Landless cattleman dreams of farm ownership

Martin Jackson with his prize-winning Dairy Shorthorn.
Martin Jackson with his prize-winning Dairy Shorthorn.
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When rare breeds are mentioned you usually start thinking about cattle and sheep varieties but Martin Jackson is a rare breed all of his own.

“I’m a landless Dairy Shorthorn farmer and I wouldn’t have thought there are many of us about.”

‘Jacko’, as he’s known, is also a keen cricketer for Sherburn-in-Elmet and he’s as competitive as they come, and equally so in the show rings.

Recently his cricket has taken a back seat as his obsession with Dairy Shorthorns has taken over. His dream isn’t wholly fulfilled but he’s getting there and hasn’t lost hope of one day having his own dairy farm.

He lives further north of his beloved Sherburn-in-Elmet because he works as farrowing house manager for David and Richard Lister of JC Lister Farms in Boroughbridge.

“From being a little kid I’ve dreamed of animals and I’m a fanatic. I live and breathe Dairy Shorthorns. My great grandfather started with them. It was my uncle Harry who took them over in 1954 and he started with the pedigree prefix of Bilbro Dairy Shorthorns in 1964-65. He had them right up until he passed away in 1997.

“I used to go up to the farm every spare bit of time I could and when I was out at work I’d still get to him afterwards to help with milking and preparing them for showing. We would show them at Wetherby, Penistone, Otley, Great Yorkshire, Lincoln, Stokesley and many others.

“My mum and dad ran the local off-licence but Dad was also a livestock haulier. We had a smallholding where you’d find pigs, sheep, hens, ducks and rabbits. Dad would call it a right menagerie. Uncle Harry moved from Bilbro Farm to Windy Ridge Farm in Little Fenton in 1976. It didn’t alter anything for me, I was still there helping all the time I could.”

What Martin would like more than anything is his own land but for now he’s doing the best he can. Just listening to how he manages it all is enough to make your head spin but it shows his utter devotion to his passion.

“I have four cows at Ian Collins’ Churchroyd Farm in Whitley, near Dewsbury. They are top quality cows that I need to be there for milking twice a day and recording for classification. I also have another three over in Cheshire with Graham and Barbara Bell. I have the older cattle here in Thirsk on land I rent at Highfield Farm, Maunby and I milk four or five of them twice a day by using a cattle crush and a little milking bale. I’m milking them at four in the morning so that I can get to work for five.

“I have another 20 young stock and in-calf stock on rented accommodation at the top of Sutton Bank, and around 15 young stock and heifers to bull at Low Park at Snape. I also buy black and white bull calves reared to stirks to sell at Wharfedale Farmers Livestock Market. They help turn the money over to support the rent of land and buildings.”

One of Martin’s driving forces has been reinstating the Bilbro prefix for the herd and getting back the bloodlines and cow families used by his uncle.

“When my uncle Harry died the farm had to be sold. After his estate had been settled there was a sum willed to us to start the herd back up if I wanted to. I’d had a rough time after my mum also died and had concentrated on my pig farming. When I left school I went straight to work on local farmer Roger Bielby’s pig farm for 12 years. When he packed in with breeding in 1996 I moved onto a pig unit at NS Hawkins at Huddleston Grange and from there to a pig farm in Thirsk.

“It was 2004 when things started to click for me. I started working for David and Richard who are great employers. They look after their staff and don’t put you under any undue pressure and I can get time to pursue what presently has to be regarded as a hobby even though I’d love to turn it into a full-time business.

“I also met Veronika (Krjukova) who had come over from Latvia. We’ve now been together ten years and her brother Vladislav also helps me with the cows. This was also the year I restarted the herd and my eternal thanks must go to Wendy Collins and Edward Krank who at the time were president and vice president of the Dairy Shorthorn Society as they managed to get me back the Bilbro prefix, which is a harder task than you might think.”

Struggle to find a farm

the road to farm ownership is proving a rocky one for Martin Jackson.

“I’d love my own farm and I have tried but it’s very hard. There’s always someone with more money and I’m not educated enough. I know that sounds stupid in one way because I’m a born and bred farmer but unless you’re college educated banks and others don’t seem prepared to give you the opportunity.

“Nowadays people simply look at degrees rather than practical knowledge and experience, but I’d still like to think there may be a way in. Ideally I’d like to be milking a herd of 60 Dairy Shorthorns with 30-40 followers on an 80-100 acre farm. So if you know of anyone!”