Meet the first-time farmers making it work in the North York Moors with rare breeds, holiday accommodation and fleeces

Devotion to their daughter Katie was the spur that led Scarborough couple Ginny and Jezz Fewster to moving out to the countryside nearly four years ago when they left West Ayton for their four-acre Thornybeck Farm in Pickering.

Ginny said they had always been interested in farming, had been to many agricultural shows in North Yorkshire over the years and had had hens, ducks, pigs and sheep on their previous smallholding, but that Katie, one of their four daughters, was the main reason for their move to where they are today, two miles down the end of a country lane.

“It was when Katie came along and we realised that she had learning disabilities that we just wanted a different life, somewhere she could grow up in a safe environment.

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“Katie just loved being outside from being very little and getting very mucky. It didn’t need to be mud either, she wasn’t choosy!

The Fewsters have four daughters

“We had always had an interest in where food comes from and living sustainably. Our aims in coming here were to expand on what we had been doing in West Ayton and give Katie the freedom that this lifestyle would offer.”

Jezz said he’d reduced his hours in his last five years at the building supplies firm MKM where he had worked in Malton for 23 years, before leaving about a year and a half ago.

“I wanted to spend more time at home and helping Ginny with Katie. One thing I have learned, there is no money in farming, I can tell you that for a fact, but we are proud of what we produce from our rare breeds, including Oxford Sandy & Black pigs from our two sows, Herdwicks, a Jacob and Jacob-cross-Herdwicks, and Highlanders.

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They sell meat from their rare breeds - including gluten-free sausages

“I was once told that to become a rich farmer you have to start as a very rich farmer and I can understand it, because it is very difficult to make things work. That’s why we are also diversifying into holiday accommodation. It’s in the annexe to the farmhouse and is just for two people. It’s like a little bedsit with a small bathroom and kitchenette. We were going to go into bed and breakfast but we decided it was going to be too time-consuming particularly as we have just taken on Katie’s transport for taking her to and picking her up from school. Katie is our priority.

“We love it here. The whole package. We have pride in what we have achieved with our animals and have pockets of land we use for grazing around here and the next village, plus land we rent up at Danby in the North York Moors.”

Ginny also loves hosting school visits to educate children about where food comes from. “You regularly hear the phrase ‘this is my office’ and it’s right. When you look outside it can be blowing a gale or chucking it down but it’s still a great place to live, work and bring about fantastic produce even when the seasons don’t know whether they are coming or going sometimes.”

Jezz said that some of the lessons they have learned since coming to Thornybeck has led to having changes of direction.

Jezz has given up his job in the building trade to farm full-time

“We’ve scaled our livestock right back this year. We now have only seven Highland cattle. We have been breeding calves but decided to give it a rest this year and maybe won’t be breeding anymore because Katie only has about four years left at school and will then be with us full-time, so we’ve bitten the bullet for now, but who knows, tomorrow we may change again.

“We’ve also only seven ewes breeding this year. Last year that was 25.

“We had thought that by scaling up the economies of scale would mean we could make more money but it quickly became evident that just by getting bigger you don’t necessarily make any more.”

The Fewsters sell their produce by the farmgate, which doesn’t see a lot of passing trade, but they have picked up regular business locally and from tourists, and they have a sign at the main road at the Pickering end of their lane and promote using social media.

Ginny said their most popular produce is gluten-free sausages and customers keep coming back because of their rare breed meats.

“It’s the flavour of the meat. We wanted native breeds to do our bit in keeping them going and people like that. Our ethos is pure grass-fed beef and lamb.

“Whenever we have lamb available it is there and gone in the space of one day at Wykeham Farmers’ Market. We also sell mutton, which you can’t get everywhere.”

Ginny said that another diversification she intends to make soon is in the use of the fleece from their small flock.

“We’ve only seven ewes now but we’ve put them all to the Herdwick tup this year for two reasons. It provides a better carcase, but also for the wool. I’m hoping to start making felted rugs and the Herdwick-cross-Jacob fleece provides a lovely, softer fleece than the pure Herdwick which can be quite coarse.”