Determined to win a better deal

If hard work and single-mindedness bring their just rewards, Richard Lewis is sure to become a leading farmer of the future.

At 26 he is still working seven days a week to build his fledgling business and currently has no time for farming politics. But, in time, he seems destined to be involved in campaigning for a better deal for new entrants to farming.

When he does start lobbying for the sort of assistance available to people in other EU countries, he will be able to draw on the experience of someone who has overcome the odds to ascend the faming ladder.

Richard, whose father Mark worked in a cheese factory, was born in the Pembrokeshire town of Haverfordwest. While he was very young his parents moved to a council house close to the tiny smallholding run by his mother Cheryl’s parents.

Immediately he started spending every spare minute helping his grandfather look after his small number of cattle and sheep.

“I knew at once that I wanted to work in farming and to one day have my own place, but my relatives realised how difficult that would be to achieve and did their best to dissuade me,” Richard recalls.

His mother encouraged him to become a carpenter and, for a while, even tried – unsuccessfully – to stop him attending his local YFC. But by the time he was 18 he had rented a 2.5ha (6-acre) field, and started breeding pedigree Texels with six ewes and a ram.

A year at Harper Adams College was followed by a succession of herdsman jobs, on both dairy and beef and sheep units, before he became a self-employed relief milker. The money he earned allowed him to rent other parcels of land and to start rearing bought-in calves.

Everything changed almost five years ago when he was approached by Steve Bradbury, the cattle foot trimmer who had instructed Richard in the technique when he attended day release classes.

“He had so much work that he suggested that I should drop some of my relief milking commitments and join him. It turned out to be one of the best moves I had ever made.”

So successful was the change that two years ago Richard invested 10,500 in his own state-of-the-art foot trimming crush. This makes the job safer and quicker and he has trimmed the rear hooves of up to 50 cows in a day.

He still tackles some large dairy herds in association with Mr Bradbury, but also operates independently. The work is physically demanding, but he jokes that he does it on apple pie and three flasks of coffee a day.

“While Steve is still one of the best trimmers in the business, Richard now runs him a very close second,” says Michael George, who runs the famous Brynhyfryd Holstein herd at Wolf’s Castle.

In September 2005 he achieved his long held ambition and bought the 44ha (109-acre) Upper Hill Farm at Trefgarne.

Though he still runs some pedigree Texels and Bluefaced Leicesters, most of his 500 sheep are commercial crossbred ewes like Mules. Now he has bought some Beulah Speckled Face females to breed his own replacements.

Sheep are tacked away during the very busy time for trimming between November and March, and are expected to lamb with minimum assistance when they return.

“I know that I will only be able to do the job every day for so long before my back starts to give me problems. Eventually I will reduce the outside work and build up stock numbers.”

Whatever he decides, he will be backed by MoD civil servant Cheryl Lewis, who admits she underestimated her son’s determination to farm in his own right. She helps out on the farm and does some of the book-keeping.

“I am optimistic about the future for farmers who are prepared to work hard and adapt to changing circumstances. But the industry always needs new blood and something must be done to encourage committed new people to get into farming.”

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