Farm of the Week: Earning respect with quality approach to cattle breeding

Gini Guttery, who has a herd of around 140 Aberdeen Angus cattle, with stockman Tom Slater and Ernst the stock bull.  Pictures: Scott Merrylees
Gini Guttery, who has a herd of around 140 Aberdeen Angus cattle, with stockman Tom Slater and Ernst the stock bull. Pictures: Scott Merrylees
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Nearly everyone loses money at the races. If you’re up at the end that’s great but it’s all about enjoying the day.

Gini Guttery of Haxby near York had the biggest gamble of her life when she attended York Races in 2007, not by giving everything to an on-course bookmaker but by signing a cheque for £20,000 to someone she had only just met.

When she returned home Gini’s partner Mick couldn’t believe what she had done but there was method in her seeming madness.

“The day had been alcohol infused I admit,” says Gini. “But sometimes you just get that feeling when everything makes sense. I’d wanted cattle ever since I’d taken on Oakmoor Farm and had been considering which breed.

“I met Alasdair Fletcher, editor of Scottish Farmer magazine in the hospitality suite and we talked cattle. I was impressed with the Aberdeen Angus breed and the tireless work of its society. Alasdair knew about cattle, his son is big into them and I knew that if I went up to Scotland to buy them that I would more than likely have my leg lifted.

“Engaging Alasdair to buy for me appeared common sense, although Mick did go ballistic when I told him!”

Nine years on, her instinctive decision has led to Gini’s Oakmoor cattle being one of the most respected breeding herds south of the border and well-respected in Scotland too. Gini says the credit must go to two other people in whom she has placed her trust - Tom Slater and Ian Anderson.

“From that cheque Alasdair purchased seven in-calf cows. The herd currently runs to 140-head with the breeding cows and heifers numbering 60. We sell bulls at the annual Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society show and sale at Borderway Mart in Carlisle and earlier this year we had first prize and reserve junior champion with a bull that made 6,200 guineas. Every bull we have taken so far has been in the top three at the show.

“Our aim has always been to breed the best cattle we can out of the best bloodlines, retain our high health status and sell to other breeders. You can decide to go for either quality or quantity and we are definitely only interested in quality. Tom and Ian are the people who make sure we achieve that. Tom is farm manager, Ian is our breeding adviser and between them they ensure our future.

“Tom’s a farmer’s son from Husthwaite and Ian is a well known cattle judge from Ayrshire. Tom is the one who has taken the herd to where it is today and for a still young herd not based in Scotland his success has been phenomenal.

“It has all been by design with Ian, as together they have a goal and we’re reaching it quicker than I ever thought. The main thing for me is that we breed as well as the top Scottish herds and sell at Yorkshire prices. That way we get a lot of repeat customers.

“Ian had come here to judge our herd in a cattle competition, could see where we trying to go and I managed to convince him to take us on. We were fortunate to get him as he only takes on two herds at any one time.”

Gini wasn’t looking to become a breeder selling to other breeders when she started.

“My thought process had been to have a suckler herd and breed for top quality meat but being turned down for having any type of processing on site was a blessing and proved somewhat fortuitous. When other breeders started to come and look at our stock it turned out that Alasdair had invested extremely wisely as everyone commented on their outstanding quality. We sell a lot of our bulls direct from the farm as customers find us ideally placed whether they are from the north or south and can get to us from most points in two and a half hours whereas if they had to go up to Scotland they might have to devote a couple of days.

“Our breeding programme includes using our own stock bull, plus we use both AI and embryo transfer. We bring in a new stock bull every now and again and new cows to continue investing in other quality bloodlines. We purchased an autumn calving herd in 2012, which gave us a number of Blelack cattle.”

Tom recalls the days he spent with his grandfather Clem Buffy as his cattle apprenticeship.

“Mum and dad had a small farm with pigs and sheep, but granddad had commercial cattle on his 400-acre arable farm and just listening to him was my cattle education. He’d say ‘just look at that beast lad’ and he’d tell me about its shape, its back, conformation and locomotion. The first thing I look for now is the way they stand, then it’s their backline and whether they are tight in the heart. It’s hard to explain but when I look at one I don’t have to think. I just know whether it is right.

“We’ve come a long way in a short space of time since I joined Gini in 2010, nearly seven years ago you would have pulled up at the gates and just seen a grass field. There was no electricity or water here. We’ve put up farm buildings, laid concrete, put up fences and then there’s Gini and Mick’s farmhouse that is close to completion. My personal goal is that I’d like to get to the point where everything is bred from our own Oakmoor prefix.”

Gini was born in Warwick, the daughter of a US Air Forceman, lived in the USA for nearly 20 years and has had a successful and continuing career in recruitment and publishing. Her only involvement with the countryside prior to buying Oakmoor Farm was riding horses. She rode 100-mile race rides when the endurance movement was in its infancy and once rode in the Tevis Cup, one of the best-known competitions. Her partner Mick Lambert runs a landscaping and groundworks business.

“I bought 18 acres here at Oakmoor around 18 years ago with every intention of farming. I knew the other 100 acres plus another half an acre was going to come up for sale and I eventually purchased it seven years later. What happened at York Races nine years ago became the catalyst for where we are now.”