How young farmers have to be masters of all trades to survive and thrive in the Yorkshire Dales

Finding a way into farming can prove difficult even if you’re from farming stock. For Owain Chapman, who grew up with his parents Robert and Brenda at Inmans Farm in Skyreholme, his route came through the hard graft of farm work and a dose of good fortune.

Owain and Jenny farm sheep at Hebden

Last autumn he completed successive wins with a pen of ten Texel gimmer lambs at Skipton livestock market.

He now has 170 breeding ewes that have just lambed on his rented acreage at Hebden thanks to a local farming couple, but his income is still largely made up of dry stone wall contracting and other farm work.

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Owain said he was never been under any illusions over how he might be able to set up on his own.

The couple also have days jobs to make ends meet

“I’d always known I wanted to farm since I was at primary school, but I’ve also known that I needed to do other things as it is tricky for someone young to get started.

“I would go out with my father, also a dry stone waller, from when I was big enough to help him with the smaller stones and followed him into the trade. I’ll do any farm work such as spraying, fencing, digging, rowing up and baling.”

Owain said the opportunity to farm in his own right came about through one of the other strands of farm work he undertakes and a contact with his mum from a local farmer.

“I do some shearing and about six years ago Tom Kitching was in the post office in Grassington where my mother works and asked her whether I would clip his sheep. I did it for two years and as I was about to clip them the second year, he asked whether I was interested in some land.

Owain is a qualified dry stone waller and does contracting work for other farmers

“Tom and his wife Becky have been great. They gave me the chance to have the 83 acres on the principle I was young, keen and wanted to have a go at it.

“I’ve been on their land now for four years and I really am grateful for the opportunity they gave me.”

Owain’s first win at Skipton two years ago was the fulfilment of an ambition that started before his sheep were at Hebden. He said the second win was all the more sweet because of the policy he and his girlfriend Jenny Dolphin have now adopted.

“It had always been my aim to win at the breeding sheep sale at Skipton. It is a sale that is becoming increasingly popular with quite a few much bigger farmers taking 200-300 Texel gimmers each so to win there is very special.

“Last year’s second successive win was slightly more satisfying because we didn’t have what we considered to be our best there. We kept our best because from now on we are a closed Texel flock and our next aim is to breed more Texel tups for the commercial sheep farmers.”

The main flock is predominantly made up of Texel ewes, plus Texel-cross, Beltex and, as Owain explains, a mixed bunch.

He also has three-crop Swaledales which he buys in the autumn to put to a Bluefaced Leicester to breed Mules. Owain said he and Jenny have plans to move into perhaps breeding their own pure Swaledales.

“Our good months are in September and October when we sell our Texel gimmers at the breed sale and the Mules at the NEMSA sale also in Skipton. We are now looking at either breeding our own Swaledales or at least buying in shearlings in the meantime to go more into them.”

The lambs destined for the meat trade are mainly sold at Pateley Bridge livestock market on a Sunday morning.

Owain said it fits in better for he and Jenny and their day jobs, which make up most of their income.

“Our farm work, apart from checking the sheep in a morning, is generally a weekend activity. During the week I am dry stone walling, mainly gapping for Broughton Hall and have a stretch of 200 metres coming up at Cracoe which myself and another lad have just taken on, plus any other work.

“I’ve just been out with my digger doing some drainage work and someone else just rang with some spraying work. Thankfully, the work keeps coming in and I like that I’m not doing the same work day-in, day-out. Jenny works for Carrs Billington at Skipton livestock market.”

Owain said he has followed his father’s advice in being as self-sufficient as possible.

“My father’s motto is you’re better off being able to do most things yourself. I’m quite proud that I can service my quad bike, pick-up, tractor and digger and turn my hand to so many jobs.

“That’s what you have to do to survive out here. I had a year at Askham Bryan College and picked up my licences for spraying and chainsaw working.

“Dry stone walling is a good trade. All you need is a pair of gloves, a hammer and your pack-up meal. You can usually get about three metres done in a day dependent on the size of wall and how good the stone is.”