Farmers Weekly Awards 2018: Sheep Farmer of the Year

Sheep farmers John and Sarah Yeomans are the Farmers Weekly Awards 2018 Sheep Farmers of the Year.

John and Sarah Yeomans are testament to what can be achieved on a mixed Welsh hill farm.

While they are not without the challenges of weather extremes and dwindling government support, they are overcoming these by making their business more resilient.

The turning point came in 2013 when severe snowfall and brutal cuts to single farm payment left their beef and sheep enterprise reeling from the effects of high feed costs.

Rather than sell up, they decided to dig deep and address these challenges head-on.

See also: Meet the 2018 Sheep Farmer of the Year finalists

John and Sarah Yeomans

Llywn Y Brain, Newtown, Powys

John and Sarah Yeomans © Richard Stanton

Farm facts:

  • 79 suckler cows, mainly pedigree Limousin and Limousin-cross
  • Sells store cattle and easy calving breeding bulls
  • 500 pure-bred Beulah ewes and 200 ewe lambs
  • Selling breeding ewes at market
  • Male fat lambs are sold direct to Dunbia

Improving sustainability

Fast-forward five years to 2018 and quality forage has become the backbone of their low-cost system.

A growing emphasis has been placed on pasture improvement – reseeding and regular soil testing – and they have implemented rotational grazing. The couple are also growing brassica crops to finish lambs in the autumn. These policies have been key to lifting stocking rates to 13.44 ewes a hectare.

More impressively, they are maximising output from poorer-quality hill ground by spreading muck to improve soil conditions and growing grass mixes containing plantain and red clover, which the sheep rotationally graze after lambing in the spring.

It’s not a common sight at 1,400ft above sea level, and John says the neighbours think he’s mad, but it’s about attitude not altitude, and the Yeomans have the former in abundance.

Several miles of new and existing hedges have also been planted and reinstated to create a vast shelter belt.

The result of the project is not just benefiting the sheep and cattle that roam the rugged, open landscape but wildlife too, with 65 lapwings returning to the hill after years of absence.

Role within the community

But what really sets this couple apart is their dedication to the farming community.

Even when things are going pear-shaped at home – and the couple freely admit this happens, as every farmer knows – they are always on hand to provide support for those who need it, whether it’s sending messages of encouragement to others on social media or through their role as mentors with Farming Connect.

They are great believers that a problem shared is a problem halved and that farmers should be more open and honest on social media about the issues they face to help break down barriers in the farming community. 

Sarah plays a pivotal role running a local farming discussion and training group. Meanwhile, John has undertaken a Nuffield scholarship championing the need for alternative lamb grading methods and, more recently, he has travelled to Ireland and Finland on an exchange programme looking at how farmers can improve grass use in shorter growing periods.

The future

They have encouraged their three sons, Tom, 27, Jack, 25 and Joe, 23, to travel the world and gain experience working elsewhere before they decide if they want to return to Llywn Y Brain to farm.

“We’d rather them come back because they want to, not because they have to,” explains John.

Until that day, there’s no stopping John and Sarah, who have recently purchased more land close to the homestead and have started headlong into a programme to improve it.

Winning ways

  • Constantly seeking to improve how they farm
  • Embraced recording early on to progress flock genetics
  • Maximising grass output on challenging hill ground
  • Promoting wildlife habitats
  • Stalwarts of the farming community – hosting discussion groups, acting as mentors and sitting on various boards.

A word from our independent judge

“It’s hard to miss the land farmed by John and Sarah – it’s been developed and nurtured. Their sheep stand out on looks and figures but it’s the drive, enthusiasm and personality that sets this couple apart in the sheep farming world. It is this that makes them winners.”

John Vipond

The Farmers Weekly 2018 Sheep Farmer of the Year is sponsored by NSF

The other finalists were:

  • Gareth Beynon, Rampisham Farms, Dorchester, Dorset
  • Thomas and Helen Garland, Burton Dairy Farm, Langport, Somerset