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International Women’s Day: Jessica and her daily inspiration

Jessica Cross is a British Wool producer, based at Primrose Farm in Devon. She keeps a flock of 40 Southdown ewes – aka teddy bear sheep – who provide the wool for her bedding business, Southdown Duvets. We caught up with Jessica to find out more about her daily inspiration on the farm, where (she affectionately says) “the inmates run the asylum.”

What gets you up in the morning?

I should say that it’s the prospect of enjoying the stunning views across the Otter Valley and glorious coral red sunrises, along with the opportunity of getting out into the fields to be with my sheep. The reality is usually Cal, my Maremma sheepdog, shoving a very wet, very large slobbery muzzle into my face – his way of saying “time to start the day”!

Do you have any particular favourites in your flock?

Each of my ewes has a name and they are all characters of note. Top of the list is Bourne - a huge friendly ewe who managed to set fire to her bottom. Then there is Madonna who knew how to open farm gates and was always leading the whole flock off to mischief. I once found her leading the charge down the road to our neighbours, a Buddhist Monastery - I can only assume Madonna wanted to partake in morning meditation. And then there is little Bunch who just quietly follows me around, waiting patiently for an Indian head massage.

How did you start in the industry?

By accident! Although there is no history of farming in my family, I always dreamed of a farm but then when I suddenly found myself owning one, I thought “Cripes! Now what?”

My farming neighbour kindly invited me into the calving and lambing pens to see how I felt. I lasted 3 nanoseconds in the calving pens but felt immediately at home in the lambing pens and never looked back. My first lambing was interesting. I stood in the barn among my original 19 ewes and said loudly in a Barbara Woodhouse tone: “Girls, you know much more about this than I do, so will you please just get on with it.” And bless them, they did.

What do you love most about your job?

The fact that it is all about symbiotic partnerships. The close relationship between my land and my animals. My partnerships with my neighbouring farmers and farmers all over the UK, my dealings with the scanners, shearers, vets. And of course my business partners – British Wool, Biella the Wool Company in Italy, the wool hauliers and last but certainly not least, my customers, of which there are now thousands who every night settle down under one of our amazing duvets. All because of my clever sheep who produce a miracle fibre that cannot be replicated in a laboratory without costing the earth.

What do you love about British wool?

What’s not to love about British wool? It’s got all the history, traditions and diversity in terms of breeds and end-uses. The journey from greasy fleece through to stunning final product is just amazing.

Any particular highlights of your career?

I love welcoming every single little Southdown lamb into the world. They are not the prettiest of lambs since they have massive eyebrows and are quite bony when newborn. They remind of a cross between ET and Dennis Healy - but I love them all nonetheless!

I also get huge satisfaction from solving my customers’ sleeping issues which are numerous and varied, but I find that wool cuts the mustard virtually every time. My customers show their gratitude in lovely ways and every year I get a stack of Christmas cards addressed not to me but my sheep.

If you could give one piece of advice to people starting in the industry, what would it be? 

Come quickly to terms with the great circle of life and never lose your sense of humour – you’re going to need it!

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International Women’s Day: Jessica and her daily inspiration Jessica and Cal with a new arrival
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