Raising more than 40 breeds of sheep for their fleece –

It’s the editor of Farming, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Cheryle Seedhouse (43) from Highland Fiber Farm in this week’s Women in AG series. We discuss his past careers, raising sheep for their fleeces, his interest in over forty breeds of sheep, and buying a new farm.

“I am from Tamworth in Staffordshire but live in the North East of Scotland in Aberdeenshire. I am the only farmer in my family. Recently we learned that my great-grandparents were farmers. They had an apple orchard in Stratford Upon Avon where they made cider.

I studied equine studies and then business at Rodbaston Agricultural College. One of the agriculture students bet that I couldn’t get up as early as them and do a full day in the milking parlor because of what I was studying.

So the next morning I got up early and headed to the milking parlour. I sat on the wall and waited for them because they were all late.

The guys were surprised that I arrived, but they showed me what to do. I did all my morning milking; they sprayed me several times with milk straight from the udder, and they didn’t warn me when a cow was going to poop while I was in the splash area.

At the end of the shift, when they were spraying the living room. They held me still and filled my boots with ice water. I enjoyed every minute and returned several times to help with the morning milking.

I’ve always loved animals, but I remember when my mum worked in Meriden, Warwickshire. My father used to take my sister and me to pick her up from work on certain days.

Behind where she worked was a farm. I hope my mother will be late for work because I will stay up and watch the cows and sheep in the farm fields.

It wasn’t until recently that I found out that the farm that sparked my interest in farm animals is Charlie Beaty’s farm – globetrottingfarmgirl on Instagram.

Now I’m a part-time farmer and part-time weaver using the fleece from my sheep to make rugs.

Highland Fiber Farm

Since we started our farm – Highland Fiber Farm – only four years ago, I have always had sheep.

I run the farm and my partner, Asher, helps me with heavy lifting and every day I’m too sick to work because I’m disabled.

We raise sheep for their fleece and have over 40 different breeds and crosses – from small Soay sheep to large Suffolks and Teeswaters

I started with a few Jacob sheep and collected anything that looked interesting along the way. We also had a few breakaways that resulted in more unusual crossovers.

2022 lambs come from two tups – one Soay x Gotland and the other Soay x Jacob.

They produce fleece that I can use either soft for spin and sell (Soay x Gotland) and heavy duty dark fleece for my tougher rugs.

I like to add a bit of Soay into the mix because we need hardy sheep that can handle the harsh Scottish winter. It also makes a more compact sheep.

I found out by accidental breeding that Soay x Scottish Blackface lambs have amazing fleece, and Soay x Gotland sheep make the cutest, smallest and hardiest silver colored sheep with lovely soft fleece and quite long.

fleeces not meat

Many sheep have been given to us by commercial farmers when they discovered that our sheep are not for meat, but we keep them for their fleeces.

Every commercial farmer has their favorite lamb/cade, tup or ewe, and when asked if we have space, we’ll give them a forever home.

A farmer asked me if I could take a sheep and showed up with six; we just laughed and welcomed them.

In total we have 163 sheep, 4 Dexter cattle and 5 goats. Lambing takes place from March to May, and in 2022 we operated an outdoor lambing system for the first time.

The lambs stay with us or go to other fiber flock houses. We aim to breed sheep with good temperament, good fleece and hardy nature.

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Health

I have several health issues, so heavy lifting and chasing animals are not things I can do.

Working in very hot, dry weather and in strong winds causes respiratory problems. I have a benign tumor in my throat, my esophagus is paralyzed on one side and my lungs are damaged.

I have a diaphragm tear and bad asthma so breathing on your own can be a problem.

Simple tasks like shearing a small sheep or handling a strong sheep can cause me breathing difficulties. On top of all that, I also have fibromyalgia.

Chronic pain and chronic fatigue coupled with random bouts of depression can even make me unable to leave the house to see my animals for weeks.

However, I am responsible for animal management, general dog body, nanny, welfare and chief injection person – although I still stab myself as much as any sheep .

Interacting with non-farming people to educate them about British agriculture is something I am passionate about. My sheep may not eat meat, but I will defend British meat farmers until the day I die.

Reflection

If I could go back I could give a long list of things I would do differently, but the life I had and the decisions I made got me to where I am now.

I have worked in major finance houses in London. Also, I trained as a lawyer before realizing I didn’t want to be one.

I worked on railway signal trains. Although they’re not what I want to be now, they’ve all made me who I am and got me to where I am right now…happy.

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women in ag

We have been to areas where I was treated the same as my male counterparts and to areas where I was not.

We recently moved to a new area and I found that when calling for hay or straw, some male farmers automatically assumed it was for horses because I am female.

In some areas, yes, women farmers receive adequate recognition for the work they undertake. Where we used to live, all the veterinarians on the farm were women and a good portion of the farmers were women.

It was believed that women are as good as men as farmers. Where we live now, however, I have yet to meet another female farmer.

Just getting out there and showing our faces at trade shows and on social media helps shatter the idea that this is an exclusively male profession.

A career in agriculture is good for your soul. Being in the air with animals to care for is a good thing.

I’m a pretty tough cookie and worked on the railroad as one of 3 out of 112 female signallers, so I don’t tend to be offended by assumptions made about me.

If a man feels the need to pick up a bag of food and put it in my car, I’ll leave him, while I’ll get another bag, put it on my shoulder and carry it to my car myself .

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new farm

This year we bought a farm; the stone barns are over 120 years old. We will be working to replace all old wooden internal fences and gates with modern metal gates and fixtures to make cleaning easier.

The roof of the house and all the barns need work before winter, and three old sheds need work before animals can enter them, so for now these are the plans for the farm. I can even remove 2023 from lambing.

I want to focus on developing softer fleece breeds such as Gotland and Teeswater.

Growing the fleece won’t make you a lot of money, but working with your hands on the fleece is good for your soul.

My ultimate goal is to be able to introduce the sheep and work with the fleece to more people.

Renting a farm was a necessary evil to begin with. My health has made it harder, but because I love farming, I think it’s the best job in the world.

To share your story as a Highland Fiber Farm, email [email protected]

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