‘We met sex on social media’

Valais Blacknose Sheep Flock

This is Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Nadia Patterson (25) from Belfast in this week’s Sheep Focus segment.

“I grew up in Belfast, which was the opposite of farming, and now I live near Glenavy with my boyfriend Rhys. Although I don’t farm, I have fond memories of being taken to farms when I was young. I have always loved animals!

I have been an animal person for as long as I can remember and as a child I loved trips to local farms such as Streamvale in Dundonald and The Ark Farm in Newtonards.

Growing up, I had rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, but I always said that one day I would have goats.

Fast forward to lockdown in 2020, I was living with my boyfriend Rhys at his family’s house and luckily they had some land they weren’t using and were happy for us to get some animals.

He bought me three pygmy goats for my birthday, which I don’t think would have happened if it hadn’t been for the lockup.

Only two years later we came across Valais Blacknose Sheep in videos on social media and we just loved them.

We had baby goats for about two years before we bought three Valais Blacknose ewes.

Willowtree Valais Blacknose

Rhys and I both work full time and look after animals in our spare time. I’m a digital marketer doing PCP advertising mainly for e-commerce brands and Rhys is an administration officer for the civil service.

Our herd, Willowtree Valais Blacknose Co. It’s in Antrim. They have a lovely nature; people describe their personalities as dogs rather than sheep. Our sheep follow us and always run down the field when they see us.

They are very gentle, love pets and scratches and the odd ginger nut biscuit.

It is also their amazing wool and markings; we show them and love to wash them and get them ready to show.

We first got two ewe lambs, Julie and Jasmine, then a few months later we got Ivy in lamb and we were lucky enough to get another ewe, June.

We have just gone through the AI ​​process with Julie and Jasmine and will be scanning them soon.

Note that we have used this process to bring in new English and Irish bloodlines and breed the best traits in our herd.

Building herd

Now we have 4 Vale and 6 baby goats. If the AI ​​is successful, we will lamb in early March this year.

We will keep the ewes in lambs and lambs in a few days.

We love lamb when the weather starts to warm up and the lambs will be weaned before the show season.

As we are still building our flock, we will keep some of the ewes born and sell the males as pets or rams depending on markings, wool quality and suitability.

We are looking for good strong conformation with quality wool on the body, legs and face and a straight back and wide stance. This is something we will try to cultivate over the years.

Just spending time with animals is something I enjoy: seeing them run up to you every morning for breakfast and wanting to spend time with you.

And of course, seeing lambs take their first steps after birth, then run around, skip their energetic days; it is too sweet.

We showed our sheep Julie at the Ballymena Show last year. We are looking forward to the show season this year and plan to show at Balmoral and other shows.

Challenges

Northern Ireland’s weather is one of the biggest challenges. When it comes to winter, getting outside first thing in the morning is definitely more of a challenge.

Also, juggling a full-time job, a social life, and looking after animals can be difficult, but it’s definitely worth it.

Seeing Juni, our first born lamb, make her first happy runs in the field and generally watching her grow day by day has been one of our most exciting moments since starting sheep farming.

I would usually make breakfast and Rhys would make dinner. We both help with general grooming like nail trimming, nail trimming and have recently learned to trim them ourselves, which we will do twice a year.

We are members of the Northern Ireland Chicken Goat Club and the Northern Ireland Valais Blacknose Club. Both were very helpful and supportive in our journey.

Perseverance and willingness to learn are key aspects of being a sheep farmer. Once you understand things, it becomes second nature.

For example, hoof trimming or animal husbandry etc. takes a while to get the hang of, but gets easier over time with practice.

Sheep farming is a wonderful hobby and it is very rewarding to see your flock grow.

Women ag

The Valais Club would have slightly more women than men, but I found everyone to be welcoming and happy to share tips; everyone is treated the same.

I guess the agricultural industry would be stereotypically more male dominated. I watched a new program about women in agriculture, it’s great to see female farmers being recognized on TV.

Personally, I don’t think being a woman changes anything. However, we are small scale and focus on raising breeding stock for pets, so I think we have a different experience than the big farms.

The future

We would like to have a few more breeding ewes from the new generations next year.

We focus on selecting the best rams for our ewes to breed the best traits for the show ring. Once this is achieved we will focus on selling more of our lambs.

Finally, we would love for our visitors to come and see our animals, especially the Valais Blacknose sheep so we can learn more about them as they are still very new to Northern Ireland.

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Reflection

I’m not sure we’d have animals if it weren’t for the lockdown. We got our first three goats and it snowballed from there.

It’s great that Rhys and I share a passion for animals, but it’s a very unexpected hobby because neither of us grew up on a farm.

Our family and friends are still a bit shocked when I tell them about our recent work with animals as I grew up in Belfast; my lifestyle has definitely changed.”

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