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Behind the scenes at The Nests Little Smallholding in Simonstone

PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 May 2018

Georgie Mitchell with a mixed flock of sheep, carrying baby Peggy in a sling

Georgie Mitchell with a mixed flock of sheep, carrying baby Peggy in a sling

Irene Amiel

A remarkable young woman has traded places as a teacher to set up as a farmer. And the small matter of not having a farm certainly hasn’t stopped her.

Georgie with one of her sheep. All are named by daughter Dolly and thus quite a few Disney characters make an appearance, like ElsaGeorgie with one of her sheep. All are named by daughter Dolly and thus quite a few Disney characters make an appearance, like Elsa

Georgie Mitchell is a self-confessed pig-whispering, sheep bossing farming fanatic. Originally a teacher, she has traded professions and is now making a living from the land. When she first spoke of her plan to have her own smallholding, people would say: ‘But you don’t have a farm.’

In typical Georgie style, she replied: ‘Then, I’ll make one.’ And that is just what she has done. As you can tell, Georgie isn’t your standard farmer, talking about her hopes and dreams as her nose piercing sparkles in the sun.

She admits she has no farming background and is the first in her family to attempt to make a living from breeding and selling livestock. She also admits it’s hard work but her bubbly personality seems to get her through the day and her business, The Nests Little Smallholding, is gaining a growing reputation among people who like quality and want to buy local.

Originally from Rishton, Georgie has lived in Simonstone for the last seven years but since January she has become used to the daily grind of – among other things – checking sheep, feeding and sorting animals, marketing and selling her produce. And she often does it with her baby girl, Peggy, strapped to her.

Georgie feeding sheep with Baby PeggyGeorgie feeding sheep with Baby Peggy

And if Peggy, who was born in January, feels like a snooze she often takes it in a wheelbarrow when Georgie is busy. Because she has no actual farm tenancy, she has to find land and barns for use where available, which often means they’re quite a drive from home.

This takes her away at odd hours, especially during lambing season. Asked why she decided on farming in the first place, she explains: ‘It all started with an orphaned lamb.’ It sounds like a reason why people open animal rescue centres.

The big difference with Georgie’s story is that the lamb, which soon regained enough fitness to bounce around on a table, was the start of a business where animals are well taken care of, but have an ultimate purpose.

When the lamb was big enough to start chasing the postman, Georgie found a patch of land to use and added a Shetland pony for company, and to keep the grass down.

Georgie followed by a mixed flock of sheep on a field she gets to use near Great HarwoodGeorgie followed by a mixed flock of sheep on a field she gets to use near Great Harwood

Then she bought pigs. The pigs were meant for meat to feed her own family, but the sausages were so popular with friends that her first batch was sold off before any of Georgie’s kids had a bite. Georgie admits to have initially underestimated the work that comes with pig-rearing but she’s learned hands-on and from getting most of her information online. ‘You have to work with what you got,’ is one of her mantras. Another is: ‘I’ve always just got on with stuff.’

After seeing a picture of Oxford Downs sheep, Georgie fell in love with the breed and acquired a batch of four, all in lamb, and started sheep breeding. Now, Georgie has about 80 and her primary schbool age children, Bill and Dolly, both have their own flocks to tend. They were allowed to choose their breeds and can keep the money from lamb sales.

It is their responsibility to make sure the animals are fed before any play-dates. ‘They can’t just drop it all like toys,’ says Georgie. She knows this is an important lesson her youngsters can learn from the get-go when dealing with livestock.

Georgie doesn’t sugar-coat. The children know some of the animals will have to be butchered eventually. She’s honest with them, just as the kids are honest to people around them. Billy told the school cook he didn’t like their sausages and to please buy them from his mother in the future!

Baby Peggy fast asleep in a wheel-barrow, watched by the sheep-dogBaby Peggy fast asleep in a wheel-barrow, watched by the sheep-dog

Georgie wants her customers to know where their food comes from. She hopes to break people’s habit of getting their meat and dairy from the supermarket when they live surrounded by farms offering everything fresh.

Last Christmas she started a courier service for lamb boxes that she sell all over England. ‘I still can’t quite believe what all I’ve achieved,’ she says.

Despite Georgie’s produce selling out within the hour at farmers’ markets, she admits it isn’t all as easy as she makes it look on her social media posts, which are filled with smiling kids enjoying country walks and animal feeds. ‘It’s a good life, but a hard one,’ says Georgie, and adds in the same breath that she’s currently learning all about cows, for future expansion.

Having witnessed the trends towards veganism as people’s response to stories of ill-kept and slaughtered animals, Georgie wants to show that it can be done differently. She gets bull dairy calves off farmers, and lets people see how well they’re kept on pasture, before they will supply people with meat. Dairy cows’ meat is less sought after, but under Georgie’s healthy diet, they can become just as tasty as meat bred animals. ‘It was always supposed to be fun but with a purpose,’ she says.

She will soon move her business to Fence, where she was able to secure a patch of land and an office. She is going to add a free-range egg farm and also wants to qualify as a dog trainer. ‘Walking on Pendle, sheep pop up everywhere,’ she says. Therefore, Georgie wants to train dogs and their walkers so outings in the fell become less stressful for both. She will use her own flock to teach a dog fear of sheep.

‘People tell me their dogs are well behaved. But I ask them if they were a dog in their past life? How can they tell how dogs react any given time? It needs to be put to the test.’

Georgie’s most important message is to fellow mothers who are told to compromise or fit any given cliché. ‘I’m a farmer, a mother and I wear nail polish and lipstick. We shouldn’t have to choose.’ u

Georgie Mitchell can be found via Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheNestsLittleSmallholding

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