Farm Of The Week: Hard work pays off up in the hills

Adrian Beresford
Adrian Beresford
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Up in the hills of Hellifield, between Skipton and Settle, is the appropriately named High Ground Farm, home to Adrian Beresford and his Higro herd. Here he runs a mixed dairy, beef and sheep enterprise that includes 125 Holstein Friesian milkers, 30 bull calves and about 650 Lonk ewes.

Adrian is modest about his achievement in taking his dairy herd’s average up from 8,800 litres pre-foot and mouth (2001) to his present 10,500 litres. He puts it down to hard work and attention to detail.

“I haven’t done anything amazing. We were taken out with foot and mouth and had 156 cows in milk at the time. We bought a herd of 130 cows and 60 followers from a farmer in Gateshead to come straight back in. We had always had a closed herd and wanted to get back to the same status as soon as we could.”

Adrian has culled aggressively in the past decade to ensure his cows all perform to a high volume. This initially left him a little short of numbers, but he’s now getting to the point where he has raised a lot of young stock and in the coming years he is aiming to be back up to 150 milking cows.

“It’s taken longer than I expected to get the numbers close to where we were before, but we’re nearly there now. We have around 230 Holstein Friesians, including followers. All new stock is through AI and I handle it all myself. I use Semex mostly and some Genus.”

Adrian takes part in the Yorkshire Area National Milk Recording Herd competitions and has had some success, but once again he is low-key about it.

“I haven’t pushed them for quantity. I’ve gone for type and I look for good udders, legs and feet. I’m motivated towards health status. We feed them well and that is one of the reasons why our feed costs have gone up. We’ve also kept lameness and mastitis down to a minimum and any incidence of mastitis we had has been reduced considerably since I started using Uddergold. Teat condition has shown a definite improvement.

“I have a foaming unit for cleaning the parlour and the clusters and it works well. It keeps down the bacterial count in the parlour and when you do these modern Holsteins milk very well.”

This year Adrian has also built an extension to his cowshed increasing the bedding area and inputting new cow mattresses.

“Cow welfare is a priority for me. We have brought about increased comfort for the herd and that has ensured the cows are less prone to such problems as hock swelling.”

The Beresfords’ milk goes to ARLA and Adrian is a member of the Asda Dairy Supply Scheme. He believes recent developments on milk pricing, leading to a current price of 29.5ppl, have been a step forward that was much needed.

“Everyone involved with the Arla Foods Milk Partnership will now receive the same price. That’s much fairer than it was previously and is a positive sign.”

He milks twice a day at 6.30am and 4pm, utilising a 14/28 swing-over Westfalia parlour, which was extended from a 10/20 three years ago, and is on every other day collection.

The cows would normally be out in the fields from the first week of May and be brought in on nights from the first week in September, but this year’s weather put paid to that plan this time around.

“This summer has been a real challenge. Normally we enjoy a long grazing season but that’s not been the case in the past four months.”

Ironically, Adrian’s grandfather Roger moved from Outershaw, near Hawes, to High Ground Farm in 1947 as a result of poor weather.

“They’d had a bad year the previous winter and had lost a lot of stock, so grandfather decided to move a little further south. He took on this farm and we subsequently acquired two others, a neighbouring farm and Green Farm at Halton West.”

Roger Beresford had four sons, including Adrian’s father, David. The brothers farmed in partnership for a number of years before going their separate ways.

Today, Adrian farms in partnership with his father and mother, Elaine. They have 430 acres with 185 acres at High Ground Farm and further blocks in Hellifield and Wigglesworth. The land is just short of 600 feet above sea level at High Ground, and a little lower at Wigglesworth.

The sheep enterprise has been a mix of Mules and Lonks but Adrian now concentrates on just the one breed. “We’ve settled on Lonks as they suit our land. There’s a strong trade in them around here. We started with one Lonk tup and we’ve gone from there.

“We bought three Lonk tups this year. We are gradually increasing replacement numbers and you need more tups on to do that. We are now members of the Lonk Sheep Breeders’ Association.

“We put them to the Suffolk ram in order to breed good quality butcher’s lambs. The Suffolk provides the better carcass, whilst the Lonk gives the hardiness.”

The Lonk breed is particular to the Lancashire-Yorkshire border with only about a dozen or so main breeders between Pendle and Saddleworth Moor.

They go to market around the second week in July, selling lambs at Bentham. Any replacements they may need, as well as rams, tend to be bought from Clitheroe. Adrian uses Skipton and Gisburn for selling calves and cull cows.

Adrian and David have two men working on the farm as well as relief staff at busy times of the year, with all of the tractor work handled by a local contractor.

“We’ve always had staff and we milk at the times we do in order to keep them. If your times are not reasonable you can soon find yourself short on staff. It has meant that I’ve never been stuck here seven days a week. I’ve always had the flexibility. Dad did it that way and I’ve carried on with it.”

The most recent change Adrian has made is in keeping bull calves from the dairy herd for longer than he has previously.

“I’ve sold them at three months old in previous years, but I’m now taking them through to 18 months and selling as stores. I have 30 at present.”

While Adrian plays down most of what he does there is one aspect of High Ground Farm that cannot be missed if you are invited into the kitchen. He and his wife Gemma have perhaps the longest and certainly the most striking kitchen surface you will ever see. It’s certainly not your traditional wooden affair, but a smooth surfaced island that is a very real focal point.

Adrian and Gemma have three sons – William, nine, Thomas, eight, and Matthew, six, – so it looks like the next generation of Beresfords at High Ground is assured.