2018 winners follow-up: Kathryn Mitchell, The Lambing Shed Farm Shop, 2018 Diversification Innovator of the Year (large) winner

For the Mitchell family, diversifying meant anything that would help supplement the farm. The Lambing Shed farm shop and cafe came as the natural next steps.

Rack of lamb, Thai free-range chicken curry and homemade pastrami sandwiches are not usually on your average farm shop and cafe menu, but it is what gives The Lambing Shed its point of difference.

The farm’s unique selling point has helped boost sheep numbers up to 2,500, with the on-site butchers working hand-in-hand with chefs to think outside the box and produce fresh restaurant-quality food, while simultaneously reducing waste.

It is also what helped Kathryn Mitchell and her team secure last year’s Diversification Innovator of the Year (Large) Award at the British Farming Awards.

The success has not come without its challenges, but the almost four-year-long adventure has been more than worth it.

Kathryn says: “It was actually my dad’s idea to originally set up the farm shop. He was about to turn 70 and said ‘right, we have to do something’.

“The main thing for us was making sure that whatever we diversified in worked with the farm, not against it.

“My dad and brother Rob have been able to grow the farm because of how much beef and lamb we use in the shop and cafe, so it all works hand in hand.”


Being able to connect the farm to the shop and cafe was a must for the family, which has run 121 hectares (300 acres) on-site at Moseley Hall Farm, Knutsford,
Cheshire for more than 65 years.

For Kathryn, a move back to the family farm after years working for the NHS was not initially part of her plan, but The Lambing Shed is one of her proudest achievements.

She says: “You cannot help being proud of where you come from. Rob is 26 and has always wanted to take over the farm from Dad. He is farm-obsessed and has always wanted to do that.

“When Dad came up with this idea, we sat down as a family about how it would look, what we would do and I just loved it and really got into it.

“I just did not want to leave it for somebody else to run. It works because we have that connection with the farm because they are family.

“I can talk to my brother and say I really want to do this in the butchery, or ask him what can we do.

“Farmers, such as my brother and my dad, are not good with the customer service, but that is my thing. It just all fits into place.”

Fresh food, Kathryn says, is the biggest pull to the farm shop and cafe, with in-house chefs tailoring the menu to what is available from the butchery, mostly stemmed from the farm’s beef and sheep, as well as produce from local suppliers in Cheshire.

Other produce, such as tomatoes, eggs, chips and free-range pork, are also sourced locally, while gins and beers are bought-in from nearby.

A newly appointed pastry chef bakes all the fresh cakes and pastries.

The availability of fresh produce has created huge demand for the cafe, which is open from 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Saturday, and 10am until 4pm on Sundays.

Daytime hours have helped secure chefs, butchers and waiting staff, whom otherwise would be tricky to hold down.

Kathryn says: “We make all our own pies and sausage rolls, and if you look at it financially, it probably works out easier and cheaper to buy them in, but people come for the homemade food.

“They come for homemade cake, then they are buying the meat for tea and it is the whole package together.

“It would be so much easier for my chef to ring a big company and order his tomatoes and they would come the next day, but instead we choose to go and
pick them up. It is more of an effort, but customers can taste the difference. As much as we can do, we do here.”

Extra dishes

Popularity for The Lambing Shed’s ready meals has also increased, with chefs making extra dishes, such as lasagne and shepherd’s pie, for packaging into bamboo trays for convenient home cooking.

And when food is not flying off the shelves or onto customers’ plates, The Lambing Shed opens up for various events and farm tours.

Lambing time is a particularly busy couple of weeks for the farm, where it opens up the actual lambing shed for visitors to watch lambs being born and play with baby lambs.

Kathryn says: “It gets absolutely rammed and I am sure my brother loves it when he has been up all night lambing then has all these people staring at him. But it is great.

“It is just the questions. We see it  all as normal because we see it all the time, but you forget that people do not really ever see that. They love talking to my brother and dad about how we look after lambs.

“They are our busiest days of the year, except Christmas Eve when we are selling turkeys.”

Kathryn’s vision for The Lambing Shed over the next five years are ambitious, with dreams to extend the renovated shed further and introduce more butchery workshops, cooking classes and flower arranging courses.

Butchery demonstrations have gone down a storm with customers and the farm shop has been lucky in the fact that its two butchers are willing to present and show off their skills.

Kathryn says: “My butchers are fabulous and I think they like the attention to be honest.”

Elsewhere, Kathryn is looking to increase how long people are spending on-site. Options at the moment include a homeware store, country clothing and a dog groomers.

As well as this, the Mitchells plan to extend their offering of evening and weekends events, which so far include cheese and wine nights, private functions and barbecue, sausage and cider nights.

Although the farm was never badly struggling, the family was always farm subsidised the shop for the first couple of years with cashflow, before it turned the other way.

On the beef side, Kathryn has already bought some Longhorn cattle with the hope to further break into the rare-breed industry.

She says: “We have been quite lucky and Dad has thought about some sensible decisions about what to go into.


“We used to have a dairy and we grew potatoes for a while. We converted The Lambing Shed partly for that reason financially, but partly because we had a lot of people saying to us ‘you are in a really good location for a farm shop, have you ever thought about it?’.

“It started with us just looking at planning permission because we thought it would be a nightmare. But it wasn’t. It just snowballed.”

Challenges have been aplenty, however and cashflow was the biggest hurdle to begin with.

Kathryn says: “There were many sleepless nights for 18 months to two years because, initially, a building of this size and the number of staff, you are just haemorrhaging out money.

“We basically had one builder and one joiner and we just kind of did it ourselves.

“We kicked off quite big, with 20-odd staff, and every month you couldn’t not pay their wages. If the customers do not come in, there is nothing to pay them with.”

Always having people on and around the farm was another change, but the farm is adapting well.

One of the biggest pulls for The Lambing Shed when it opened was three hay bale people and a hay bale sheepdog, perched in the field opposite.

“That was the best kind of advertising,” says Kathryn, and for the first hot October in 2015, when the farm shop and cafe opened their doors, ‘it was absolutely packed’.

Barn dance

The Mitchells are hoping to host a barn dance to celebrate the four years since their doors opened later this year.

On winning a British Farming Award last year, Kathryn says: “Someone recommended we apply, and when I looked, it was a really big deal and I did not know if we were good enough for it.

“But it is a mark-up of quality, and customers can see that and that there is quality here. It is nice to have an award about farming which is what we are and is the main point of what we do.”