How Eurgain Jones coped after the death of her husband Philip astonished the judges of the Welsh Woman Farmer of the Year Award. Robert Davies was equally impressed when he talked to her.
Though slightly built and extremely feminine, it takes anyone who meets Eurgain only a few seconds to realise that she is a genuine hands-on working farmer.
There is little that she does not know about commercial sheep husbandry, and she has an infectious enthusiasm for breeding pedigree Texels at Beidiog Isa near Llansannan in Denbighshire.
She may need a special crate to turn over fully grown rams to treat their feet, and is critical of machinery manufacturers for assuming that the equipment they design will be used brawny men, but Eurgain copes with all the challenges.
“Many jobs like attaching a tractor power-take-off require real strength, so I have to find a knack for getting round such problems,” says the determined and resourceful mother of two.
Until Philip Jones died of cancer in 1998 after a six-week illness, the couple worked as a team, with some help from their teenage children Elgan and Eiddwen.
“We shared the same interests and did everything together. When we went on a caravan holiday to Scotland in 1990 we visited Lanark market and decided to buy four sheep to start a Texel flock.”
When Philip died, there were 40 pedigree ewes in the Beidiog flock and the couple were already making a name for themselves on the show circuit.
They also ran commercial ewes, 30 crossbred suckler cows and bought in cattle to finish. So when Eurgain was widowed she had to ask herself whether she could continue to run such a large business single handed.
Somebody told her “life is not a rehearsal” and to go for it. When she decided to carry on the offers of help poured in.
“My mother, brother and neighbours were fantastic, as were other Texel breeders who, because I could not go out and buy a new stock ram, even shared out my ewes to run with theirs.”
Eurgain also had tremendous support from the people of Llansannan, something she is still repaying through her work in the community. Though grateful for all the help, she was determined to stand on her own feet. She sold the farm’s 150 mountain grazing rights to concentrate on running better quality sheep.
“I felt that I would not have the physical strength to cope with cattle, especially for dangerous jobs like trimming them for sale, so they were sold.”
Over the decade that followed she has increased the Texel flock to 150 ewes. In 2005 it won the society top Welsh award. It has produced a host of showring champions and collected high sale prices for breeding stock.
In November Eurgain will become the first woman to chair the 100-member Ruthin Texel Club. The enthusiasm for the breed she once shared with Philip has been passed to daughter Eiddwen. The 23-year-old now runs the farm with her mother and has her own 15-ewe flock. It has the prefix Beidwen and in 2007 sold a ram for 4000gns, or almost twice the top price achieved by her mother.
Eurgain talks knowledgeably about the art of pedigree breeding and Texel characteristics like strength of head, but she remains unconvinced about the use of genetic indexes. Despite this, she is working with breeders in Canada, whom she met when she attended the Winter Fair in Toronto, with a view to exporting semen and embryos from her flock.
With Eiddwen, she also runs 400 commercial crossbred ewes plus a large number of females destined to be flock replacements or to be sold for breeding.
Anyone visiting the farm is soon aware of the close mother-daughter working relationship, and their mutual commitment to Eiddwen’s interest in show jumping.
From time to time the third member of the family joins the workforce. When he is not shearing in New Zealand or the UK, Elgan Jones works off the farm in the construction industry. “But whenever he can, and especially at harvest time, he comes home to help us out,” Eurgain says.
Lambing can be a demanding time at Beidiog Isa, though technology is helping. Nine years ago Eurgain treated herself to a £1200 CCTV system linking the lambing shed to her sitting room. “It is the best investment I have made. I still have to get up every few hours, but can see the whole shed and zoom in to check individual ewes without going out in the cold, unless there is a problem.”
It is obvious from talking to her that the decision to carry on farming was the right one, though there is one bit of farming she hates. “The paperwork is dreadful and getting worse. There is so much duplication, especially when it comes to the licensing of livestock movements. It is even worse for us because we take sheep to about 10 shows a year.”
But somehow Eurgain manages the demands of day-to-day farming and Brussels bureaucracy and still finds time to be active in the local community, which really impressed the award judges. She chairs several groups, including one that visits the bereaved and people who are hospitalised, and she leads singing in her local chapel.
Her musical talents are also utilised by the local YFC choir, and she helps train the club’s stock judging team. As if that is not enough she is also an office holder in the Welsh women’s organisation Merched Y Wawr.
As her home county will be featured at the Royal Welsh Show this year, she is also serving on the committee raising funds for the society, and will host a social event on the farm in August. Before that, whether she is exhibiting or just relaxing, when she attends the July 2008 show her mind will go back to last year’s Winter Fair on the same site when she faced the judges in the NFU Cymru/Natwest-run Woman Farmer of the Year contest, and then had an agonising wait for the result.
“I was thrilled when so many friends from Llansannan appeared to support me at the presentation. Everything that happened after they announced my name is a blur, and the realisation of what had happened did not sink in until much later.”
The cut-glass trophy now sits with many others won for showing, but is it is different, as the bowl is stuffed full of congratulatory cards and letters from as far afield as Scotland.