Farm of the Week: Beef switch success can be measured in rosettes

Rachel Hallos prepares Beeston Hall Dena, the female and breed champion Saler at the 2015 Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate.
Rachel Hallos prepares Beeston Hall Dena, the female and breed champion Saler at the 2015 Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate.
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ELEVEN YEARS ago Rachel Hallos turned up at the Great Yorkshire Show with just a homebred heifer.

The former greeting card manager who had never shown cattle before had left her husband Stephen at home to look after their two young children and the farm on the West Riding-Lancashire border.

Her debut went well as the heifer won its class but fast-forward to last week’s Great Yorkshire Show and the Hallos family’s Beeston Hall Salers herd from Ripponden recorded not just one but 11 successes in Harrogate last week.

“We started showing in 2004 and when Stephen dropped me off at the showground on the Sunday before the show it was only then that I thought ‘Oh my God what am I doing here?’ I remember watching everybody else and learned quickly.

“When I rang Stephen to tell him we’d won the class he came over the next day. We’ve been here ever since and although we’ve now shown all over the place, being at Harrogate is like being at home.

“Our cow Beeston Hall Dena is this year’s Salers female champion and she went on to become supreme breed champion too. That’s good news for us because we focus our business on selling quality female stock. We’ve had a big team out this year with six cows and a calf so all the family came out in force including our son and daughter Sam and Anna and their friends Sarah and Tom. They were washing cattle all day on Monday.

“Our homebred bull Beeston Hall Finn, who is throwing some really nice calves was supreme breed champion last year and although he wasn’t here this time it was one of his calves that was with the cow that won breed champion.”

Up until 2002 the Hallos family farming enterprise had been all about dairying. They were producer-processors with a milk round that Stephen’s father had started from scratch but with decreasing doorstep sales and a volatile market price for milk the decision was made that the herd of 60 British Friesians had to go.

“Stephen’s parents were first generation farmers on what was a typical South Pennine dairy farm and the main business was bottling milk and selling locally. When we took on the farm in summer 2000 we realised things had to change and we ceased milking in 2002.”

The move into a suckler herd and the Salers breed was fuelled by making the most of their terrain, firstly using various subsidies available and latterly stewardship schemes.

“The farm is a Yorkshire Water tenanted property running to 2,000 acres with 200 being in-bye land. We have sole rights on Soyland Moor that climbs to 1,300ft. There is moor grass and rough grazing with steep-sided slopes and the River Ryburn flows down the valley through Ripponden and into Sowerby Bridge where it meets the River Calder. Beeston Hall Farm looks down on the Ryburn Reservoir and the other holding Baitings Farm overlooks Baitings Reservoir.

“We’d been looking for something that was hardy, a good suckler cow and would go on the hills. We considered some native breeds but we preferred the Salers. We saw where they came from in France and we liked their temperament. They’re such easy calvers too.

“We’d been used to having to jack calves out of dairy cows at times whereas these you’d just look around the field and say there’s another calf, and another. Stephen can count on the fingers of one hand how many have ever needed any help. We also knew that if we could breed something that had a good frame then finishers would see something they could buy, take away and fill. The way it has worked though is that we predominantly sell stock for breeding. We found that there were thousands of Salers cattle bred in Aberdeenshire and that there was a need for someone to breed quality females. That’s how we decided our direction.

“We sell some stock at Skipton or direct to abattoir but that’s mainly bull calves or stock we don’t consider good enough for breeding. Our main shows and sales are the big three-day breed sale at Castle Douglas in November and the spring and autumn sales at Welshpool.

“At the time we started subsidies were good and we bought in-calf cows that had a bull calf at foot because we could claim the beef special premium subsidy. We also soon found how good the Salers were on scrubland and a chance conversation at a show with the RSPB ended up with us going into the old Countryside Stewardship Scheme in 2004. That was one of the best things that could have happened for us.

“We were also very lucky that when we had to renew we were one of the last to be accepted into the Higher Level Stewardship scheme which means we’re now in stewardship for the next ten years. I don’t know of any other job that is contractually guaranteed for that length of time.”

The Salers cattle play their part as both a successful suckler herd and because of their ability to fit the environmental side of Beeston Hall Farm in complying with stewardship objectives. The cows rip and tear the hill land that in turn aids its regeneration.

“We now have a herd of 100 suckler cows and we’ve split the calving to half in spring and half in autumn in order that there are cows on the moor throughout the year.

“We took a bit of a hit when we first did it but in the long-term it has worked. They all calve outside and go right up on the moor, walk miles and come back as fit as fleas.

“Our stewardship is a very important element of the business, another income stream and like any other business you have to negotiate. We sit down with the likes of Natural England to come up with what will work and what won’t.

“As a result we have very good stewardship including heather regeneration, wildflower meadows, low inputs, plenty of wildlife and birdlife including a large number of twites. Apparently they’re quite rare and we have a lot of them on our farm.”