Twenty year old Jess Maynard is a self-proclaimed livestock fanatic with one of the biggest smiles you’ll see on the summer and winter show circuit.
A breeder of Blue Texel sheep and pedigree British Blue cattle in her own right, she also helps out on the family farm, where alongside her mum and step dad, Vicky and Matt Smith, they run a small herd of pedigree Limousins as well as a commercial suckler herd and a commercial sheep flock.
Alongside the 110-acre family farm, based between Tiverton and Crediton in Devon, Jess splits her time between working as a sales assistant for livestock auctioneers Stags and being an active Young Farmers member, as well as secretary of the South West British Blue Club.
“I tried the agricultural college lifestyle, but that lasted all of a month for me,” she admits. “At the time I was offered a part time job with livestock auctioneers Greenslade Taylor Hunt, which grew rapidly to a full time position. With my interest in pedigree breeding, assisting and managing the pedigree livestock sales calendar for the market was a dream job and one I couldn’t turn down.”
Having worked for GTH for a few years, a move to local auctioneers Stags also coincided with a change of farming policy for the family.
This resulted in a major reduction of Vicky and Matt’s Columbpark Limousin herd with a view to concentrating on smaller numbers on one family holding. “We all have work commitments as well as the livestock, so a smaller, streamlined approach worked better for us all.”
While more commercially focussed, Jess’ job with Stags is similar and sees her helping on market days and assisting with on farm dispersals across the south west. “I love the market life as you’re surrounded by like-minded people and it helps having a good understanding of local trade when it comes to selling your own livestock.”
Jess’ 20-ewe pedigree Blue Texel flock, which runs under the Sapphire prefix, was established in 2012 when she purchased females from the Beilli and Millside flocks.
“Mum and I had admired the Blue Texels for a few years at shows, not only for their striking and eye catching markings and show ring presence, but for their ease of lambing and commercial attributes.
“I wanted a pedigree breed that I could enjoy breeding and showing, but one that could stand it’s ground in our own commercial flock if I was to have any intention of selling tups commercially.”
Further females were purchased in the same year from the Builth Sales from the Dulas and Bluestone flocks as well as a ram from the Millend flock. The females have been retained to help build numbers with numbers expected to grow year on year from now.
Adding to the stock tup power was a ram lamb purchased in Worcester from Martin Sivill and then more recently one from recently established breeders Dave and Katherine Thompson.
“There’s plenty of variation in the breed with some breeders favouring the smaller, muscular, darker types, but for me I like a balanced female with good frame and legs.
“I like the traditional blue colour in the fleece markings and I like them to produce tups that I can sell commercially.
“Demand is high in the south west and I’ve managed to convince commercial producers to try the Blue Texel tups off the back of them seeing my own crossbred lambs in market.
While the Blue Texel is still a relatively new breed compared to it’s Continental counterparts, it’s growth has been rapid and now Jess feels the Society and breeders need to capitalise on that by getting the commercial message out there more. “Females offer easy lambing and good mothering ability, while the rams offer great terminal sire attributes to produce lambs with good length, tops and giggots. I’ve even managed to convince my boyfriend, Chris, of the benefits of the breed, so he’s now experiencing their attributes in his commercial flock.”
Jess believes they are a breed in hot demand by the younger generation. “There are many breeders of my age range coming in to the breed, as well as many younger children getting involved with their parents, so it’s a breed with a great future ahead of it.”
And although Jess may have only been breeding in her own right for a short time, she’s tasted success at the summer shows with wins at Devon County Show, Royal Cornwall and Bath and West including a reserve interbreed ram lamb championship with the homebred Sapphire Abracadabra. “I’ve certainly always had the showing bug and Blue Texel breeders in the south west have worked hard to get breed classes on at many of the local shows. I look forward to watching them grow further.”
Alongside the sheep and the family’s Limousin cattle, Jess’ other passion is British Blue cattle. While currently numbering just a handful of pedigree females, she plans to expand and is currently using sexed semen to grow the herd. “I purchased Newpole Issey which has gone on to be shown successfully as a yearling heifer and two-year old before calving a Speckle Park cross calf. She’s since produced a bull calf by Norbreck Black Beauty which has been Jess’ first calf shown in her name with success at last year’s Agrifest South West, an event which means a great deal to Jess as it’s organised by her mum, Vicky, who is also secretary for the NBA in the south west.
“Agrifest has cemented itself as an important date in the west country show calendar and has grown considerably now with exhibitors travelling further afield from Wales and Yorkshire. There’s a great team at the heart of the organisation and this year not only did it prove to be a great showcase of cattle and sheep, it also raised a tremendous £14,000 for charity.
Jess’ time on the show circuit has seen her learn from many great breeders and stock men and women, least of all her mum. “Others who have influenced me from a young age have been Nick Hill of the Quaish Limousin herd, Jane Haw from Balbithan Charolais fame and Mike and Danni Cowell of Eastyard Devons,” she says. “I also spent some time with the Quick family of Loosebeare breaking in cattle and preparing stock for sales. “Anyone who shows stock knows what a strong community you’re in and when you’ve been brought up with it you soon learn from the best and make friends for life.”
A keen competitor of young handlers competitions as well, Jess narrowly missed out on winning a trip to Canada in 2012 when she came runner up in the National Young Stars competition alongside team mates Lowri Davis and Nia Griffiths, while in 2016 alongside team members Lottie Hill and Michael Philips, she won the Royal Bath and West Show’s Beef Team Challenge. “These team competitions are a fantastic addition to the normal showing calendar as they help teach us the importance of team work, public speaking, marketing and stockjudging and many other skills,” she explains.
As Jess’ experience as a competitor has grown, she’s now looking forward to her first judging duties when she will be judging sheep this summer. “While I’m nervous about judging, it’s all about gaining experience and it’s something I’d like to do more of if I get the opportunity.”
As well as showing, Jess is a keen member of Honiton Young Farmers Club where she’s assistant stock secretary and organises the Young Farmers Show and Sale at Sedgemoor every April. “Members produce their own stock which have been bought out of the market, reared and then sold back on sale day with a points trophy going to the best performing member.”
There’s no doubting the fact Jess is one to watch in the future. Her passion for farming and thirst for knowledge is second to none, coupled with a fantastic family ethos and many experienced people in her circle; the future for this young stock woman is sure to be a bright one.