Apart from missing out on achieving a fleeting glimpse of one of his inventions beamed throughout the world, Jonny Caygill and wife Sophie are full of praise for what Sir Gary Verity’s Welcome to Yorkshire team has inspired through Le Grand Depart and the Tour de Yorkshire.
Tomorrow’s third day of the third Tour will also be the third time the race has passed Manor House Farm in Rylstone, between Skipton and Cracoe, where they have a 250-cow dairy herd, 700 North Country Cheviot breeding ewes that have just lambed and a pedigree herd of Luing cattle.
“It’s definitely a good thing for the area,” says Sophie. “There are far more cyclists on the roads around here, it has boosted tourism and we’ve benefited too. I now have two holiday cottages, one in Threshfield and the other where we just had our first visitors at Easter in Linton Falls.
“We purchased the Threshfield cottage just after Le Grand Depart. We could see the potential and how the race had increased the popularity of the Dales. We advertised it with the additional advantage of secure bike lock-up and it has gone very well, which is why we’ve now taken on a second property.”
Jonny wasn’t unduly concerned about his Easy Cow Lift creation on screen, but gave it his best shot. He’s now also joined the pedal pushing ranks.
“I had visions of it going out to 80 countries and positioned it in an ideal place. It looked great, but wasn’t to be. I’ve taken up cycling on the strength of what has happened in the past four years and I’m one of the cyclists in Le Petit Depart that takes place in June, an 80-mile course that takes in Kidstones, Ribblehead Viaduct, Settle and Skipton.”
Jonny’s parents Jim and Mary moved to the farm 49 years ago. It is tenanted from the Duke of Devonshire and runs to around 1,000 acres.
“The land is a mix of grass, rock and bracken. We can’t grow crops other than grass and so the farm is suited to dairy and sheep. Our annual rainfall is around 50 inches on medium loam over clay and over the last few years we’ve had some wet summers. When you have the number of cows we run it doesn’t take long to ruin the ground with them paddling about in it so we now keep in the high yielders.”
Milk is sold to nearby Dales Dairies in Grassington and thankfully, in common with most other dairy farmers, the recent rise in milk price has provided some relief from the past two years of instability which partly brought about Sophie’s diversification into holiday cottages. Jonny is pragmatic about the sector the farm has been involved with since his father arrived in Rylstone.
“We’re now at 28 pence per litre (ppl), which is around break-even. We need at least another 2p and preferably another 4ppl for reinvestment but it’s a lot better than when we were at 23ppl. We used to have 18 cows all hand milked and we’re now at 250, but the world has changed. Globalisation means that with the Internet everyone knows what’s happening all around the world just by the touch of a button. That’s why I don’t think we will get the highs that once existed, but we will get the lows because people will never be short of anything.
“The poor milk price wasn’t just down to that though. It was a combination of factors that included the end of quotas and the political situation with Russia that affected agriculture.”
The fluctuations in the milk price have never altered Jonny’s resolve to carry on.
“When you’re in dairy, you’re in for the long haul. A calf born today will then calf itself as a heifer in two years’ time. It’s then another two years until that animal makes money, so an animal born today starts becoming worthwhile in four years.”
Producing the right kind of cow for Jonny’s herd has seen him recently involved with breeding company Genus, trialling sexed semen under the name Sexcel.
“We’re trying to get our Holstein Friesian herd away from the big lean cow to a smaller robust animal that is more suited to our land and climate, and will also produce more heifers. We are hoping to have a production sale at some stage.
“When we moved here this was a traditional Dales summering farm with stock born or purchased in spring, reared or fattened ready to sell in the autumn. That’s still the case with the sheep today although the timeframe we sell them in is longer.
“Prior to 2001 we had 1,000 Swaledales and were breeding Mule gimmer lambs. When Foot and Mouth saw our flock culled we upped our dairy numbers and moved to North Country Cheviots for sheep. The cows were to take more of the in-bye land and the Cheviots went up the hill, which means they are slower maturing and taste better. We bring them down in September to fatten on dairy ground and sell from then until spring next year. We sell everything through Skipton livestock market and Keelham Farm Shop buys around six a week.”