Farm of the Week: Making a life on the farm in the valley

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It’s a sad fact that most letters received through the post these days are either junk mail or bad news, but for Audrey Windress who farms at Fadell Rigg with husband David one dispatch was a wonderful surprise.

“I couldn’t believe it. The letter was to ask whether I would be president of this year’s Farndale Show. At first I just didn’t feel as though I should do it. I’ve only ever been involved on the day of the show itself. I’m sure there are far more worthy people than me.”

There are hundreds of unsung heroes in the agricultural show world, those who turn out every year to faithfully carry out the same duties that have been handed down generations, whether it’s to hammer wooden stakes, cut grass or simply assist others as a community effort. They don’t seek anything from it, they just do it. That’s exactly how Audrey has always felt too.

“I’ve stewarded in the marquee looking after the cookery sections for what must be around 40 years. My dad, Fred Wass, did it before me and when he retired I took it on. My family farmed in Low Farndale and although I can’t remember too much from those days I do recall entering one or two things in the children’s sections when I was little. It hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s still a delightful little show that everyone looks forward to each year.”

Farndale Show takes place in the cricket field in Church Houses where the teams are normally supplemented with extra fielders in the form of a flock of sheep. On show day there are still plenty of sheep, with the likes of Farndale farmer, top sheep showman and occasional umpire Andy Fawbert always in attendance. The hallowed turf of one of the county’s most challenging batting strips is preserved by nothing more than some stakes and tape as visitors enjoy their day.

Rather like most who give their time freely and expect nothing more than the odd cuppa in return Audrey doesn’t get to see too much of the show. She also gives her time to the smaller Gillamoor & Fadmoor Show where she’s a secretary and she still works in her paid role in the office at Gillamoor School where she recently completed 30 years of service.

If the letter Audrey received was a pleasant surprise it was nothing in comparison to the good fortune she and David had back in the late 60s when they came to live at Fadell Rigg.

Having come together at Kirkbymoorside Memorial Hall’s Saturday dance nights, David and Audrey began courting. His father was working on the woodland at Ravenswick Estate that owns Fadell Rigg Farm and David tells of how luck was with them back then.

“At the time we were courting and then engaged to be married I would pass the farm lane entrance regularly, as I came from Kirkbymoorside and Audrey lived in Farndale. I always used to ride past thinking I’d like to live here but never thought we’d get the chance. There was a time when the house had been empty for six months and my dad must have mentioned that we were looking for somewhere.

“We came here for what was initially going to be just six months, received a life tenancy in 1986 and we’ve been here 46 years.”

After getting married in 1968 they moved into the farmhouse. At the time they had just a few buildings as the land was being farmed through the estate. David was working with Fred Slingsby in Kirkbymoorside producing gliders, a job that he continued until 1981, and Audrey worked for Kirkbymoorside Council. David and Audrey’s farming life started in 1969 and David very soon found a need for some essential implements.

“We bought a pig and with my wages the following week I bought a brush, a shovel and a bale of straw. We then gradually built up the herd and we had 50 sows before we eventually baled out in 1991 when the pig job went bad. It’s funny really I used to spend my school summer holidays on my uncle’s farm at Cropton and he always said I’d end up plugging muck!”

By the time David moved out of pigs he had started on with the animals that have become his trademark in the past 40 years.

“We took over the 110 acres in the 70s. I bought some Hereford X calves first. The Limousin breed had just come into the UK and I was able to benefit. I put the Limousin on to them and then kept their progeny back. It was 12 years before we could afford to buy a pedigree cow and calf. We gradually reduced the crossbreeds and today we have a full pedigree herd of 20 Limousin cows and followers. It’s been a closed herd for the past six years.

“Our main business concern with them is selling pedigree Limousin bulls to suckler and dairy herds. We don’t keep over many because I like to finish what we breed. We use AI as much as possible and Adrian Johnson looks after that for us. We follow up with one of the young bulls I’ve bred, so long as it is unrelated to the cows it is serving. I’m always keen on improving the herd so I spend a great deal of time analysing the best bulls to use.”

David also runs a flock of 120 ewes that he usually takes through to fat lambs. This year he’s considering selling them as stores.

“I don’t think we’ll have another winter like this last one so I may well sell them as stores this autumn. Winter can sometimes be hard going here. I have Suffolk X out of Mule ewes that are then put back to the Charollais. We then keep that gimmer and put it back to the Texel.”

“We feel very privileged to have lived and farmed here. It’s also where we have raised four daughters Rachel, Sarah, Anna and Debra. We now have three granddaughters Alice, Charlotte and Olivia. We’ve been very lucky haven’t we?”

David has always been a chirpy character. He used to keep canaries in his early teens and he is now involved with two choirs The Dalesmen and the Newton Singers.

Farndale Show takes place Bank Holiday Monday, August 25.