Born on a London council estate Tom Davis always dreamt of working with animals and started his career at Mudchute Farm and Park as a fresh-faced 18-year-old.
He helped a llama give birth on Boxing Day, nurtured baby goats who are now old ladies and ensured the 32-acre farm thrived in the early years of the millennium.
Now more than a decade later he has returned to take over and steer the farm to a new future as a rare breeds centre.
The 30-year-old said: “People don’t realise a lot of our native breeds are so rare. They think a sheep is a sheep. But there are fewer than 900 breeding female Whitefaced Woodland sheep in the UK.”
He has already started work to reverse this after Christmas came early to Mudchute and the community donated money to fulfil his wishlist of animals for the Isle of Dogs nature centre.
Two new rams have bred with the 15 Woodland and seven Oxford Down ewes, who can be seen grazing against the backdrop of Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers. Those marked with a blue spot are hopefully pregnant and will lamb in April. And Tom hopes the charity-run farm will become an approved rare breed centre early in 2017.
“It’s great to be back and the dream is that when people think of rare breeds they think of Mudchute,” said the Isle of Dogs resident who previously worked at Vauxhall City Farm, Capel Manor College and Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.
His dream is being supported by the newly formed Friends of Mudchute . The group was born in mid-November when resident Lorraine Cavanagh posted Tom’s wishlist on the Canary Wharf & Isle of Dogs Residents Facebook page. Money for the entire list, including two rams, Mandarin dusks, zebra finches, diamond doves and Chinese painted quails, was donated within days.
“People have been so generous” said Tom, the youngest trustee of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust . “All of the staff here are overwhelmed by the support.
“We always need to remember that Mudchute was set up by local people, for local people and it is very much a community project.
“People who have donated the money will get to see the fruits of that when the sheep start to lamb and the tiny ginger Tamworth piglets are born.”
Families got to meet some of the new animals at the Christmas Fun Day and meet Tom who dressed up as Father Christmas to spread some festive cheer.
And in the new year the father-of-one wants to set up a young farmers club to introduce children to the profession.
“I’m a product of city farming. I was born and raised on a council estate in Battersea, my dad was a painter and decorator and my mum was an administrator and I just visited my local city farm and wanted to get involved. After my first day volunteering aged seven I came home and told my mum and dad I wanted to be a farmer. Now here I am.
“A good stockman is born, not made. It doesn’t matter if you are from the city or country, if you have a natural affinity with animals that just needs to be brought out of you.
“The new manager of Mudchute could live around the corner and it’s important to find them.”
He also wants to educate young people about the time and effort that goes into producing our food and has not ruled out selling meat and produce from Mudchute animals.
“We live in a very throw-away society where we go to the supermarket and everything is always there,” said Tom.
“But if you are going to eat something it needs to be valued as whether it is a vegetable or animals work has gone into producing it. It is very important to teach young people that eggs don’t just come in a box from the supermarket.
“We have to teach them the responsibility of caring for animals and taking them out and showing them and keep those old skills alive. That is the way forward.”
He added: “I loved my time as a young farmer at Mudchute. I left as I wanted more experience in the industry but now I’m back I don’t see myself ever leaving.
“It is where I belong and is home to me and we are at the start of some very exciting times here.”
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