Llandrindod Wells, Powys
Poultry (free range eggs)
POULTRY, BEEF & SHEEP, POWYS: Sarah farms 130 acres (53 hectares) in Mid Wales with her husband Aston.
They have 14,500 free range hens producing eggs under the Clarence Court brand, supplying Waitrose. They also own and rent out four holiday cottages, and Sarah runs a small catering business
In addition the farm has 150 breeding ewes, and rears 40 to 50 dairy-cross heifers each year, which go on to become breeding cows or 'suckler cows'. The heifer calves are bought in from dairy farms at two-weeks-old, hand reared and kept until they are old enough to go to the bull or be artificially inseminated. They will then have calves of their own which are sold for beef. Some of that beef is sold in the farmshop, along with the farm's lamb and honey.
Sarah is a farmer’s daughter but never wanted to be a farmer herself having watched her parents “slog their guts out for very little”. In the early 1980s the family left Mid Wales to farm 500 acres in Scotland, not far from Glasgow.
Sarah says: “We never had holidays except the odd day to the beach. We were always broke.”
After her parents separated when she was nine, her mother took Sarah and her younger sister to her own family farm in the Lake District. But at busy times of the year the girls went up to Scotland to help their dad on the farm.
Sarah escaped to Manchester University in 2000 to do a degree in advertising. She got a job as a graphic designer to fund her studies and never expected to look back. But her love affair with the city didn’t last.
“I always say farming is like a disease,” she says. “It’s in your blood. I missed the livestock and the farm. It was like a calling. I turned down a job in Manchester after university and returned to Scotland where she farmed alongside her dad. She drove tractors, sheared sheep and even passed her HGV Artic lorry test. The business was doing well but her dad’s health was deteriorating. So in 2006 they sold up and moved back to Powys, Mid Wales, where 500 Scottish acres bought them just 120 acres.
Sarah married Aston in 2009 and they took over the farm business in 2011. It wasn’t a simple handover – they had to borrow money to buy out Sarah’s younger sister and also invested in another 17 acres. Before long they were £350,000 in debt with an ever-increasing overdraft.
They both had full-time jobs, commuting all week and farming at weekends. They used their holidays to cover lambing shifts. When children came along in 2010 and 2012, Sarah and Aston knew something had to change. Despite working all hours, their business was treading water. It was crunch time – either sell up or do something big.
They decided to go into poultry production. In January 2016 they submitted a planning permission to build a 16,000 bird unit on a green field site near the farm. The planning process alone cost £46,000 in reports and surveys, but luckily for them there were no objections. The application was approved.
The first flock arrived on December 20th, 2017. Aston now works full-time on the egg business and at home on the farm, while Sarah continues to juggle farming with running the holiday lets and farm shop and working as a freelance farming consultant. As if that wasn't enough, Sarah also runs a project called Guardians of the Bees, encouraging local people to sponsor the creation of suitable habitats for birds and bees. She estimates the farm is already home to 450,000 bees, and her ambition is to create 1000 acres of bee-friendly habitats across Wales.
Sadly, Sarah’s father passed away in 2015 and never got to see their new egg business.
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