Published 26 May 2021
by Kiloran Buckler
Restaurant manager Kiloran Buckler had the respect of her peers and colleagues and the love of her customers – but after frantic years fronting Kitty Fisher’s then Brat, she needed to re-evaluate her life. Now settled as a farmer in rural Wales, she shares her honest, compelling reflections
Just over a year ago I moved from London back to South Wales to shepherd a flock that used to belong to my grandmother. I had a bit of a mental breakdown in 2019, which led to me needing to make some changes in my life – taking control of it being the first one.
I’d found myself doing everything for others; colleagues, employers, guests; all came first and I had not left any time or energy to look after myself. It took a brilliant counsellor and my closest friends to pull me out of the thick fog I was in, and the resulting decision to leave London has been the best thing I have ever done. Apart from getting my dog…
Making the decision to be self-employed after the security of being on a restaurant’s payroll was easy on the whole, but the lack of financial stability and the implications that come with it, did make me question whether I was doing the right thing for a while. I was extremely lucky to be able to go back to my family farm, and have the support of my parents.
Life now couldn’t be more different to living and working in London. I miss my colleagues hugely, they were for me the biggest draw to working in hospitality. You speak to, and see hundreds of people a day working in restaurants, something I often found utterly exhausting. These days I can go an entire day speaking to no-body but my dogs and sheep- not always out of choice.
Life is, of course, a lot slower than it was before. I love not having every minute accounted for and the unknown of what the day could bring keeps things interesting. Being outside all day is luxurious, having spent so many years working indoors.
I am usually up and about from 7:30am. I feed the dogs and chickens and check on the sheep we keep at the house. Damian [Kiloran’s fiancé] and I live 25-minute drive from the family farm and I’ve started to breed a new flock, using our old pedigree Black Welsh Mountain Ram and some new Jacob Ewes we bought last year.
I’ll then take the dogs up to the farm to check on the sheep there – depending on the day it may be that they need moving, or I may need to gather them in to a pen to check their general health etc. Much of job involves getting the sheep out of the death traps (hedges, ditches, brambles, rivers) they like to put themselves in!
There are sheep sales to go to when we need to sell some breeding ewes or buy a ram and the abattoir for slaughtering the sheep for meat. I also take the skins and salt them for a few weeks before sending them off to an organic tannery in West Wales to turn them into beautiful sheepskins.
When I’m not physically handling sheep, there is a never-ending list of upkeep jobs – hedges to be laid, fencing to be replaced, chain harrowing, and mowing of the fields, cutting of trees, and planting- to try and improve the quality of the grazing I’m adding in different plants and grasses.
Damian and I have just created some terraces to grow vegetables and we have a poly tunnel to build for growing too, so they need attention. We are also creating a space to do feasts in the woodland – which will hopefully be finished by the time we have our first feast in June.
The idea is that as long as it’s light you can be outside doing something. I don’t generally go to bed before midnight – a hangover from restaurant work perhaps. Evenings are for admin or being suffocated by a dog or two on the sofa.
Like working in hospitality, you feel a huge sense of responsibility towards others, but with farming you are dealing with life-or-death situations and being responsible for the lives of the animals puts everything in to perspective. It has made me realise how seriously I used to take things and how unnecessary the pressure I would put on myself was.
I absolutely miss the sense of comradeship that comes with being in hospitality, and of course the incredible food. But I hope I can now contribute, by providing some of that food, happy in the knowledge that I know exactly what has gone in to rearing it and that it could not be of higher quality.
The Black Welsh Mountain flock we keep at the farm, started by my grandmother Jenifer Buckler, is known as the Loxhead Flock. ‘Granny Jenny’ and my great grandparents spent the Second World War in a cottage called The Loxhead – meaning ‘winding stream ‘ in Old Welsh – that sits a 15 minute walk up the hill from the farm in Llanthony. In 1792. J.M.W.Turner painted the Llanthony Priory and behind it, the hill I now spend my days on. To me his painting perfectly depicts the harsh wildness of the valley.
Farming can be incredibly satisfying. The amount of effort you put in directly correlates with the results you see, which is hugely motivating. Within a year the flock health has improved significantly. The ewes have produced more lambs this year than last and thanks to the good start, the lambs are thriving. We also achieved the best price to date for our pedigree ewes at market.
I have old primary school friends around here who farm, whom I ask for advice, and a friend who focuses on regenerative agriculture in Cornwall, is always on hand to impart knowledge, when I have questions on what to do with the unproductive soil.
What I love about this work, is that you never stop learning, which means you can only get better at what you do.
The goal is to build a sustainable farm that is not only sympathetic to both it’s location and the environment, but that also improves them. I’d also like to provide meat that is good for you, that has lived in it’s natural habitat, outside all year round. Because of the particular breed we have and where it lives, it makes for a very unique flavour.
I’m lucky that I have some great friends who are chefs in London such as my old Kitty Fisher’s comrades Tomos Parry and Chris Leach. So I sent my driver – Damian – down with some sheep so they could try it and the feedback was hugely encouraging.
I have a lot of family and friends in London so no doubt I’ll be going back soon- although we try to encourage everyone to come up here to stay instead. I do seriously miss my favourite restaurants though. If anything gets me back to London, it’ll be them – though my shepherding life is most definitely not yet able to provide me with the means to eat out in London… My goal is to live The Good Life!