20 May 2020
In the early 1990s, Anglesey farmer Peter Williams left home to work on a 30,000 sheep farm near Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. He was determined to broaden his horizons and learn as much as he could about different ways of sheep rearing and shepherding. His quest for knowledge also took him to work on sheep enterprises in New Zealand and Australia before in 1993, he returned home to work on the family farm.
Little did he think as he worked in Riyadh with the massive flock of intensively farmed Romney ewes, imported from Australia, which were crossed with Saudi Arabia’s native fat tailed rams, that almost thirty years later, he and his friend Bedwyr Jones who farms in Snowdonia, would be the first farmers to bring the ‘fat tailed’ breed over to the UK.
In 2018, a chance meeting at a Farming Connect event got the two friends chatting. Both worried about the implications of Brexit, they discussed potential diversification enterprises that could bring in additional streams of income to safeguard their businesses. Peter had done sufficient market research to realise there was a gap in the market for selling speciality lamb to ethnic minorities in the UK so he and Bedwyr decided to take the idea forward together.
They sought advice from Farming Connect and were advised to apply for support through the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Wales, which provides funding and expert guidance for developing new ideas and innovative projects on farms. EIP Wales is administered by Farming Connect which is funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
This month, Peter, who farms just three miles from the spectacular Anglesey coastline, and Bedwyr are welcoming their first two batches of both pure-breed and cross-breed Damara lambs as part of an exciting new business venture in this ground-breaking EIP project.
Geraint Hughes, their appointed EIP innovation broker, helped Peter and Bedwyr plus retired government vet Tricia Sutton, who joined the group as a technical adviser to oversee all the animal health and husbandry issues, to submit an EIP group application for financial support and the additional specialist knowledge needed to turn their ideas into reality.
This month, Peter and Bedwyr are busy welcoming their first spring ‘Damara’ fat tailed lambs to Peter’s farm. Both say there was a daunting amount of red tape to go through, with copious amounts of paperwork needing to be approved by several authorities from different countries.
The group’s determination paid off. Frozen embryos conceived naturally in New South Wales before being frozen, transported and then defrosted in readiness for embryo transplant, have already produced six healthy pure-bred Damara lambs – three ram lambs and three ewe lambs.
Close on their heels are the cross-bred lambs, the frozen semen having been artificially inseminated into a number of Peter and Bedwyr’s flock of mainly Texel, Lleyn and Romney cross ewes last December. With more than 50 ewes successfully impregnated - and a 75% plus success rate already resulting in more than 65 healthy lambs, with more to come - the future is looking positive.
“There are many types of ‘fat tailed’ sheep – not surprisingly their fat is deposited largely in their tails - but all are renowned for their lean, distinctive tasting meat which I knew from my experience of working overseas, is particularly popular among ethnic communities,” says Peter.
“Although I had put this idea on the back burner for many years, more recent research with numerous retailers, restaurateurs and abattoirs soon convinced me that this speciality meat, already popular in many countries, could also appeal to a niche market in the some of the UK’s biggest multi-cultural cities.”
So, what are the next steps for these entrepreneurial and progressive Welsh farmers?
Both Peter and Bedwyr are delighted that all the progeny are thriving and if all goes to plan, they plan to retain the majority of lambs as part of an ongoing breeding programme to build up numbers of this relatively rare breed.
“As the flock is thriving well so far, we’re optimistic that we can now increase numbers steadily, see how they progress and then start to set up our supply outlets, both directly and through wholesale buyers.
“We are all enormously grateful to EIP Wales and to Geraint Hughes who has helped us from the outset.
“Without Geraint’s expertise to help us set up our EIP group, take us through the funding application process, and his ongoing support which ensured we complied with stringent regulations around importing animal embryos and semen, this new enterprise would never have got off the ground.”
For updates on EIP Wales projects completed or underway contact Owain Rowlands on: 07399 849 151 or email@example.com. For advice on all other support available through Farming Connect, click here.
EIP Wales, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes, has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.