Family affair to bring agricultural showpiece to fruition in Danby

Shaun Dowson, chairman of Danby Show, at Willow Tree Farm. Picture: Gary Longbottom
Shaun Dowson, chairman of Danby Show, at Willow Tree Farm. Picture: Gary Longbottom
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DROPPING into Danby Dale from the Moors road, having driven from Hutton-le-Hole, is a journey of sheer beauty and will be a route many should take when visiting the 155th Danby Show on Wednesday this week.

While the dale may not appear to have changed a great deal, to the lay person, in the past 25 years there have been significant changes to its way of life. The Dowson family of Willow Tree Farm in Danby, which includes Shaun the current chairman of Danby Show, have farmed in the dale for generations.

Shaun tells of how it has changed: “Farming was all I wanted to do and what I was brought up to be involved with, but it’s not the same for our son Joe who is currently an apprentice for a plumbing business in Saltburn.

“It’s much more difficult getting into farming. There are not the number of dairy farms there once were and that means far less jobs. We’re more like part-time farmers today. I work for my brother Michael on utilities contracts laying cables and other such work.”

Shaun’s father Ken recalls when Danby Dale was awash with milk production.

“We had 45 dairy cows until just after Foot & Mouth year of 2001 and there was a time when the dale had 20-30 dairy farmers. In fact I can only recall one farmer who didn’t have cows. Now there are just two dairy farms.”

Fewer men employed has also effected those available to help with Danby Show.

“At one time nearly every farmer would be involved in the show and send their farm workers down to help, but now most farmers manage largely on their own and run other jobs as well to make things pay. That means they don’t have the time and labour. We do get lots of help on show day but setting up the sheep pens beforehand it’s just four of us and we’re all in our 70s and 80s so we could do with a bit of help.”

The Dowson family has played its part for many years. Ken’s father Harry was on the show committee until 1962; his brother John is still on the committee and was a previous chairman; Shaun has been chairman for 11 years; his son Joe runs the vintage machinery and motorcycles section with help from his mum; Shaun’s wife Karen was livestock secretary for five years; and their daughter Emily is currently on the committee and helps set up the show.

“My late mum Jean was secretary of the show for 10 years and there is a memorial trophy in her name,” says Shaun.

“We’re still very proud of our show and we get very good entries of livestock with around 350 sheep entries including breed classes for Teeswaters, Blue Faced Leicesters, Mashams, Suffolks, Scotch Blackfaces, Swaledales, Jacobs and Texels; and 60-70 entries of cattle. Despite the lesser number of producers in the dale we still have dairy classes as well as beef.

“If the weather is kind then we can attract as many as 7,000 but if it isn’t we could be down to 2,000-3,000.”

Ken gets involved as an exhibitor with his vintage motorcycle although things hadn’t turned out quite as he planned when he originally purchased it.

“I have a 1954 AJS (Albert John Stevens) motorbike. I’d had one identical in my youth and I was going back to my teens when I bought it but it seems to weigh twice as much as when I was 17. I take it to other shows at Egton, Kildale and Castleton. I’m currently on with a 1961 BSA.”

Today’s farming operation at Willow Tree Farm involves growing of grass for silage and a suckler herd of 18 cows.

“Our sucklers are Belgian Blue X out of a dairy cow put to the Limousin bull, calving in the new year and selling stock in October at Ruswarp Mart. We buy calves from local dairy farms rather than breeding our own replacements.”

Should there ever be a problem at the show both Shaun and Ken are handy to have around. Ken was a retained fireman in Danby for 35 years and Shaun has been involved for the past 21 years.

This year’s Danby Show takes place in the Vicarage Field on Wednesday, August 12.