By hook or by crook... it’s the mobile shepherdess

Freelance shepherdess Hannah Lewis at work in Derbyshire
Freelance shepherdess Hannah Lewis at work in Derbyshire
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picture the life led by a shepherd and the image of a lonely, weatherbeaten figure is likely to spring to mind, probably a man with a crook and a dog for company rounding up a flock of windswept sheep.

Many 28-year-old women may not relish waking early to climb an exposed Pennine hillside to get to work, but shepherdess Hannah Lewis says the solitude and life on the land is all she ever wanted.

Miss Lewis, who started her working life as a tennis coach, first caught the countryside bug as a child, but like many others did not see a future for herself in farming and put the idea out of mind.

But after several years teaching children how to hit a ball over a net she realised the hunger for an outdoors life was not going to leave her, and has now set about making her dream a reality.

At first, Miss Lewis worked as a farm employee in West Yorkshire, but now has struck out as an independent contractor in a bid to build up enough cash to take on a farm tenancy and a flock of her own.

She works as a mobile shepherdess taking her dogs Hope and Meg with her, and has worked for clients in Cumbria, Cornwall and Kent although she is now focusing her efforts on Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

“My grandfather was a farmer, so whether it skipped a generation or something I don’t know,” she said. “He had a sheep and dairy farm in Gloucestershire and when we used to visit I loved being on the farm.

“But by the time I was a teenager, my mum worked at a tennis centre and both me and my brother got to be good enough to play at county level and I fell into tennis coaching because it was easy.

“After a few years I realised that it just wasn’t what I wanted to do and one day I was talking to someone who happened to be a farmer and I said I had loved the life when was I was younger.

“He said I could come down to his farm and do some work experience and that’s when I realised that I had do something about taking farming up as a career.”

From that point Miss Lewis, who lives with her mother and shopkeeper father in Coal Aston on Derbyshire’s border with Sheffield, took jobs on farms and ended up working on an estate near Ilkley.

Although at present she does not have enough money to take on her own farm, she hopes her new business will give her experience while she saves to be able to compete for those which become available.

She added: “I would love to run my own farm, but when one becomes available there are 20 or 30 applications each time and you need to have the stock and skills to run it straight away.

“It is really difficult to get that start unless someone leaves you a farm and I wonder if that’s why a lot of young people are put off. But I feel that it is still a thriving area to go into.

“Not many people start from scratch and a lot of farms are taken on by people who are looking to expand, but for me its a way of life and I am determined to make it work for me.

“I have always been an outdoors type and I feel lethargic when I am inside, but you have got to love the job, because it really is full-time, seven days a week.”

Miss Lewis said that although she only had 10 rare breed sheep of her own at the moment, she was expanding on land she had managed to find on a hillside near Castleton in the Peak District.

She now plans to buy some stock for that land so that she can start to build a flock for her farm when she secures it.

For now, she said she was happy to continue with her nomadic working lifestyle and learn and earn all she can along the way.

She said: “It is nice to work in a few different places because I am making contacts with people and I might get to hear about opportunities as they come up. In the meantime everything I earn I save.

“I also need more experience with the financial side of running my own business and I know there is a lot of red tape to go through if you are serious about running your own farm.

“But for now the contracting is ideal. I have been working with a flock recently and it is nice to see them go through the whole cycle, and to get the lambs and see how a year’s work produces that end product. That is real job satisfaction.”