Hannah Jackson does not come from a farming background, but she has a passion for sheep.
Her dedication to shepherding has altered her career path, prompted a move far away from her home city of Liverpool and led to her being selected as one of the National Sheep Association’s Next Generation ambassadors.
Hannah had completed a degree in animal behaviour and was planning to work with marine mammals when she witnessed a lamb being born.
Fast-forward three years and she has set up home in the tiny village of Croglin near Carlisle, where she keeps almost a dozen December-lambing pedigree Hampshire Downs and 60 commercial cross-bred ewes, which are put to the Texel to lamb in April.
National Sheep Association’s Next Generation ambassadors
A group of up to 12 people selected annually to take part in a technical and personal development programme.
They are given the opportunity to meet like-minded people and make key contacts within the sector.
Applications for the 2017 programme will open in this autumn.
The 8ha Brookside Farm was purchased by her parents, who have become almost as enthusiastic about sheep as Hannah and visit every weekend.
They have accompanied her on a lambing course, held at the local veterinary practice, where she has also learned more about foot-care and nutrition.
“I chose the Hampshires as my first sheep purely because I liked the look of them,” she admits.
“But they have turned out to be a good choice and I haven’t been disappointed.
“I would like to get involved in performance recording, but at the moment I only record Hampshire birthweights, which averaged 4.9kg this time.
“Deciding on a tup just by looking at him is not really accurate enough, especially when he will have such an important influence on the flock.
“He really needs to have some figures behind him and I will join a scheme in the future.”
The commercials are mainly Mules and they have also performed reasonably well.
“This year, a percentage will probably be sold through Penrith mart as stores, as I’m short of grass.
“People back in my home town of Liverpool have enjoyed hearing about my lifestyle and I have a lot of orders for boxed lamb, when they are ready.
“About half of the crop will be finished – hopefully 100% off grass – and sold direct, with the exception of a few Mule cross Texels; which I need as replacements.”
Contract shepherding is 23-year-old Hannah’s main source of income and she gained her first experience working for the renowned sheepdog trialist, Derek Scrimgeour.
She is also part of a shearing team and works as a wool wrapper from the end of May until August.
This year, she went lambing for Pembrokeshire sheep producer, Neil Perkins, who runs a flock of more than 2,000 ewes and was the 2012 Farmers Weekly Awards Sheep Farmer of the Year.
“Neil uses EID and I got to see first-hand how it can benefit flock management,” she says.
“It is a worthwhile investment, but there’s no way that I can justify the expense for my small flock.
“Neil practices rotational grazing and, again, it is a good system, because it utilises the grass better and saves on concentrate costs. I only have three fields, so the scope here is limited at present.
“One of the best tips that I picked up from Neil is a system for encouraging a ewe to take an adopted lamb.
“As she is about to give birth, the adoptive lamb is placed in a bucket of salty water, with its two front and two back legs bound together with tape.
“Her own lamb is born into the same bucket and therefore smells the same, while the salt encourages the ewe to lick them.
The main advice I would give to a new entrant is to gain experience with all types of livestock Hannah Jackson
“I tried this with a few hundred lambs and it never failed to work.”
In the long term, Hannah would like to build up her flock to a stage where it can provide her with a living.
Sadly, this may mean moving elsewhere, as there is stiff competition for both rental and purchased land in the area. However, she also has another ambition.
“I want to have a positive influence on the industry in general and I like to think that I might inspire other people.
“I recently invited a 16-year-old student from my home town to come and help me; his school has a small farm with four sheep and he spends all his spare time there.
“He really enjoyed his stay and has gone back with the intention of becoming a sheep farmer.
“The main advice I would give to a new entrant is to gain experience with all types of livestock.
“Most of my knowledge relates to sheep, but if I knew more about cattle it would broaden my options of finding employment.
“It can be tough getting up in the winter and seeing to my own sheep before I go off to work for someone else, but on a nice day, there is no better place to be and nothing else that I would rather be doing.”