Despite only establishing her Low Fauld Dutch Spotted flock in the past two years, Sian Jordan has high hopes for her new venture after defying the odds to take on her own farm three years ago.
Grit, determination and drive are fundamentals for anyone embarking on a new venture.
But for 26-year-old farmer, Sian Jordan, they are certainly familiar attributes in the journey she has been on so far which saw her take on Low Fauld Farm near Armathwaite, Cumbria, in 2016.
Growing up on her step-father’s farm from the age of eight nearby in Croglin, she would help out at every opportunity and had an ambition to farm from an early age.
But in March 2014, Sian’s life changed when she was a passenger in a car accident, breaking her back in several places and suffered a crushed spinal cord which has left her without movement in her legs.
She returned home the following June and in January 2015 began looking to take on some land, so she could continue pursuing her ambition of keeping her own livestock and horses.
This emerged in the form of Low Fauld, and in the last three years what began as a hobby has grown into a profit-making business which she is determined to make a success of.
Her ambition has also extended to exhibiting her stock in the show ring, and next week she will head to Carlisle to show at Agri Expo (November 1) for the second year running.
Spanning 50 hectares (115 acres) in total, the farm now supports 300 breeding ewes and followers, a herd of 40 goats and about 35 horses and donkeys, all run by Sian plus the help of part-time stockman Dan Pearson.
With numbers having gradually increased, all but 16ha (40 acres) was seasonally let when Sian first arrived at Low Fauld. But this has gradually been taken back in-house, with about 10ha (25 acres) now rented out.
Sian says: “I was looking for a place closer to home, with easy access and the farm ticked those boxes.
“The sheds were all in good condition and the farm was pretty much good to go, aside from a bit of alteration to some of the building design to make it more suitable for sheep than cattle and work on the boundary fencing to stock-proof fields for sheep.
“Other than making some of the gateways a bit bigger in the shed so I can get my scooter through, there is nothing that has really been adapted majorly for me on the farm.
“I just find ways to work around what anyone else would do. I never wanted to live somewhere where everything was operated with the touch of a button.
“I couldn’t count the number of scooters I’ve had, they don’t last on the farm and I’ll go through one about every six months. They are my legs when I’m out and about outside and they get me everywhere.”
Sheep numbers have been on the up since Sian arrived at Low Fauld.
A 250-head commercial flock of mainly Texel and Suffolk cross ewes has been bought in gradually over the last three years, and is now run alongside a flock of 50 pedigree Dutch Spotted sheep which was established more recently in 2017.
Before the Dutch Spotted arrived, Sian had run Suffolks but found them difficult to handle on her own and challenging to lamb. She began looking for an alternative.
She says: “I first saw the Dutch Spotted advertised online and after finding out more from the society, I got my first five sheep - four ewe lambs and a ram lamb - from a society import sale in Lockerbie in 2017.
“It was the look of the breed which drew me to them first place, and after hearing good things about their performance and vigour, I have been impressed at how easy they are to work with.
“I went on to buy a ram and a gimmer from a flock in Devon in the same year, as I wanted to cross the Dutch Spotted onto some of the commercials that year.
“I’ve found they make a good cross, and the pedigrees get on with lambing themselves.
“They’re not too heavy so I can catch and tip them over myself if I need to, and they’re quiet which makes them easy to handle in the yard.”
Tupping last year saw her cross 200 of the commercial ewes to the Dutch Spotted, with the rest going to terminal sires including Beltex cross Texel tups.
Female replacements are selected from progeny, with a view to moving towards breeding most on-farm rather than buying in going forward.
Weathers and ewe lambs which do not make the grade are finished off grass and concentrate if it is needed and sold via Carlisle auction mart, aiming for a finished animal at about 42kg.
“Some commercial producers are put off from using the breed as a crossing sire, as it is pretty much guaranteed to produce a black lamb and breeders and buyers never used to be keen on them,” she says.
“But I think it is becoming less of an issue.
“Those I sell finished don’t make any less because they’re black, but I am yet to sell any of the half-bred ewe lambs as breeders.”
As the pedigree flock becomes more established, Sian’s plan is to sell pedigree breeding stock in the future but is keen to focus on quality and cull out stock which does not make the grade.
Lambing will begin in February this year, with the pedigree Dutch Spotted ewes sponged for the first time to lamb from February 1, followed by the commercial ewes from March 1.
She says: “We wanted to tighten up the lambing window, which last year saw all the ewes lamb as one group from the end of January to the end of March, as well as some hoggs in the first week in April.
“Sponging is totally new to us but seems to have worked well, and we will put a teaser out with the commercial flock.”
Ahead of her second time exhibiting at Agri Expo next month, Sian was encouraged by fellow breeder Alan Smyth, who farms on the outskirts of Penrith in Dacre.
She says: “I had never shown sheep before or had anything to do with it, so it was nice to hear that those involved in the breed thought the stock we had produced looked good.
“Alan helped to prepare the sheep for the show ring, and after my initial reservations about taking the sheep into the ring myself, we ended up doing some pair classes together.
“I was really nervous before going in and being in front of an audience, but it was fine and everyone is really just interested in looking at the sheep. It was a really good day and everyone was so friendly and welcoming.
“I think we will look at entering into some of the local shows on the summer circuit next year, as it is something we really enjoyed.”
Looking ahead, Sian is working towards an ambition of getting numbers up to a point where it is viable to run the farmland as one in-house and move way from seasonally letting out a proportion and is keen to start selling breeding stock from her pedigree Dutch Spotted flock as they become more established in the coming years.
And if her success up until this point is anything to go by, her drive to succeed will only push the business forwards.