Meet the 28-year-old 'townie' who has gone from Knaresborough barmaid to hill shepherdess

Shepherdess Lucy Ewbank is getting ready for her busiest time of the year.

Lucy Ewbank with her three working border collies

Lucy, who looks after 1,000 breeding ewes on Richard Heptonstall’s Hilltop Farm in Brearton, grew up in Harrogate and describes herself as a former 'townie'. But now the 28-year-old is a professional sheep scanner, working for farms throughout Yorkshire.

Scanning sheep to see if they are in lamb has become an integral part of sheep farming.

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Knowing how many lambs a ewe is carrying means farmers can better manage feed and resources. The main scanning season falls in January and February, two to three months before lambing.

Lucy is a shepherdess with a sideline business in ewe scanning

Lucy said she began taking an interest in becoming a scanner - she also works with cows and dogs - when one came up to Brearton.

“We scan every year and I would watch what the scanner was doing, how the job was done and thought it was something I would like to take up,” she said.

“When you scan your ewes depends on when the tup has gone in. A lot of pedigree breeds that want lambs big and strong for their society shows, sales and the big summer agricultural shows will lamb in December and January. In that case scanning takes place earlier in the autumn.

“But for those that are to lamb in March and April it is around now that is the most important time to scan so farmers can arrange their ewes into groups and better manage them.”

This will be Lucy’s third season as a scanner. Her first saw her scanning on the farm where she works and for anyone who desperately needed a scanner.

Last season she scanned 3,500 ewes and she said she is still picking up trade. As such, in the early months of each season, when there are not as many sheep to scan, she said she will generally look to scan during the weekends. But in January she takes additional days away from the farm to get around her growing customer list.

“My scanner impresses most sheep farmers as it’s the brand many vets use with all he bells and whistles.

“In these early days I’m picking up the smaller flocks, where some of the established scanners don’t want to go because of the numbers. But I’m also finding little pockets around the county where there probably isn’t a local scanner and picking up more than one client."

Lucy said she is prepared to travel to build up her client base.

“I’ll go all over Yorkshire, it is a competitive business and you need to make sure you get to as near to perfection as possible because you are there to help farmers know what to do with their sheep and what to feed them.

“So long as the farmers have prepared their ewes by making sure their stomachs are empty you have a fair chance.

“It is all about accuracy, getting the scanning done correctly and I took advice from one of the best in the north of England, John Barnes. He’s probably the most respected scanner in Yorkshire.”

While Lucy’s career is still in its infancy, she said she is fully aware of her positioning in the sector, understanding it will take a few years to build up to large flocks, along with a little luck and being in the right place at the right time.

“The biggest number I go to at present, apart from the flock I look after of course, is a flock of 300 ewes,” she added.

“Once people are happy with who they have coming they will generally stick with them, as I hope my clients will stick with me. Maybe I will pick up even more business if someone retires.”

Scanning is physical work and Lucy will often be manoeuvring ewes of around 80-90 kilos. It also demands a high degree of concentration.

“Fatigue plays its part. You are told when training that if you begin to lose concentration, to stand up, move away from the scanner and go and have a cup of tea.”

Lucy’s godparents have horses and cattle at Starbeck in Harrogate which is where her love of the countryside and the idea of working with animals was first sparked during her teens.

“I was there every weekend riding their cobs and ponies and helping feed up the cattle with my godmother’s daughters who are all good friends.

“I’ve always got stuck in and been confident around any animals. I then went to Moreton Morrell College in Warwickshire as I was interested in being a farrier but it didn’t work out because I couldn’t find the apprenticeship I needed.”

Helping out with lambing at Richard’s farm when she was 21, Lucy never left.

“I’d never lambed before when I came here, but the elation of a lamb being born fit and well thanks to my help after I’d seen the ewe struggling was just ‘wow’ and suddenly I thought I could see myself doing this,” she said.

“I quit my job at the bar in Knaresborough and started coming here every day until Richard offered me the full-time job as shepherd of, at the time 700 breeding ewes.

“We’re now at 1,000 with mules, Texel crosses and Suffolk crosses. I work alongside a couple of others on the farm who look after Richard’s cattle.”

The ewes at Hilltop Farm will not need scanning this coming month, as they are now an early lambing flock starting in January.

Lucy said this will make her life even more hectic by the second or third week of January when she will be lambing at Brearton and scanning elsewhere.

“We have gone for early lambing to get Easter lambs to sell at Thirsk livestock market,” she added.

“It’s all go here in January and for me on the road in my little van with my scanner.

“It’s always really good when I get to the bigger spots and I see that race and their ewes are all set up. That means I can get straight on.”

Another new addition to Lucy’s life since she became a shepherdess is her three working border collies.

“Bella was my first, then there’s Daisy and now Titch who is Bella’s daughter. I also have Jasper the terrier. They are all special to me.”