships at the show since 2009, along with reserve champion in one year and reserve female champion in another. She has already had a breed championship this year at Builth, taking the Balwen championship at the Spring Festival.
Requiring four white socks, a white blaze on the head and half a white tail to meet the breed standards, Mrs Howells says they are a breed which are lovely to see out in a field and are very popular with children.
This year there will be a full team of Balwens travelling to the show from Shadog, with Mr Howells and the rest of her family helping her out in the showring.
But she is not the only presenter with a farming background at S4C, the case is the same for all Ffermio presenters, and Mrs Howells says this allows them to relate to contributors when interviewing them, and to the audience at home, as they too feel so strongly about the issues being discussed.
She says: “I love meeting different people and seeing the different things people are up to and seeing the best of what Wales has. I do not count it as work at all – it is a real honour and privilege.”
On the importance of the show, Mrs Howells says: “As an industry we need to be engaging with customers, especially with Brexit. Individually, people do not usually have the time at the show to do this, but as a whole we can show off our industry as we produce some of the best livestock in the world.
“It is not just about showing stock, it is showcasing what we are doing. Small shows are a really important stepping stone for young and new exhibitors as they give people an opportunity to start off. They are the back bone of the bigger shows and allow important skills to be developed.
“Everyone is a big family for the week and stewards work so hard throughout the week and they do not get enough thanks. The Royal Welsh is the best show in the world and whatever interest you have, there will be something for you at the show. We are lucky to have it.”
Gary and Meinir Howells have been farming together at Shadog since 2014, with Mr Howell’s family coming from Llanybydder and Mrs Howells’ from Capel Isaac, near Llandeilo.
Bluefaced Leicester cross Texel yearling rams are sold off-farm, out of Texel ewe lambs, with them grouped according to size and conformation and a price set to each group. Buyers can then pick a ram to suit their requirements.
The couple has been breeding these for the past four to five years and they say the sires go mainly to hill flocks as they have good growth and easy lambing. They believe the sires are answering what the market wants with tremendous length and they say they outperform Texels on weight gain.
A five-year-old New Zealand Suffolk ram was purchased at Kelso and the couple are breeding NZ-type Suffolk crossed Suffolks.
Mr Howells says: “Suffolks are going out of fashion around here. We saw these New Zealand cross traditional Suffolks in Kelso and thought we would give them a go. Their lambs are up quick and are less labour intensive at a time when people are looking to cut costs.
“We like to breed sheep with good bodies and conformation but with narrow heads for easy lambing. In our Texels last year, we only had three caesareans out of the 350. We do not breed for pedigree breeders, but instead for the commercial buyer.”
Through the main National Sheep Association sale at Builth Wells, 60 rams are sold, with 15 going through the ring at the early sale under both the Shadog and Ty Cam prefixes. Their top price at Builth was 1,300gns and most years they will achieve 1,000gns at the sale, averaging 600gns, which they describe as the most important figure.
They say no creep is fed to lambs to ensure they do not lose condition when customers take the males home, and many rams are sold to repeat purchasers.
On the cattle side, 70 breeding females are run, mainly Limousin cross British Blue or British Blue crosses from dairy herds, but despite Mr Howells’ family historically being Charolais breeders, the couple have established a herd of 20 pedigree Limousins at Shadog running to Arradfoot Lasvegas, a bull bred by Thor Atkinson, Ulverston, and a Wilodge Vantastic paternal grandson. This year an additional 20 bulling heifers have been bought in to boost cattle numbers, and with the aim to sell a number of cows and calves.
Mr Howells says: “We are breeding Limousins because they are sharp on their feet and easy calving.”
Heifers are calved at two-and-a-half to three years and offspring is sold as stores at 16 to 18 months, although a couple will be sold as bulls.
Moving forward, Mr and Mrs Howells are looking to increase their stock numbers, saying they could run another 100 ewes which they could achieve by keeping their own ewe lambs, and also increase yearling ram numbers to meet demand.