17 March 2022
Pembrokeshire ‘dairy sheep’ farmer Bryn Perry recently won the prestigious Brynle Williams Memorial Award, which recognises the achievements of a young farmer who has found their way into farming through Farming Connect’s Venture programme. Bryn, who comes from a non-farming background, credits Farming Connect with giving him the many of the business and farming skills this ambitious young farmer clearly has.
Bryn and his partner Becca Morris, both in their early 30s, keep a flock of around 120 East Friesian ewes – a breed renowned for the quality of their milk - at council-owned smallholding, Fferm Wernllwyd, near Haverfordwest, where they moved in early 2021.
“Inspired by consumer demand, we doubled the size of the original flock we originally bought from a farm dispersal sale and have recently started looking for finance for a new food processing unit which will enable us to turn the ewes’ milk into a range of Welsh cheeses and dairy products from the farm,” says Bryn.
The UK sheep milking industry is still relatively new, but this entrepreneurial couple are capitalising on this rapidly growing market, in more ways than one! Having set up collaborations with a number of similarly ambitious farmers in West Wales, Bryn and Becca, thanks to a range of support services from Farming Connect, are already processing milk into a range of speciality Welsh ewes’ milk cheeses ‘in the style of’ Feta, Halloumi, Blue and Manchego and recently launched ‘Ewenique Spirits’, their own brand of ewe whey vodka.
“Critically, we received a huge amount of support from Farming Connect, which not only helped me develop my skills as a business-person and sheep farmer, but also enabled us to set up our first joint venture with well-known sheep’s milk producers Nick and Wendy Holtman, who own Defaid Dolwerdd in Crymych.”
“Today, with many more working partnerships under our belt, including two additional Ceredigion farmers who now supply us with sheep milk and an exciting link with a local distillery, we are confident that we have a future as both ‘dairy sheep’ farmers and independent food and drink processors.
“My ultimate goal is to set up a co-operative of Welsh farmers who have similar aspirations and to help each of us grow our respective businesses.”
The couple also credit the support of Food Centre Wales which has provided training, technical know-how and the processing facilities to turn the sheep milk into cheeses, ice-cream and lactose-free frozen milk.
Bryn grew up in a small Cotswold village and spent many student holidays helping local arable farmers with their summer crops. After studying business management at university, he then worked for commercial franchising and recruitment operations in both the UK and Canada.
Fate stepped in when Bryn met Becca while they were both living and working in Southampton. Not only did he fall for Becca, an equestrian expert, he fell for Pembrokeshire too, during the couples’ numerous trips to visit her family in Moylegrove. In early 2017, they moved to Wales, rented a flat near Becca’s parents and Bryn found a job with a large local dairy farm. He says that opportunity was pivotal.
“The family I worked for taught me a huge amount, I gained invaluable experience of dairying and managing livestock and their support and encouragement really inspired me.”
Bryn successfully applied for a council farm tenancy in early 2020 although because of the pandemic restrictions, the couple didn’t actually move until March 2021.
With advice from his local Farming Connect development officer, Bryn applied for a range of services targeted at new entrants, including the Advisory Service, which resulted in him setting up rotational grazing. He also registered as a ‘seeker’ with Venture, the Farming Connect programme that matches landowners looking to step back from farming with new entrants looking for a way in.
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
“I met Nick and Wendy at a local producers’ market and after many conversations, we realised there could be many benefits of scale and efficiency if we worked together.
Both families applied for Venture’s fully-funded mentoring, business planning and legal advice which enabled them to set up their successful joint venture, now in its second year.
Around the same time, Bryn was invited to join a Farming Connect ‘Business Bootcamp’, a residential short course designed to give like-minded individuals the confidence, skills and motivation to develop their career and build a successful land-based business.
“We had amazing, inspirational speakers and I was certain that with the right attitude and hard work, Becca and I could run our own farm business within two years.”
In the summer of 2021 Bryn joined an online Farming Connect Agrisgôp group, finding it ‘hugely beneficial’ to be in direct touch with other dairy sheep farmers not only from Wales but New Zealand and North America too, all keen to share their knowledge and experience.
He was also selected for Farming Connect’s final Agri Academy intake, winning the programme’s Business & Innovation challenge, having produced a business strategy for a diversified farm business in Derbyshire.
Demonstrating their willingness for innovation and sustainable farming systems, Bryn and Becca also keep a herd of 19 alpacas which provide a useful extra stream of income through sales of progeny and fleeces.
“The alpacas also help deter predators like foxes from attacking the lambs, so they earn their keep in many different ways.”
The couple recently changed their previous twice-daily milking regime in a 12 point rapid exit sheep milking parlour, to a single morning milking.
“This not only frees up our time, but has other significant benefits,” says Bryn explaining that the ewes have a 15% reduction in yield having moved to a once-a-day milking system, but now produce better quality milk and more lactations per ewe. With everything produced, manufactured and predominantly sold within 30 miles, he’s also delighted to be minimising his carbon footprint.
Both Bryn and Becca, who now have a year-old daughter, admit to spending many anxious hours debating whether they could make a success of full-time farming in Wales but neither has any regrets.
“I’m hoping to help another new entrant or young farmer by going into a share milking agreement for a winter sheep milking flock as soon as I can.
“It’s early days and although we are still at the beginning of our journey, we love our new life and are excited to see what the future brings.”