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They're flocking to website

Shepherd Jon Monks’ craft may be ancient but he believes in moving with the times.

Jon, 33, a self-confessed computer freak, also has a thriving e-commerce business.

He explains: “Three years ago a local land lady asked me to write down some of the walks I do around here.”

“I so enjoyed writing about them I decided to set up a website I designed myself.”

“The walks initially sold for 50p each. They were so popular I started to expand on them and decided to set up a proper business.”

His wife Jane helps too and they have sold £10,000 worth of walks either through the site – www.shepherdswalks.co.uk - or at country shows near their home in Northumberland.

He says: “I’m about to invest another £7,000 in expanding the site and we’re moving into Cumbria and the Scottish borders. As a family we spend our weekends exploring the regions and writing up the walks.

“I have a backpack for one of the children and a three-wheel pushchair for the other and off we go with a Dictaphone. It’s great.”

People are so interested in his work as a shepherd that the site includes a monthly newsletter.

This appears in its entirety on his other site www.shepherdsdiary.co.uk

Jon, who has four border collies and cares for 1,500 sheep, is completely happy with what he’s doing.

He says: “There are lots of doors open to me at the moment and that’s great. I can tend my sheep, walk, write and be with my family. That’s perfect for me.”

Growing up in industrial St Helens, Merseyside, Jon knew nothing about farming, let alone sheep..

Jon adds: “But I loved being outdoors, I just knew that’s what I had to do. The poor careers officers knew nothing about it.”

Leaving school at 16, he applied for a YTS scheme working on a farm.

From there he went on to agricultural college where, during one of two work placements, he found himself on the Isle of Man helping to tend a flock of sheep.

“I loved it,” he says, “The freedom of being outside with my own responsibilities was exactly what I wanted.”

Jon decided to take a year off in Australia, where he worked with 80,000 sheep, the average “paddock” was five miles by three miles and he lived at the end of a 10-mile dirt track two hours drive from the nearest town.

“It was seriously remote,” he laughs, “But I learned so much. When it came time to come home I was pleased though. It was very, very isolated.”

Jon then took his first proper job as assistant shepherd in Newbury, Berks, looking after 1,500 breeding ewes. He explains: “Ten years ago I moved up to Northumberland. As a shepherd you get a home with the job and I was offered better deals. Five years ago I moved to my current job, which is great.”

“I and another shepherd look after a flock of hill sheep. I have a large enough home, perfect for my wife Jane and our children Lois, four, and Harry, one.

Jon’s working life on Greenleighton Farm is split into three seasons. From November to March he works from 8am to 5pm, plus every other weekend.

The rams are out with the ewes, so there’s a need to keep an eye on them but not too close. Spare time is spent on maintenance around the farm.

He says: “The downside to the job can be when it’s pouring with rain and I’m up on the hill unable to see 20 feet in front of me. Then I ask myself what am I doing? But most of the time I love the challenge. If we’ve got six foot of snow I see it as something to overcome. I love being outside with the dogs. It’s marvellous.”

The busiest time of the year comes between April and July, when Jon has to work every day from 6am to at least 6pm. Lambing is what causes all the hard work in April and May with Jon having to keep a constant eye on the flock, watching out particularly for sheep carrying twins.

Lambs in difficulties often end up in the kitchen being cared for by Jane and the children.

“Another problem we have at this time of the year is that as the coats get thicker they can get stuck in their backs. But come June and July it’s shearing time, so that solves that.”

The “quiet” time of the year comes between July and November, when Jon has every weekend off.

The flocks are fattening up, some are pulled out for vaccination in preparation for breeding and time is spent preparing the fields and hills for the coming autumn and winter.

“We take two weeks off in August and at this time of year I get long weekends too.”

Which at least gives Jon time to work on his own ventures.