By Kathryn Dick

From cattle to sheep – and everything in between – Kirree Kermode is one young woman with a passion for agriculture and is leading the way for aspiring females up and down the country to get involved in the industry.

She spoke with Kathryn Dick about her work and achievements:

What is your background in agriculture?

I enjoyed a lovely childhood growing up on our family farm, located on the Isle of Man, and left school at 16 to attend a day release college course in agriculture.

I now work for our family business alongside my parents and two brothers on our busy beef and sheep farm.

We manage 1200 acres which is primarily lowland ground with a herd of 500 cattle, predominately made up of Aberdeen-Angus cross Limousin cows, as well as a herd of pedigree Limousins. Alongside the cattle we have 1200 sheep comprising pedigree Texel and Charollais flocks.

Island diversification has been a buzzword, so we have recently renovated our redundant stone farm buildings into eight self-catering holiday cottages.

Can you tell us a bit about your job and what it entails?

As much as it’s a team effort, I tend to look after the sheep side of our enterprise. With the pedigree stock I prepare them for shows, as well as selecting rams and gimmers for selling on the island and at UK mainland sales.

I also really love picking out new stock rams for the breeding season. With the cross-bred sheep, I particularly like grading fat lambs for selling and buying in store lambs for finishing.

I have two part-time jobs alongside farming. Firstly, I work as lamb procurement officer for our island's only abattoir – Isle of Man Meats – which supply all of the island’s butcher shops and larger retailers, alongside a healthy export market to the UK.

I think it’s so important to provide our island’s people with the best of what the island produces and the benefits include extremely low food mileage as the island is only 15 miles wide by 30 miles long.

As a result, consumers know exactly which farm their beef, lamb and pork has come from. Both aspects are so important to the consumer in this day of age.

I also present a weekly radio show called ‘Countryside’ for our local station – Manx Radio. I gather stories from around the countryside and they can range from bee keeping to raising cattle and also successful breeding programmes of our critically endangered gibbons at the Isle of Man Wildlife Park.

My favourite part of this job is broadcasting live from our two local agricultural shows (alongside showing our stock) and the build up to announcing the supreme champion of champions is always exiting.

I enjoy trying to ‘paint’ the best picture I can for some of the elderly farmers who can no longer attend the show in person.

What aspects of farming on an island do you like most?

Being able to protect our island's livestock from devastating diseases such as TB and foot-and-mouth. Because of our position, we can literally close down importation of new arrivals overnight.

I also believe that our strict quarantine rules of 21 days of whole farm shut down and whole herd TB testing deters many from bringing in new livestock without it being absolutely essential.

What’s it like living on an island but wanting to compete at shows on the mainland?

It’s so frustrating as it’s not as easy as jumping in the lorry and heading away unfortunately. A great deal of planning has to go into organising show stock for export, for example, an export licence has to be applied for three working days before the selected travel date with all the details of the animals and a vet has to inspect for fitness to travel and ensure that all paperwork is 100% correct.

Then comes the tricky part – relying on the weather. Livestock can only travel by ferry when it’s gale force five or below, so we watch the weather extremely closely – sometimes by the hour – because if we miss the window opportunity it could be days before it’s fit again.

There has been tears on a few occasions, with the Royal Highland Show being missed altogether before now.

Once we have competed at a show, we cannot bring our livestock home and we have to find accommodation for a further 21 days before a license to import them back on the the island can be applied for. We are extremely lucky to have fantastic friends in the Pigg family, at Gaitsgill, Carlisle, that can accommodate and do all the necessary procedures to get them back home.

Once they arrive back, the entire enterprise closes down for 21 days, so timing is crucial so that it does not impact sale opportunities and stock movements. It isn’t a cheap operation, but some of the moments we enjoy have been priceless.

Favourite agricultural show to attend?

I love all the shows, but for many different reasons, however the Royal Highland Show has to be right up there for me. It’s the first show of the year for us and sets the standard for the year ahead.

I do love Tullamore – the biggest one-day show in Ireland that attracts the ‘All Ireland Championships’, where the Limousin classes blew me away on several occasions.

What has been the best and worst advice you have received?

The best piece of advice is to never say ‘no’ to an opportunity, however scary it may seem.

Worst piece would have to be ‘It can wait ‘til tomorrow’. Never ever put off what can be done today!

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Buyers who return year after year – nothing nicer than your stock doing well for someone else and they come back looking for more.

What’s been your biggest achievement?

I cannot single out one achievement, but winning the Texel ram lamb class at Great Yorkshire Show, with Orrisdale Viking, was pretty special.

Being asked to judge any Texel or Limousin sections is an absolute privilege and an honour at any shows, large or small. Just before Covid-19 struck, I was delighted to judge the Paris Show Texel classes – that was immense. The sheer scale was phenomenal with 700,000 people in attendance over two weeks.

What’s your favourite breed of cattle and sheep?

Texel and Limousin by a mile. Both are popular, modern breeds that always seem to do well in the market place and are easy to progress with, or just tick over, depending on which route you wish to take with them.

We like being involved with the pedigree side of both breeds and enjoy show and sale successes but making lifelong friends from all parts of the country is a really nice aspect of the breeds too.

What are the big problems in the industry?

I believe a lot more can be done to educate younger generations and the wider public about food production, the countryside and agriculture in general.

A better understanding would lead to making more informed choices and create greater support for our local food industries.

The points of difference in the way we grow, raise and make food compared to inferior imported products needs to be yelled from the roof tops so promotion through education at a young age is definitely an easy way forward.

Outwith farming, are you involved in any other organisations?

Last year, I enjoyed a year as part of the National Sheep Association Next Generation Young Ambassador Programme. I learnt so much; from the delivery sessions, farm visits and social elements and I would recommend it to all young sheep enthusiasts.

I was chairperson of Young Limousin Breeders and again it was another fantastic group for like minded youngsters to learn attributes for life as a future breeder.

Recently, I was voted onto the Youth Development Programme committee for the North-west region of the Texel Sheep Society and I look forward to planning flock visits and competitions alongside fellow committee members when events can restart.

Any hobbies?

I coach and play netball for the Isle of Man Netball Association. I was playing twice a week until I snapped my patella tendon 14 months ago. Fortunately, since then I’ve joined the Netball Europe commentary team so I can still be involved at least.

Favourite alcoholic beverage?

Prosecco ... by the bottle!!