Beauty and the Beef

Lady.co.uk was delighted to take a stroll through the water pastures with young farmer and textile designer Izzi Rainey, and to be introduced to her gorgeous fold of prizewinning highland cattle.

After graduating from Glasgow School of Art with her best friend and now business partner, Lara, Izzi returned home to the farm in 2014 and, heavily influenced by her lifelong connection with farm life, she and Lara launched IzziRainey, a textiles company specialising in Izzi’s beautifully designed quality homeware products – all based on life on the farm. Not only does Izzi design and market her products, but she has also single-handedly taken over the running of the family farm, home to the long-haired, stocky and rather cute highland cows. Izzi's shrewd head for marketing means her instagram @heytherefarmgirl has now accrued nearly 4,400 followers, and her charming but realistic window into farm life with the very photogenic highland cows is proving ever popular - a shared platform that will benefit and educate younger and older generations alike on the realities of breeding a healthy and happy fold of highland cows.

 

You clearly have a very busy day to day life, running the farm and your textile business with Lara. How do you balance your two roles?

Livestock are extremely unpredictable, so I can’t always plan my day. Most the time my mind is on so many different things, but I have got used to this over the last five years! I am very good at multitasking and I can go from calving a cow one moment to designing a new print the next. Growing up in a farming environment has meant that I am fairly used to the unpredictability of farming, you can try and plan things but something always crops up, so I pretty good at adapting my plans quickly!

Having our studio based on the farm and working with Lara means it works well. I can chop and change from ‘designer to farmer’ throughout the day! Lara runs the business side of things, packing up orders, liaising with our stockists and planning which fairs we will pop up next. I create the designs and focus on marketing, our contrasting skills make us a good team. At the heart of our brand and our story is the family farm; it has been the source of so much inspiration for my designs.

I really enjoy showing my cattle at agricultural shows. I think it is really important marketing tool. It is a shop window for my cattle, to show what I have been producing and to promote the breed. I do most the preparation on my own but when it gets to the actual day I am very lucky that my family are there to help - this year my sister Olivia who is a nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich came out to support me.

Can you tell us what you love about the highland cow, in terms of breeding and beef farming – what makes it such a special breed to work with?

My family has a history of farming and being traditional butchers, so I suppose it is within me. As a child I remember visiting livestock markets with my grandpa, he had a very good eye and used to help my father pick out cattle for the show. Dad started up his fold of Highland Cattle in 1989. Dad was trying to decide which breed of cattle he wanted and it was my Grannie who suggested the Highlands, after she's visisted an agricultural show in Hyde Park and thought how hardy the breed was. 

I love Highland cattle; I suppose I am bias and a little sentimental, having grown up with them. They are tough and hardy animals, their thick coats mean they can withstand a tough winter and stay out all year round. Their short legs mean that they can move through boggier terrain easily and in the winter they don’t struggle through the snow. They are low input – meaning they can live off rougher grazing and still do well! They make fantastic mothers, calving easily and producing small but robust calves, which are ready to get up and suck within 20 minutes. From a commercial point of view they are smaller and slower growing, however they make up for it through the flavour of the meat. The slow growth combined with a grass fed diet creates beautifully marbled beef with great taste!

Could you explain more about how you think social media has helped you?

I started my instagram @heytherefarmgirl three years ago, as the title suggests I wanted to show a glimpse of being a girl in farming. Showing a little bit of the everyday, it is difficult sometimes as most the time when something interesting is happening it is not always the best time to get your phone out and start snapping! I have had a fantastic response and it has brought some great opportunities, including modelling for Burberry with my cows! I am always keen to promote the benefits of Highland cattle and their beef, and Instagram has definitely given me that opportunity. I am very proud to be supplying a local pub by the coast, The Wiveton Bell, with our beef! I think used in the correct way social media is fantastic, especially for small businesses. I definitely first learnt the benefits of this through using social media for my textile business, it is such a great way to be able to get your name out there with no outlay!

99% of the time I would say I have a positive response to @heytherefarmgirl. I try to show an honest view of our farm, how the cattle are looked after to the best possible standards throughout their lives. Yes, some will become beef, this is part of the cycle of farming and you will always get people who disagree and I have had a few negative comments. That is part of what I try to show, the endless time we put into our animals, every day, 365 days of the year! I think it is important to educate all ages, because so many people do not have a true understanding of what really goes on in farming, all the time and effort ... It is a lifestyle.

What do you love most about your life as both farmer and textile designer?

I am very lucky that everyday I get to combine my two passions; design and farming. At times it is extremely difficult to juggle and on many occasion I question why I put myself through the stress of it all! Variety is probably a key thing for me, as both the farming and the business has ups and downs, and when something goes wrong there is no time to dwell. I have no option but to carry on! Working with the cattle is so rewarding, in a sense it is comforting as it is what I have known my whole life. Both are very interlinked as all my inspiration and designs are from farming and the surrounding Norfolk countryside and without the farm I would not have the story behind my business.

What are you most proud of?

I am very proud of what my Dad has built up and that gives me the drive to continue and to improve on what he has created. Every time a cow calves a healthy calf, that is a whole year's work and it is the most rewarding time. When we show our cattle I always feel a great sense of pride when we win a class or if we are lucky a championship.

With ‘IzziRainey’ I feel extremely proud of what Lara and I have built together (with huge support from my family!), when I look back we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into and without the support of each other we would never have lasted this long! I feel very proud of our friendship because of that. There are so many moments, which have happened over the last 5 years I just can’t choose!

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I would hope that in five years time that my products would be stocked in more shops, at the moment we are stocked in about 50 independent shops and in five years time I would hope it to be 200! It would also be great if we had our own shop or outlet, which would be a dream! Continuing to gather inspiration from my own farm as well as surrounding local farmers.  

In regards to the farm, I hope in 5 years time to be calving about 30 cows, which would be doubling what I have now! Last year I started supplying North Norfolk pub Wiveton Bell it has been a fantastic opportunity to showcase our Highland beef and also to be associated with such a prestigious Norfolk venue is a great platform. I would love to get to a point that I could be supplying a handful of local pubs as well as selling direct to customers, through farm shops or possibly a meat box scheme.

Look out for the opportunity to win two beautiful cushions from IzzRainey - coming soon on lady.co.uk

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