Sheep & Cattle
MIXED, GLOUCESTERSHIRE: Katie and her husband James are first generation farmers. Farming without their own farm or a tenancy, they instead provide a grazing service to landowners who don’t have their own livestock. They have 150 native breed sheep and 48 native breed cattle, which they farm with a regenerative philosophy focusing on providing grazing tailored to support the needs of the surrounding wildlife, biodiversity requirements and soil conditions.
This entails a zero input, pasture-based (grass) system, outwintering (leaving animals outside during winter) and lambing and calving outdoors. The couple sell their lamb and beef direct to the public and sometimes restaurants. Katie has also established a farm diversification business, re-training as a knitwear designer/maker; using all the wool from the flock to produce a 100% fully traceable knit collection; grown regeneratively, spun and handmade all within South West England. Her work includes one of the first garments in the country; which validates the regenerative approach and soil-to-soil nature of her textiles.
Her love of farming began in an unusual way. When she was in her early twenties, she had an allergic reaction to some chemically treated fabric which made her want to understand more about how food, skincare and clothing was produced.
This led her to a 10-week ‘Introduction to Smallholding’ course at Moreton Morrell Agricultural College in Warwickshire and some weekend workshops at Daylesford Organic farm shop in Gloucestershire. She was hooked from that point and all she wanted to do was farm.
James has a full time job in IT in addition to their grazing business, despite loving the idea of farming full-time. With five children between them and a mortgage to pay, they just couldn’t afford to make the move to farming full-time with no tenancy or land ownership.
Katie enjoys being outside and the physical aspects of farming, as well as the variety and constant demand to problem solve. She enjoys working with animals and feels a great deal of compassion for their wellbeing. She also has a great sense of pride in producing end products – be it the knit collection or lamb and beef boxes.
Sustainability is key to her work, and she likes that decisions on how they farm have the potential to have a profound impact on the environment and local communities.
But farming without a farm is incredibly challenging; she and James are always at the will of others and can’t invest in fencing and equipment which could make their work safer, easier, and more efficient.
If they had a tenancy or owned a farm they would convert to organic, and James would either stop the day job or dramatically reduce his hours.
British wool is particularly close to Katie’s heart: “64% of the fabric in our wardrobe is made with plastic-based fibres which deplete natural resources and pollute our environment,” she says. “Yet we have a British wool industry, utterly demoralised due to competition from cheap, harmful, synthetic fibres and wool being shipped into the UK with a high carbon footprint and lower welfare standards.”
Despite an incredibly diverse range of wool in the UK, sheep farmers are struggling to see any return on this natural fibre. Katie bought her first sheep in 2011 and was determined to add value to their wool as she was convinced that marrying the right wool to the right product, while giving customers provenance, traceability, and beautiful design, could be a solution.
“That is what I am trying to achieve with Loopy Ewes - and I can see other farmers across the UK thinking innovatively and matching their breed to the right wool product, but we still have a long way to go to improve wool revenues for farmers.”
From her own experiences with the media, Katie knows how vital it is to share stories – and how receptive the media and the public are to listening to the farming community.
Loopy Ewes - a sustainable knit collection for the home and wardrobe.
A member of South West England Fibreshed.
Featured in numerous local and national newspaper articles from 2017 onwards, including Farmers Guardian, the Daily Mail Country Life Magazine, Gloucestershire Citizen and Echo, and Three Counties Farmer. She has also been interviewed for BBC Radio Gloucestershire and has appeared on Countryfile, Back to the Land with Kate Humble and Love Your Weekend with Alan Titchmarsh.