Farmer Stories

Bryn Perry - Nature-friendly sheep rearing and a thriving micro dairy

Wales
Case Study
Dairy
micro dairy
sheep
Farming Champions

All imagery: Joannes Coates © for the Nature Friendly Farming Network

Fferm Wernllwyd in Pembrokeshire is a small pasture-based micro dairy with a truly “ewenique” approach to high-quality, nature-friendly sheep rearing. It’s home to the Ewenique Dairy, where Bryn Perry raises 80 ewes for high-quality artisan milk-based products.

Bryn, who is originally from the Cotswolds, did jobs including running a ski school and working for a lawn care franchising firm in Canada before returning to the UK to work at Southampton’s harbour. There, he met his partner, and when visiting her home area in Pembrokeshire, they decided they wanted to abandon city life for this rural corner of West Wales.

He learned the farming ropes on a local organic dairy farm and, after a few years, went to a Business Bootcamp run by Farming Connect, which provides agricultural training in Wales. “I remember walking back in the door and saying to Becca, I don’t know how we’re going to do this, but in 12 months, we’re going to have a farm,” Bryn recalls. “I was mad, but I was convinced that by hook or by crook, we would have one.”

The opportunity arose to tender for Fferm Wernllwyd, which, in an increasingly rare set-up, is still owned by Pembrokeshire County Council. Bryn was successful, and after Covid-19 hindered their move to the farm, the family took up residence in 2021.

While the previous sheep farmers had started exploring ideas like herbal leys, the ground also retained, in Bryn’s words, “an addiction to fertiliser”. Unable to afford costly chemical inputs, fertiliser reduction was, therefore, where Bryn’s nature-friendly farming journey started. Despite that, the decisions about the farm’s approach were definitely not solely about financial considerations.

“I never wanted to be an intensive farmer,” Bryn said, “but I think there are also positives and negatives about being fully signed off as organic. I say we run to organic principles here. The only thing we use that’s not organic is about 500 grams per day of soy-free feed, because trying to buy organic stuff is so expensive.”

Bryn describes his first year of farming as “a whirlwind of firefighting”, with few examples of other pasture-fed sheep dairies in the UK for him to learn from. They learned about problems with the animals’ diet and how this affected their milk “the hard way”, although he also watched carefully which trees, shrubs or wall plants the sheep browsed when they came in for milking and then researched online if their choices had beneficial properties. Reducing milking to once a day reduces the welfare burden on the sheep and helps the quality of the milk.

It’s got to be a profitable business, but not to the detriment of nature or society around it. I wanted to find a system that would work for everybody and create a lovely environment on the farm.

Bryn Perry

The sheep are currently East Friesian dairy ewes, but Bryn says they require toughening up for the Welsh landscapes and a diet of pasture, so they will be bred with a Lleyn-Lacaune crossbreed ram. They come indoors in January and are generally let out again in April, though Bryn likes to get them outside if there are early spring days with suitably good weather. Lambs are generally kept with the ewes until they are two and a half to three times their birth weight, which usually happens at around 30 to 35 days.

To enhance biodiversity, hedges are cut around only once every three years and done in sections to maintain wildlife habitat. In places, grasslands have been improved with herbal leys and reseeded, while gradually, Bryn has brought in a stricter rotational grazing system, which now sees the sheep moved every other day.

The result has been an increase in biodiversity on site, with wrens and willow warblers around the farm and swifts, swallows and house martins arriving in summer. Birds of prey are seen at the farm, and Bryn thinks small mammals, such as voles, are living in the grass.

The milk is worked into cheeses on site, with Bryn doing the cheese-making himself. Ewenique Dairy currently makes two: a blue cheese and a hard one. The business picked up an award at the Royal Welsh Show for its cheese, and the whey from the sheep’s milk goes off to a local distillery to be turned into vodka. It may currently be fairly niche, but Bryn chose sheep dairy due to the small size of his farm and the issues with TB in cow farming. He says there could also be a growing market as sheep’s milk can be drunk by people with lactose intolerance.

Bryn says the cheese is also a good way of opening conversations with people about nature-friendly farming. “Winning a few awards has been really helpful. People have been coming to me asking about selling it,” he says. “It’s a good way of explaining a bit about why we do this, showing that we’re creating value, doing things differently, and people can eat the cheese without feeling they’re destroying the climate or the planet.”

My whole ethos and brand is around sustainability and ethics, but how do I present that to the end user? I don’t think retail does a particularly good job of selling British agriculture and its stories to the public through displays and branding.

Bryn Perry

Bryn says, eventually, he would like to create a circular system where the farm produces all its own forage, but with just 35 acres, this is not currently possible. He plans to introduce hens for their eggs and to follow behind the sheep in the grazing pattern. “They’ll turn over the ground, break up the sheep’s mess and be walking, talking fertilisers for me,” he said. He has also been interested in agroforestry, but currently, his council landlords are less keen on the idea. He is also planning to do more baseline soil testing to see how his pasture-fed system is benefitting soil health.

He says one potentially off-putting aspect of doing something non-mainstream in farming is being responsible for every aspect of the product, including branding and marketing. Nevertheless, he is keen to show that something like sheep dairy is a viable possibility. “I think it can make farming on small farms on a less intensive scale work,” he says. “It’s cheaper to establish, and you just don’t need all the big infrastructure you need for cow dairy, the cattle races and crushes and the huge parlour.”

As a first-generation new entrant farmer, Bryn is also keen to see more new blood entering the sector and recognition of the challenges of becoming a farmer. “We’ve got a real problem in agriculture with an ageing population of farmers and not many people going into it at a younger age. What I’m doing is an easier scale for new entrants to consider while still having a profitable business. One of my biggest ambitions is to show there are other options than the traditional beef, sheep or cow dairy.”

“As someone who’s come from outside agriculture and wasn’t brought up on a farm, I feel I can bring in my own ideas and ways of thinking. It’s got to be a profitable business, but not to the detriment of nature or society around it. I wanted to find a system that would work for everybody and create a lovely environment on the farm.”