It’s one of the most quintessentially Yorkshire of shows. Chris Berry visits a Wensleydale farmer ahead of today’s show.
Twelve years ago Wensleydale was devastated. Cattle and sheep were being destroyed throughout the dale and funeral pyres emitted signs that this could have been the end for many farms.
All of the traditional dales shows that take place annually around this time of year were cancelled and the area’s increased reliance on tourism was dealt a crippling blow.
When the Wensleydale Show takes place today there will be young handlers – sons and daughters of those who were badly hit by the culling – that thankfully never saw or experienced the nightmare that unfolded in 2001.
Foot and Mouth disease is now hopefully, and fingers crossed, consigned to history, but just as those who experienced it in 1967 felt the same it lingers long in the memory.
James Pratt was 15 years old back in 2001. His brother Richard was 21. Today they farm with their mum and dad – Edith and Alan – at Studdah Farm, Bellerby. The family is just a mile and a half from Wensleydale Showground where they hope to continue their success with their dairy cows.
“Our family has been here since 1964 when my granddad moved down here from Marsett, near Semer Water. We lost our herd in 2001 and restocked. If it hadn’t been for Richard and myself having been so keen things may have been different, but we both enjoy dairy farming and enjoying showing the cows too. It’s a shop window for your herd as well as providing great enjoyment and Wensleydale Show is a great family day out for everyone.
“We have 180 acres here of which 30 are rented and we milk 100 cows as well as having around 140 followers. Our herd average is around 10,200 litres per cow and that’s without pushing them. Dad and granddad always had an interest in pedigree cows and the herd was registered as pedigree back in 1973.
“Our decision to stay in milking and restocking led us to buy the best quality cows we could. We bought 50 from the Tarnbrook herd in Lancashire and used that as the foundation for what we have now. It has served us well and we have since introduced new cow families through AI and embryo transfer.”
Wensleydale has lost a number of dairy farmers over the past two decades since milk deregulation saw the end of the Milk Marketing Board in the mid 90s. Milk price has been much in the news in recent years as being the main reason why the industry has been haemorrhaging dairy farmers, but James and Richard are finding a way of making things work with their mum and dad.
All four are now partners in the business and both brothers earn additional income from sources other than the farm.
“Richard left school and originally worked with the Dalesend herd at Newton le Willows and now works on a beef and sheep farm in Marske.
“I went to work for Chris Iveson on his dairy farm at Myersgarth before moving to Metcalfe Farms until January this year. I now work on the AI side for King Street Sires based in Cheshire.
“Our farm wouldn’t be viable without both of us having our additional roles.
“Richard lives here in the new farmhouse and he milks the herd in the morning before travelling the 10 miles to his job. He then comes back and works on an evening too.”
A new farm building was erected in 2003 when they moved the farming operation from the village to a greenfield site.
All looked to be going swimmingly until the family was hit with another low blow when their milk buyers, Dairy Farmers of Britain, went bust.
“Our milk now goes to Wensleydale Creamery, but we lost a lot of money due to what happened. Ironically we were about to leave just before they went bust but we didn’t quite make it.
“We had a few hard times for a while, but fortunately we could always see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
James and Richard have a tradition of their own to keep up at Wensleydale Show. In the past five years they have had Interbreed Champion and last year carried off both Interbreed and Reserve Interbreed.
They won the Interbreed with a black and white Holstein, that has won for the past two years; and the Reserve was their one Jersey cow that was also champion Jersey too and which James part owns with good friend Stuart Clapham.
“Wensleydale is one of the more strictly agricultural shows and always attracts a very high standard of entry. All the classes do well and the competition is particularly hot as this area is a hub of dairy farming. Your animals really do need to be in great form at the show otherwise you’ve no chance.”
Their success has also gone way beyond the Wensleydale Show too. Richard and James have shown at the Carlisle UK Dairy Expo and the North Yorkshire County Show this year where they won with a red and white Holstein and at this year’s Great Yorkshire Show they took second in the senior dry cow class.
James has also in more recent times turned his hand to cattle judging following a highly successful young farmers’ dairy judging career that came to a close this year with a win at Cledale District and at the Great Yorkshire Show; second in Northern Area and third nationally. He has judged the dairy classes at Driffield, Ryedale, Egton and Osmotherley in recent years and will be dairy judge at Kilnsey three days after Wensleydale Show.
Young sheep farmer Philip Mellin who has become well known to millions of TV viewers through Adrian Edmondson’s The Dales will be one of this year’s headliners along with his mum Carol and their sheep. The show’s one concession to anything near frivolity away from strict farming and traditional rural activity will be Emma Chapman’s Wild West riding display.
Elsewhere, the newest competition at the show will be terrier racing and one of the oldest, but one of the most competitive for all, should be the open quoits championship.