You don’t find many hills in Holderness and you don’t usually find too many sheep either. However, two entrepreneurial young farmers Peter Caley and Adam Palmer are looking to change all that.
They’re not aiming to alter the landscape only a handful of miles from the coast at Aldbrough, but they are building their own fledgling livestock enterprise in the flatlands of the East Riding.
This is a tale of two farmers who are 35 miles apart getting together to create a new business and utilising the benefits of the differences in location to their mutual advantage.
Peter is in partnership with his father John at Smithy Briggs Farm, Burton Constable where they tenant 120 acres, grow cereals and grass, and have a 5,000 pigs a year business finishing for his father-in-law’s breeding unit at Arnold, near Long Riston.
They also have a baling enterprise that they started 20 years ago and now sees them cover 2,000 acres of straw and trade it into Wales, Lancashire and North Yorkshire.
Adam runs North Breckenholme Farm, a 220 acre tenanted operation in Thixendale in the beautiful, rolling hills and dales of the Yorkshire Wolds. He grows cereals, grass and has his own sheep. In 2007 he diversified into cold crushing of rapeseed oil that is now sold under the brand name of Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil. It has exceeded all his expectations and continues to grow rapidly.
The pair studied at Bishop Burton College at the end of the last century. They kept in touch after going their separate ways but had little idea that they would one day be setting up in business together.
Peter wanted sheep on his grass to tidy it up, but not being a livestock man he approached Adam for advice on which sheep he should buy. He tells of how that initial thought mushroomed into today’s long-term plan.
“The simplest thing would have been for Adam to send me some sheep, but neither of us do things that way. We’re both ambitious and are always on the lookout for opportunities and as a result of my approach we started talking about possibilities in late-2009 regarding the potential of running a commercial enterprise together.”
Adam had been running 300 sheep on his farm for some years. His rapeseed oil business was just taking off and it was becoming more demanding of his time. Peter’s approach for help had set the ball rolling in Adam’s mind that there might be a chance of changing his sheep business and upping the numbers.
“I was keen to expand the sheep operation in order to justify the employment of a shepherd and during our conversations we soon realised there were a number of synergies between our respective farms. One of those was the difference between the grass at Thixendale and here at Peter’s farm. Up in the Wolds we have rough grazing whereas Adam’s grasses provide quality fattening. We both realised that if we pooled our resources we might create a more productive and profitable sheep enterprise.”
Six Valley Lamb, taking its name from Thixendale (even though they’ve since found out it means 16 valleys!), was formed and the duo are now heading into a third lambing season. They are realistic about what they are trying to achieve and are determined not to run before they can walk even though initially they had anticipated being further forward than they are now.
“We want to supply the commercial market and we need to build relationships with retailers, but we don’t feel as though we can do this properly until we have reached a certain stage. It’s taking longer than we both first thought. We had an aggressive plan, which we thought would take 3-4 years, and a more organic plan that we felt would take 10 years. We’re learning to be patient, particularly with this year’s weather putting us back a bit.
“We want to put our own stamp on both of our respective farms and I think we’re both hoping that Six Valley Lamb will be part of that. Our aim is to get to the stage where we run a flock of 1500 ewes and this year we will be lambing 600.”
They are still Adam’s sheep at present although as cash comes into the business that is changing. Six Valley Lamb has been set up as a limited liability partnership and the new company is renting the sheep from his farm. As the company grows all of the sheep will be owned by Six Valley Lamb and both Peter and Adam have a clear view of the type of lamb they want.
“In a lot of ways it has not been the best time to grow a sheep business with breeding stock currently running at a high price but we’re getting there. Our mix at present is mainly North of England Mules with a small amount of Texel X and Suffolk X, but we’re now moving towards the North of England Mule crossed by the Meatlinc tup.
“We’ve traditionally had Suffolk and Charollais tups but having had conversations with George Fell, who promotes the relatively new hybrid breed, and having looked at his selection process we were sold on the qualities of the Meatlinc. Everything is aimed at creating the ideal R3L lamb that is regarded as being perfect for major retailers and producing a 21 kilo lamb.”
All lambing takes place at North Breckenholme in the spring with the lambs moved to Holderness at the end of August and finished just before Christmas. It’s a system that offers far more than just the munching of existing grasses that first brought Peter to contact Adam. Peter’s forage helps in the flock’s development.
“We have all kinds of forage, including some high-energy, made-in-May silage. It’s good quality and can be fed to pregnant ewes as it offers a higher protein content. It brings the lambs on to where we want them to be.”
Neither was keen to put their own existing farming businesses at risk by drawing on them for funding. They both felt that if Six Valley Lamb had a future it must stand on its own two feet from the start.
“One of our biggest challenges has been financing the new business whilst not putting anything else at risk. We’ve learned some valuable lessons and we’ve had to be creative but it has been worth it.”
Peter and Adam are currently looking to recruit a shepherd for their Thixendale flock. It’s not the easiest of positions to fill, but it is arguably one of the most exciting vacancies in Yorkshire farming. It’s a real opportunity for someone who wants to spend their career with sheep.
“We didn’t go into this venture as aspiring shepherds,’ says Peter. ‘Recruiting the right person is vitally important to us and this could provide someone with a terrific future. We would be more than happy to meet a person who shares our vision.”