Stereotypes are a wonderful thing aren’t they? Especially when it comes to food. All Americans pig out on hot dogs and burgers, every single Italian slurps spaghetti, the French love a snail or two before their frogs’ legs, and the Welsh love their lamb and their leeks. But what’s not to love about a spring lamb, especially when it’s reared at Pen-y-Wyrlod.
The farm, specializing in Black Welsh Mountain lamb, has been a mainstay in the collage of North Monmouthshire’s countryside since the mid 1550s and over that time, the land has hardly changed. “We still have the same hedges as on the oldest maps and there are ancient sunken lanes on three sides of our land,” said Nick Miller who now owns the farm along with Sarah Dickins.
“It has always been individually owned and that has given it a strength of character that some places don’t have,” he continued. Nick and Sarah have been on the farm in Llanvetherine since 1996, but despite nearly 20 years of farming under their belts, that still makes them newcomers to the area.
“This is an ancient community,” explained Nick, “and time can have a different meaning here.
“I once asked one of our elderly neighbours if they had always lived in the village. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘we’re Black Mountains people. Father came down from Llanthony in ’96.’ It took me a minute to realize that he meant 1896!”
This, mixed with the fact that a lot of the locals have worked on the farm over the years, (including a chap Nick met in the local pub who informed him he used to live in their attic as was common practice for farmworkers in the past), has given them an acute sense of being one link in a chain of people to look after the land and to pass it on to a future generation.
Back in ’96 (that’s 1996 not 1896) when Nick and Sarah took over the reigns at the fully organic farm, they started out with just six ewes, but over the years this number has blossomed to the point where they now keep more than 200 sheep.
“We have always just had Black Welsh Mountain Sheep,” said Nick. “As a breed, they are very hardy and get the best out of the type of land we have. The lambs are much slower to mature than more commercial sheep, but this adds to the quality and flavor of the meat and makes them very lean and tender.” But above all he exclaims, “Their black colour looks brilliant against the lush green of the landscape!”
That lush green is due to the immense variety of grass and herbs that paint the fields of the 70-acre farm. With over 40 types, Pen-y-Wyrlod provides an all you can eat buffet for their sheep, which contrasts immensely to the rye grass monoculture found on many other farms. That combined with a healthy dose of rain and plenty of sun provides Nick and Sarah with the perfect environment on which to support and raise their lamb to the highest quality. But that’s not the only reason why locally reared Welsh lamb is so much better than their English counterparts. “You could say that we are just better at farming in Wales!” Nick joked.
As well as being speckled by the black of their sheep against the rich green of the fields, Pen-y-Wyrlod is also decorated with a wind turbine that stands tall, proudly displaying their green credentials. “We are trying really hard to be environmentally responsible and carbon positive,” said Nick. As well as being fully organic for 15 years, Nick and Sarah have also been involved in their fair share of agri-environmental schemes. “We use no fertilisers and feed the lambs only on grass and hay produced on the farm, avoiding imports of feedstuffs and oil-based products,” he continued.
The pair are true ambassadors of their local countryside, preserving their farm for the next generation of farmers so that they can pass of the baton with pride. Let’s just hope the next lot adopts the same mentality.
Their lamb is available to buy year round at £10.50 a kilo so just contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org if you fancy giving it a go for your next Sunday dinner!
- Check out their blog
- Take a read of another local farm; Marcross Veal and Dairy Farm
- And another; Trealy Farm