5 Minutes With…James Baylis
Having not created an interview for a little while with my series “5 Minutes With…” exploring different peoples creative crafts, I’ve decided to diverse it more and this week we meet James Baylis also known as ‘The Solway Shepherd’…a young farmer from wales.
James grew up in a small village on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park called Penderyn. It’s a farming community, with a small sheep market. James wasn’t brought up from a farming background and has had to work hard to get to where he is today.
“Becoming a farmer never seemed a reality for me when I was younger. Farmers kids were farmers and the rest of us would get a levels, go to college or get a job, etc. I spent my whole life in Wales, only moving as far as the next village, until just before I turned 19, when I headed off to Cheltenham to do a business degree at the University of Gloucestershire.”
James writes some lovely Blog posts, a particular series has engaged with myself which is #FollowAFarmer in which he interviews a variety of farmers in the industry or people working within the agricultural sector. You can see these by clicking the link above.
Louise: Having not been brought up into a farming family, tell us about the journey you went on, becoming a farmer?
James: Farming was always an ambition, but growing up it was never presented as a realistic career opportunity. I did a business degree in the Uni of Gloucestershire and was getting experience of working within football and rugby league as a writer and media manager, while also contemplating a career in the armed forces. Once I graduated, I ended up working in an office and knew very quickly that it was not for me. I absolutely hated it, truth be told, and it was that job that made me begin my farming journey.
Louise: What was it that made you decide “that’s the career and lifestyle I want”?
James: To be honest, despite having grown up in a farming community and done the odd bit on visits to my girlfriend’s family farm, I still had a romanticised vision of farming in my head. My main reason was wanting to do a job that actually made a difference. While it didn’t take very long for that romantic view of farming to evaporate, it can be a bloody hard life some days; I still believe that my job is an important one and that I’m making a difference.
Photograph supplied by James
Louise: I believe it’s important for young people to want to be in the agricultural industry even without that first step from a farming farming, they bring fresh ideas and keeping the industry going. Farmers work hard and you soon found how tough some days can be.
Q: How did you get your first farming job, and what did it involve you doing?
James: We were still living in Cheltenham at the time, and I stumbled across a piece by a farmer called Paul Westaway in the Farmers Guardian. He farmed in Gloucestershire, so I dropped him an email to see about getting some experience and I started working weekends while still working in an office during the week. After a few months, I was offered a full time role, as his current stock woman was leaving to go to Uni. That was my first farming job.
Paul is a former ‘Beef Farmer of the Year’ and has a fantastic pedigree Aberdeen Angus herd as well as a finshing unit, fattening Holstein cross cattle for Blade Farming. As Paul was busy with a whole host of other responsibilities and jobs to help earn a decent living, I was basically running the farm every day. I fed and watered the cattle, assisted with calvings, scraped out and bedded up daily and did basic tractor work. I was also very lucky to experience some fantastic grassland management, cattle showing at a very high level and to host open days with McDonalds, Barclays bank and EBLEX (now AHDB Beef and Lamb), and I got to see farming being done ‘the right way’. I’m glad I had the opportunity to start my farming career with such a forward thinking, modern farmer. I learned a lot, and despite now shepherding for a living, I still really enjoy working with cattle, though I don’t get much opportunity to do much these days.
Louise: It sounds like you learnt a lot from Paul and gained valuable knowledge in the industry. It must of been a great first job in the industry and just goes to show how looking in the Farmers Guardian got James the valuable experience he needed.
Q: So you mentioned your girlfriend Iona’s family farm, I hear this is where you now farm. What type of farm is it and the duties involved?
James: I live on Iona’s family farm now, which is a suckler farm, producing store cattle, in Dumfries and Galloway. I helped set up the sheep flock when moving here, and manage that on their behalf and we’ve reached just under a 100 ewes now.
Photograph supplied by James
Louise: That’s a nice achievement for yourself and Iona’s family from just 5 shearling ewes in 2015 from Carlisle.
Q: Can you give us an insight into your farming daily life?
James: Daily chores revolve around checking the ewes, with busier days of foot bathing, dosing for ewes and fluke, shearing and obviously lambing dotted through the year. I balance this with work as a self employed shepherd, which is my occupation, and also some blogging and writing work.
Louise: For those unaware, foot bathing is used for prevention and curing of lameness in sheep it’s well managed by following simple preventative and treatment measures. Dosing refers to giving the sheep a drug to kill worms etc. This is done by restraining the sheep and its head, you then place the ‘drench/dosing gun nozzle’ into the mouth and dose the sheep.
Q: You mentioned earlier how it can be a hard life some days farming. What are the biggest challenges you have faced so far in farming?
James: Many new entrants would say the biggest challenge is getting started in farming, but I’ve actually been very lucky to have had some great opportunities to get started. I think the day to day life is actually the biggest challenge. Farming is a tough job, and isn’t the most financially rewarding. Being self employed and building my business cash flow is an issue. Even with having a small flock of pedigree sheep of my own, it takes a few years of investing to build up the flock before you see any return. It can be a lonely life too, which does weigh you down every once in a while.
Louise: Thanks James for your honest insight into how hard it can be starting out. It’s why it can be soul destroying if a flock of sheep are stolen overnight, the farmers investment is in their livestock and like you say takes years to build up. Just as Foot & Mouth Disease that hit the country in 2001 , with 20,000,000 or more animals killed throughout the UK, many of them healthy, in an attempt to stop the spread of disease.
James: It really can. With livestock, all you need is one natural disaster, disease or illness to wipe out a whole life’s work.
Photograph supplied by James
Louise: On a more lighter note…I hear you’re a keen coffee drinker and have been tasting many speciality coffee producers, have you found a particular favourite yet?
Coffee is a pretty new thing for me. I’ve only been drinking coffee since about 2012 and discovering speciality coffee only really happened last year, but my interest is growing every day. I find the whole process from farm to the cup fascinating and it wasn’t until I discovered speciality coffee that I realised just how good it can be. The depth of flavour a high quality cup of coffee can contain, and how it is affected by the climate, altitude origin of and processing of the bean, is incredible. Also how those flavours are unlocked during the roasting and brewing processes. There’s a real science to it all and I’m really enjoying experimenting with different beans and brewing methods at home. I’d quite like to learn more and maybe even get some barista training in the future, if I can find the time.
Louise: You also find the time to write a blog, and interview farmers for your blog series “Follow a Farmer” I myself enjoy reading these, how did starting a blog come about and follow a farmer?
James: I started the blog to just let family and friends keep up with what I was up to really. I hadn’t really got any plans to write about the industry or anything really but then my readership just started to grow and I started to keep trying out new things. Writing regular content is quite hard, especially at really busy times of the year like lambing and shearing.
That’s partly how Follow A Farmer came about. I was trying to think of a weekly feature I could do to try and get me posting more regularly. I wanted to put a spotlight on some other farming folk that I was interested in and are doing a great job within the industry that folk may not come across.
Louise: Interesting how your Blog has grown in strength and readership. Follow a Farmer make great lunch time reads for me and i’m sure with others.
Q: Do you sometimes struggle to balance the day to day running and responsibility of farm work with the time you dedicate to your writing, and how do you balance the two?
James: Balancing work with social media and writing isn’t usually a problem. Busy times of year are the hardest obviously, and finding time to write during lambing and shearing are a struggle but I’m trying to plan ahead and complete things in advance so I can try and keep regular content on the blog. The Follow A Farmer series has been a big help in that regard.
Remembering or finding the time to get a photo of what I’m doing is probably what I’m worst at. I’ll often make a mental note to snap a photo of the sheep being dosed or when I’m out with them but I’m usually so busy concentrating on getting the job done or working the dog or something that I just completely forget. I don’t know how people like Hannah Jackson (Red Shepherdess) and Gareth Wyn Jones manage to do it all!
Louise: I myself know the struggle of creating content and keeping up with the Blog posts and social media! I think you’ve done a great job so far with it!
Q: Finally, do you have any advice for any new starter farmers out their?
James: I think I’d say If you really want to get in to farming, be that as a farm worker or farming in your own right, just go for it. Be prepared to get out there and explore different options to get as much practical experience as possible. It’s a hard job and you’re going to face a lot of obstacles along the way, but don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do it.
Photograph supplied by James
Louise: Great advice there James, if it’s your passion you should follow what makes you happy in life and be willing to work for it.
I wish James all the best with his farming and contracting career and also with his Blog. To find out more about James visit https://solwayshepherd.co.uk/ also follow him on social media channels such as Twitter https://twitter.com/SolwayShepherd and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SolwayShepherd/?fref=ts.
Would you like to be interviewed as part of Louise’s “5 Minutes With…” Series? Get in touch today firstname.lastname@example.org