Farm of the Week: Diligence pays off to lay foundations of award-winning flock

Paul Cass proudly holds his trophy from the York Auction Primestock sale.  Pic: Richard Ponter
Paul Cass proudly holds his trophy from the York Auction Primestock sale. Pic: Richard Ponter
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WHEN PAUL Cass drove back from the livestock market to his grandfather Maurice’s 250-acre Beacon Farm at Scalby near Scarborough a decade ago, it was with the same load he had left with in the morning.

And while that might not sound like great business, it was his decision to do so that proved the catalyst for an award he received from York Auction Centre last week, for topping the sheep market price most times in the year.

“I remember my granddad saying ‘What are you doing? Trailer’s full’, but I wasn’t going to let them go for the price that was being offered.

“I said I’d buy a creep feeder, chuck them in the field and see how they did when we took the lambs off them, keeping the ewes, which was something we weren’t doing back then as we were running a flying flock of mainly Mule X ewes.

“It was the best thing I’ve ever done because I then started supplying RA Norman’s abattoir in Boosbeck and the bigger I got them the more they liked them. I sent them the lambs that had averaged 1.8 lambs per ewe and I was close to getting my money back while still having the ewes and that’s how my breeding flock started.”

Paul now has 300 Texel X and Beltex X ewes and uses mainly Beltex tups having used Charollais and Suffolk tups in his flying flock days. It is the Beltex tups that landed his award and their influence has become much greater in his flock since 2013.

“I first used a Beltex tup when I borrowed one from a local breeder, Thomas Hunter of Hunmanby, who’d said if I would feed it up I could have use of it. Its results were tremendous and in August two years ago I went to Borderway Mart in Carlisle for the Beltex Premier Sale thinking that if I bought yet more quality pedigree tups it would also help me improve the quality of my breeding gimmers and I could then sell really good quality shearlings as well as continuing to improve in the fatstock market.

“Most will tell you that producing quality is 70 per cent down to the tup and 30 per cent the ewe, so this was my time to concentrate on buying the right tups.”

Having topped markets at Ruswarp, Malton and Thirsk for either stores or fatstock Paul found Carlisle a new experience. He was stepping into a new league as a buyer.

“I walked into the market and went around pen after pen of what looked like brilliant Beltex tups. I was a little nervous as I’d gone all that way and didn’t want to come back home with nothing.

“I didn’t know any of the breeders, but I set about feeling all the tups’ back legs because that’s where you want the hard meat. If you’re not careful at sales you can end up buying an expensive haircut because they clip them so that they are the sheep equivalent of a Belgian Blue back end.”

Paul put together his list of favourites, went through it again, double-starring the ones he really liked, went for breakfast and then took a final look to make his shortlist. The first on his list came in to the ring and he decided the price was a little too rich for him based partly on the price and also taking his grandfather’s advice of not wanting to appear over eager. He ended up taking home four exceptional pedigree tups.

“One of the four was Tornado and he’s certainly lived up to his name. I put him a field with about 70 ewes and normally change the tups over every couple of days in which time they’ve normally tupped about 20-30, but I didn’t get back the second day and by the third he had tupped 64 of them. At first I thought the ewes would then give quite a lot of singles but not a bit of it. His ewes scanned at 1.92 lambs per ewe. I’ve still got him now.”

Paul’s favourites include Sprite who cost him most at Carlisle and one of his homebred tups that came from one of his Beltex X ewes called Little Pig on account of how he fed and grunted as a lamb.

“I still haven’t fully committed to using Beltex tups solely although I do have six of them, as well as some of my own Beltex X Charollais tups, but the ones I bought at Carlisle are the reason for this trophy. It’s their lambs that have topped the market at York eight times in the 12 times we’ve been there in the past year.”

It’s a grandfather-grandson arrangement at Beacon Farm where Maurice moved with his wife Joan from Barton-le-Willows in 1974. The couple brought up Paul from being just six-weeks-old. It still brings tears of joy to his eyes today.

“I was so pleased when Pauline, one of our two daughters, said she wanted to come home. Having Paul here gave me something to work for.”

Maurice, now 77, has been a milk producer nearly all his working life but is winding down the dairy herd and although he has recently started his own flock of 70 Poll Dorset ewes, he still sees himself as a cattle man.

“I’m no sheep man. I’m a dairy farmer. When I left school in 1953 we didn’t have cows but two years later my dad told me to get to York and buy some. I’ve milked cows ever since, but we’re down to just 15 now.

“This farm cost £57,000 and ran to 158 acres. Others had gone bust here before I came. We’ve added acreage and rent an additional 70 acres. It’s around 400ft above sea level.”

Having previously bulled dairy cows to a Simmental, Maurice started a pedigree Aberdeen Angus suckler herd by purchasing stock from Elaine Keith of Seamer four years ago. The herd now runs to 40 cows. His Poll Dorset flock will start lambing around January 15 with the aim of having the first draft of fat lambs ready for Easter.

Paul also runs a contract square baling business for both straw and hay.

With Paul’s exploits at market and with his baler taking him off the farm at various times he tells of a comment he receives regularly.

“They say, ‘What have you left Maurice doing now? He does all the work down there.’

“What I know is that my granddad has always worked hard. He’s the best.”