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FARM LIFE: The Cowcher Family

Tom and Phill Cowcher
Penrhiw Farm celebrates 45 years of sustainable farming! With Tom & Eva at the helm, and Phil introducing "Regenerative Farming", they're making a significant environmental impact.

One of the most impressive farming families I have come to know in 30 years of farming in the Teifi Valley are the Cowchers at Penrhiw, Capel Dewi. 

Tom began farming at Penrhiw around 45 years ago, and his wife Eva, originally from Sweden, joined him later. Her expertise in sheep farming, coupled with Tom’s mechanical and crop sense, has been instrumental in the development of a profitable and sustainable business since the 1980s. The farm transitioned to organic practices in the 90s, with sheep and some beef store cattle, along with barley and oats which were the main crops for both organic and conventional feed. 

Their son Phil started working with them after attending Harper Adams University in 2008, with over 900 ewes, he also established a beef suckler herd comprising 80 “Stabilizer” cattle, an American hybrid known for good mothering and medium size, developed to thrive on pasture.

Their goal is to maximize the production of fat cattle and lambs per hectare on the organically managed Penrhiw, along with additional owned, rented, and share-farmed land, totalling around 200 hectares.

Regenerative and Sustainable Practices

Phill Cowcher

Pictured: Phill Cowcher checking on his herd

Phil introduced his parents to “Regenerative” farming, and the success of this system is now clearly evident. The farm usually sells fat cattle to ABP at 270-300 kg dead weight, raised on grass or winter forage. 

Likewise, the farm’s lambing season in April involved 930 ewes, with most fat lambs being sold off grass. These lambs come from “Highlander” ewes, a New Zealand hybrid breed, and are crossbred with Aberfield to produce ewe lambs for a local flock. The plan is to cross most of the Highlander ewes with Easydam, another New Zealand hybrid breed, as they are better suited to the regenerative pastures on the farm. 

The lambs, mostly sold to Dunbia, have a deadweight of around 18-20 kg, exclusively from grass-fed sources. Any remaining stock in autumn might be finished off grass, but Phil’s primary focus is to achieve 2000 kg of grass cover per hectare by Christmas, ready for the new lambs in April.

Managing grass growth is consistently challenging but running 80 cows and calves alongside as many yearlings and 930 hardworking ewes, with an average of 1.6 lambs per ewe (resulting in over 500 grazing units) all without the use of fertilizer is particularly demanding. This is even more complex given that much of the farm is situated at 600 feet with thin soils.

To address this challenge, Phil has devised a paddock grazing system. This involves tightly grazing mature pasture with high stocking densities of 300,000 kg of stock per hectare, moving them twice a day. This system allows yearlings, heifers, and lambs to access the best grazing, while dry ewes are kept in tight post-weaning groups.

Recent dry summers have presented challenges, making flexibility essential. This sometimes means selling store lambs to preserve autumn grass cover as part of the plan. The incorporation of Cocksfoot, Chicory, and Plantain into the grazing mix enhances pasture productivity and drought resistance, reducing the need for worming among growing lambs and young cattle.

The farm has become self-sufficient through the installation of two 11kW wind turbines 10 years ago, along with recently adding solar panels and a battery system.

To underscore the progressive nature of Penrhiw farm, a recent carbon audit revealed that around 2,300 tonnes of carbon are being sequestered annually on this regenerative organic farm. Much of this is locked up in the intensively grazed pasture by their highly productive cattle and sheep.

Mum Eva and her team

Pictured: Eva Cowcher with her team

Work in the Community

Tom and Eva are actively engaged in their community beyond farming. They sing in the Llandysul Gospel Choir and are involved in the local church. Eva manages a 40-bed converted barn and pigsties, available for use by youth groups and others (www.thelongbarn.co.uk).

Tom is the Ceredigion NFU County Vice Chairman, and is also involved with various community organizations, including:

Llandysul + Pontwelli Ymlaen 

Dolen Community Transport

Walkers are Welcome 

Capel Dewi Community Shop

He is also involved in contract combining, ploughing, and small baling.

Extended Family

Tom and Eva’s oldest son Daniel takes an active interest in the farm’s 100 acres of woodland, along with keeping bees, crafting trumpets, and growing organic vegetables. 

Tom and Eva’s daughter, Nia, is currently working on a Care Farm in Somerset and was also a student at Harper Adams University in Shropshire. She has worked for a local agricultural consultancy, The British Grassland Society, and has now been chosen as an advocate for Regenerative farming.

This remarkable family is a real blessing to Welsh agriculture. Moreover, they’ve expanded their positive influence by bringing in new members. Phill’s wife, Gemma, runs her own business called The Pudding Wagon (www.thepuddingwagon.co.uk), producing “healthy” and delicious brownies from a unit near their home. She employs four people and often more. Phill and Gemma also have a young son named Doug, adding another dimension to Tom and Eva’s busy lives.

Tom wanted to emphasize the contribution of other staff members, including Jack Jones, who, in addition to his mole-catching business, plays a significant role, and Jonnie Kidd, who share farms his property Llanfair, which adjoins with Penrhiw. Jonnie also helps out on the farm since his retirement from the diplomatic service.

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