There was a time when farmers were not known for their interaction with the public and kept themselves largely to their own.
But Dean Hullah is a prime example of today’s farmer who realises that keeping in tune with those for whom he is growing food is the way forward. Together with his wife Angela, their children Mary, Catherine and Lewis and their loyal team the farm is now also home to Tancred Farm Shop at Tancred Field Farm near Whixley, North Yorkshire.
The farm is reminiscent of days gone by with an extremely mixed operation of pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, geese, vegetables and cereals.
They attend farmers markets, supply local hostelries, Angie runs an outside catering company and in the past 15 months they have built up an impressive following at their new farm shop for which Dean has high standards.
“I’m quite prepared to chuck something in the bin. I won’t tolerate any less than the right quality. I’ve always enjoyed talking to people about meat provenance and providing the best produce you can. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback over the years. We have run stalls at the farmers markets in York and Leeds where we also serve hot sausage sandwiches, but since we opened the shop we get even more nice comments. I thrive on what people tell us.
“When you go to a farm shop for the first time it’s difficult to know what to expect. It could be a garden shed with a few bags of tatties and some eggs with a little honesty box, or it could be the way we have tried to make ours. I like to think we are that bit different and that this is a farm that produces things to sell in a shop rather than just any old shop based at a farm.”
Dean’s father Frank and his mum Jan moved to Tancred Field Farm in 1984 and are both still involved with the business today. All three are partners.
“My dad had been a farm worker on the other side of Whixley since 1965 and then took a 50-acre county council farm tenancy at Osgodby near Selby in 1982 before coming here. This was a 75-acre tenancy when we arrived but has since grown to 120 acres that we now own. We were originally an arable/pig farm but my interest in butchery and what my children were eating as they grew was the catalyst for where we are now.”
Although Dean attended Askham Bryan College, studying various agricultural qualifications, his butchery skills started on the farm.
“I cut my first pig on a clean sheet of plywood on a stack of pallets and the butchery side of what we do has all grown from there. One of my dad’s friends had been in the butchery trade all his life and he showed me how to manage the cutting up. I’ve never been professionally trained as such. We then started supplying friends with sausages and started curing bacon.
“Even when dad was a farm worker we kept a couple of sows but we now have 300. They are supplied by East Anglian-based pig company Rattlerow and the mothers are half Duroc, half Landrace. The fathers are half Large White and half Pietrain. We breed all our own slaughter stock and supply Jewitt’s abattoir in Spennymoor who buy 120 cutters a week.”
The Hullah’s herd of 24 pedigree Lincoln Red cows that rises to around 70 cattle in all with fatteners and followers is a source of immense pride but Dean has no intention of joining the agricultural show pedigree livestock ranks.
“I’d rather show you two amazing sirloin steaks that have come from our cattle rather than parading them around the ring. What I can tell you is that Lincoln Red meat is fantastic. It has lovely marbling and they are all finished on grass. The cows are very docile and easy to calve and our bull is like a big teddy bear. We just had a calf last night (shown in photograph) and they are just a delight to handle. They don’t get stressed and that helps very much with their succulence.”
Sheep numbers run to around a flock 50 that are largely Suffolk or Texel X. Dean’s best ewe deal ever came about recently when he purchased a batch of mutton ewes allegedly not in-lamb.
“My friend Chris who helps me with my sheep sold me one that has ended up giving me a nice pair of Suffolk X lambs that will be ready for Easter. He said his scanning kit can’t have been working properly!”
Perhaps the biggest surprise to all at Tancred Field Farm has been the demand for goat’s meat.
“It has been a constant surprise to me. Every time I take a goat carcase with me to a farmers market the reaction is phenomenal. We can clear a whole carcase in one day. The goats are Boer X from South Africa and we get most of our stock from Lowna Goat Dairy in South Cave. We get the castrated males when they are babies and our daughter Mary hand rears them. Goat’s meat is very popular for curries.”
Other livestock on the farm includes geese for the Christmas market and ducks for egg laying.
Green-fingered Frank Hullah, meanwhile, grows a variety of vegetables, everything from curly kale to cauliflower; sprouts, cabbage, carrots, beetroot and two other types of kale as well as various seasonal produce. It all goes into the shop.
Whilst the shop has gone from strength to strength since opening they also have great connections with the local village pubs. They supply three whole pigs a week to The Anchor Inn in Whixley and all meat to the Bay Horse in Green Hammerton.
The farm and farm shop enterprise employs two pig men; two full-time butchers – Alan and Chris; Julie who runs the coffee shop that serves early breakfasts; plus two more local girls Amanda and Julie; and their own children.
“I couldn’t do what we have done here without Angie, the kids and the rest of the team. We all work hard and it’s a seven-day a week business but we like it. Angie’s outside catering business is really something. You don’t get that many hog roast companies where they serve pigs that have been born on the same farm.”