Meet the IT worker and art teacher who have turned a Yorkshire ‘hobby farm’ into an award-winning business

Making a small farm viable, attractive and now a destination, having purchased what was a farmhouse in need of modernisation and fifteen acres of land, fifteen years ago, has been the mission of previously non-farming, but business-minded couple Kay and James Spencer.

Kay didn’t quite have in mind that it was she who was to become the farmer when they bought Long Ing Farm at Hade Edge, but that’s what happened and the couple have also recently been awarded Best Farm Stay in a major holiday accommodation company’s awards.

“James and I were both originally in IT and he still is,” says Kay. “My background is art and design and I went on to designing houses. I also teach art in schools, projects like mosaics and other crafts.

“It never crossed my mind that once we got a farm one of us would have to be the farmer, particularly that it would end up being me, but I love it and what we have done to make it work.

Kay Spencer at Long Ing Farm, Hade Edge.Kay Spencer at Long Ing Farm, Hade Edge.
Kay Spencer at Long Ing Farm, Hade Edge.

Kay says the past fifteen years have seen her develop the farm and how it can operate as a business in its own right.

“The farm is very important to me. I am constantly looking at things that can enhance and improve the way it is run. Solar power has been a big thing this last year. We now have 40 solar panels on farm buildings.

“It’s about farming as sustainably as possible with our sheep, our holiday accommodation and school visits. We have our own water supply, deal with our own sewerage and now generating our own electricity. I now feel I’m more of a real farmer than a hobby farmer and that I’m quite forward looking rather than letting everything just happen around me.

“The farm now makes money because we have the holiday let. It brings in customers and a regular income. People come because they want to stay on a farm.

Kay Spencer at Long Ing Farm, Hade Edge.
Kay pictured with her flock of Mule sheep.Kay Spencer at Long Ing Farm, Hade Edge.
Kay pictured with her flock of Mule sheep.
Kay Spencer at Long Ing Farm, Hade Edge.
Kay pictured with her flock of Mule sheep.

Kay says they started with a short-term fix livestock wise.

“It was coming up to Christmas and everybody had said what are you going to do with the land. We bought 20 turkeys and had this amazing time rearing them, then Christmas came and, although we had turkeys for about 12 years, they are a very short-term crop.

“We had a dilemma. We didn’t have a lot of money and looked at how we could improve the land without massive cost. I did a lot of research. We started turning the land with pigs,

just three British Saddlebacks and that led to breeding pigs. They would root and dig up everything. They were great and turned the land over completely, fertilised it and we were able to reseed with new leys.

The guest accommodationThe guest accommodation
The guest accommodation

“We ended up with 100 pigs and 13 breeding sows. We added Gloucester Old Spots but in the main they were Saddleback. We showed them, bred them, sold them and ate them. We grew a small cottage industry in boxed pork supplying our holiday let and restaurants.

Kay says once the pigs had done their job came her next move, into sheep.

“The pigs had turned the land over and weren’t particularly profitable, we sold them about six years ago and started sheep farming.

“We started with Hebrideans as a friend said they were a good breed to start with because they were really easy to look after and lamb. Their meat tastes delicious but we discovered they didn’t make any money either because they don’t fatten, so we went to commercial breeds that other farmers have around here, Mules crossed with Texels or whatever.

“We now have 32 breeding ewes, two tups, a few lambs left over from last year’s lambing and one that’s a pet. We lamb in March, which is a bit early where we are which is quite high up, but Easter is very popular for having people come to see them and for our holiday let at that time. It’s like our own Springwatch.

Kay is keen on expanding what she offers for those who want to learn more about farm animals.

“I’m looking at doing more educational things. I love it when the children come around. We have Brownies and school visits and the children are truly astounded that eggs come from chickens. I know that sounds really weird but it’s true. We had some children from Dewsbury who were absolutely amazed that they could run around the fields, touch the animals and feed them out of their hands. Our sheep are so used to it that they come to the children.

“We still have two pigs, Betty and Barbara, which were two of our show pigs, and we talk about where sausages come from; we have chickens that produce eggs for our people who stay in the holiday let and that we sell; we have bees; and a horse called Ffyon that I like to ride, but don’t seem to get time. Ffyon has a companion sheep called Charlie

“Sheep are very good from an ecological point. I say that lamb is that one meat that 95 per cent of the time is just eating grass, people don’t generally know that.

Kay and James have made the farming operation viable through Kay’s love of education and through adding accommodation.

“When we bought farm it had the farmhouse and planning permission to convert one of the barns into two cottages. We love it here and eventually decided to make the barn our home, so we reapplied for planning permission to turn it into one house rather than two, and to completely renovate the farmhouse into a luxury holiday let ten years ago that would be somewhere all people from all walks of life want to come to.

“It is now somewhere families want to come if they want to stay on a farm and appeals to a lot of different demographics with hot tub, outside dome for dining, warm water dog showers, squirrel café and swings in the woods.

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