After being presented with an opportunity to rent a farm in Cumbria, tattoo artist Ollie Jackson and his partner Leeann set out to make their farming dreams a reality. Alex Robinson went to meet the determined couple.
On first meeting Ollie Jackson, it is hard to believe he has only been settled at Whitesyke Farm since July.
Forward-thinking and armed with creative ambition, the move to the traditional milking farm came after a spell travelling the world, where he was perfecting his craft as a tattooist.
Ollie lives on the eight-hectare (20-acre) site with his partner Leeann Whitelaw and two children Phoebe, seven, and Joesph, five. Still working as a full-time tattoo artist, Ollie fits farm work around the hectic trials of employment and family life.
The farm currently holds 10 head of water buffalo and around 50 pigs, consisting of rare breed sows including Oxford Sandy and Blacks, Gloucestershire Old Spots and Landrace.
Ollie says: “I grew up on a smallholding in Wales before moving to the Highlands where I met Leeann. After heading to the city where I began tattooing. I knew if I wanted to progress in my craft I would have travel, both around the UK and further afield.
“As a family, we spent several years moving around the globe, but last year we decided it was time to come back to England and pursue our dream of running a farm.
Oxford and Sandy Black gilts.
“While Leeann is a complete beginner, we have both wanted to get into farming for a while. We are also passionate about giving our children the chance to grow up with such a lifestyle.”
With the idea set alight, it was not long before the Jackson’s were offered the chance to rent Whitesyke, in Longtown, Cumbria, via a Facebook exchange with current landlord Daniel Tweedle. “We were lucky with the offer,” says Ollie, “We couldn’t refuse it.
“Daniel renovated the entire house, and while it is still work in progress, the site has everything we need.
“The first livestock acquisition was the buffalo. We were looking for a niche product, and after some research, found little trace of any breeders in our area.
“Water buffalo meat is generally healthier than other beef breeds, being lower in cholesterol and higher in both protein and iron.
“It was decided buffalo would also fare well on our land, which is disadvantaged and wet. They are hardy and require relatively basic management, thriving on simple feeding regimes and are easy calving, maternal cattle.
“We set out to buy five cows with calves at foot, which were back in-calf for the following year.”
High on their farming agenda is simplicity and Ollie ensures the cattle are fed a clean grass-based diet. The buffalo are also on grass, alongside a basic hay and silage ration.
All animals are finished on farm with the current crop of calves weaned at seven months.
Heifers will be kept on for breeding purposes while steers will be fattened and sent to slaughter.
Whitesyke Farm has 10 water buffalo.
The first run of stock is expected to be killing out at around 300kgs and the Lockerbie-based processor Halls Ford will be responsible for the butchering and packaging of the meat.
Stock is farmed to high welfare standards and Ollie ensures this is to remain at the heart of the business.
“I want to create a transparent product which the consumer can trace back to the original source,” he adds. “I am also keen to have as little waste as possible. The carcases will be utilised to the maximum. Leeann aims to keep the buffalo skulls to carve out and make ornaments.”
The pig enterprise focuses on the rare breed sows being put to a Large White boar, favoured for its size and fleshing ability.
“We began with four in-pig sows, which farrowed as soon as they arrived”, says Ollie. “The aim is to sell them as finishers between six and eight months, at a live weight of around 80kgs.”
Reared on a free-range system when possible, the farm will aim to produce two litters per sow per year.
“We hope to set up some farrowing pens in the future so we can manage breeding more efficiently, but we are adamant we do not want to become a production yard. Livestock welfare is top of the agenda.”
Plans for the future are focused around modernisation, including the installation of an automatic water system and development of the existing silage pit for cattle housing. But Ollie is keen to ensure all future ventures continue to be paid for without loans or financing.
“The farm is something we have funded completely out of our own pockets”, says Ollie. “The tattooing pays for the farm. We have had no assistance from other financial sources, which is something we are proud of.”
While still in its teething stages, the family are aiming to sell their products under the umbrella title of the Welsh Mountain Farm and Co, a tribute to Ollie’s late father who ran the Welsh Mountain Zoo in Conwy, Wales.
Social media marketing and strong branding is a key part of the future plan, and Ollie intends to advertise products under the banner of ‘The Tattooed Farmers’.
Large White cross Gloucestershire Old Spot piglets.
“Utilising online platforms is necessary in the present day,” says Ollie. “I have done a lot of my business through social media communication. From finding the farm, to buying and selling, I use the medium daily. I am looking to develop an online presence to strengthen the brand and engage with consumers.
“We have plans in the pipeline, including meat goat breeding and vegetable production. We will soon be welcoming our foundation flock of Ryeland and Swaledale sheep onto the farm.”
With their third child due in February, the couple show no signs of slowing down as they continue expansion. They also hope to host open farm visits in the future to promote the industry to younger generations.
“Every time I meet a farmer, I am silent and listen. The process has been a big journey, and we realise we are not done learning yet.
“I would rather try different things and see what works. Eventually, I would like to be able to inspire others to learn about the sector, by creating a place of knowledge transfer. We have big plans for the farm and plenty of ambition to see them through.”