Farm of the Week: From dairy herd and milk round to campsite, alpaca treks and cafe in the heart of Bronte country

Lockdown isn’t going to get in the way of the spirit and determination of the Pepper family, whose idyllic farm location by the side of Leeshaw Reservoir in the heart of Bronte country has won the hearts of so many visitors.

Stephen and Tracy Pepper at Windle House Farm, near Oxenhope

It is all down to their camping and now glamping site, café, alpaca treks and petting farm added in more recent times. All of which contributed to earning them a richly deserved diversification award last year.

Stephen Pepper has lived at Windle House Farm near Oxenhope all his life and took over the tenancy of the Yorkshire Water farm from his father Ronald in 2013. Stephen and his wife Tracy, who is also from a farming family in nearby Cullingworth, now run the farm and all its various diversifications they’ve added and continue to add to.

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“I’d had nearly 30 years doing my apprenticeship,” said Stephen.

Alpaca trekking is one of the diversified farm's new activities

It’s still a farming enterprise with a suckler herd of 60 Limousin cross and Belgian Blue cross cattle that calves from February to June to a Limousin bull; heifer calves are bought in as stores; and there are 120 breeding ewes that include a mix of Beltex cross, Texel cross, Jacob and others - but they have now been joined by seven alpacas, three llamas, six donkeys, ten horses and miniature ponies, rabbits and guinea pigs, as well as hens, dogs and geese.

“We’re very much a working farm during winter, concentrating on our sheep and cattle,” said Stephen. “We live in a fantastic part of the world with a wonderful view and picturesque countryside, but we came to realise that farming here doesn’t pay and rather than get stuck in a rut we decided to do something different.

“We opened a camping site in 2015 and that set the ball rolling. We started our own unique ‘Pitch Up & Pie Nights’ with picnic benches in the barn where everyone had something to eat when they arrived and then we played family games with everyone taking part. It created a fabulous atmosphere, everyone had a laugh and people kept coming back.”

Although they hadn’t planned it, Stephen and Tracy then realised how interested their visitors were in the livestock on the farm.

Tracy and her children in the cafe

“Some of them just wanted to stroke the animals, such as the lambs and calves, but then we found they were asking questions too,” said Tracy. “Children and adults, and it was clear how little people actually knew, that we take for granted, like where milk comes from and wool too.

“That’s when we thought of starting up a petting farm. Stephen’s favourite film is the Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams, and in the script there’s the line ‘if we build it, they will come’ which he quoted at the time and we have.”

Stephen and Tracy opened up the petting farm and café in addition to the camping site for the first time in May 2018 and have since also added an offering away from the farm where they take the petting farm to schools for greater education of young people.

Last year Stephen gave up what had been his previous alternative income for the farm, working as a milkman with a round in the area where he’d been delivering for many years. It was how he met Tracy once again, for the first time since their young farmers’ club days.

“We got together unexpectedly in 2010,” said Tracy. “I had moved to Oxenhope and thought it would be great to have my milk delivered each day. I saw this milkman coming towards me one day and thought, I know this man. We had not seen each other for years.”

Stephen gave up his milk round last year and they now have four children.

“Giving it up in was a massive decision,” said Stephen. “I had delivered milk for 20 years but concentrating on the petting farm and the camping and glamping site, the café and our ‘Field to Ewe’ school visits has been the best decision we have ever made.

“We just want it to be a place everyone wants to come to, once the lockdowns are over and Covid restrictions allow of course. We had a great summer last year and we are hopeful that the camping and glamping will be open in May.

New additions to the Peppers’ livestock for 2021 will include red deer and their own fully registered cobs. Stephen has always been interested in pedigree breeds of all animals and built up his own pedigree Dairy Shorthorn herd from his late teens to his early 30s that won at several summer agricultural shows.

“I remember I would come home from school at eight years old and be getting the cows in to milk. We only had a small herd of about a dozen Friesian cows.

“Mum and Dad moved on to suckler cows as well as sheep and I took jobs with local farmers Roy Turner and Tom Golding looking after their pigs, cattle and sheep. When I turned 18 my parents asked what I wanted for my birthday. I bought a Dairy Shorthorn stirk at Bingley Auction Mart and they gave me £100 towards it.”

That purchase set Stephen on his way to taking on Dairy Shorthorn cows which saw him with a herd of 20 at its height.

Stephen said: ‘My goal in life when I was younger had been to have my own pedigree herd. We would go to the Great Yorkshire once a year, just for a day. I would marvel at the Dairy Shorthorns. I never showed mine there, but I won at Keighley Show and had reserve champion at Nidderdale Show with a newly calved heifer. It was my ambition to have a dairy farm too, but I knew this farm wasn’t right enough in size or type.”

Tracy juggles her commitments between her full-time job as sales consultant with dental company Henry Shine alongside helping run the petting farm, café and management of their site and dealing with a growing family of sons Jack, Max and Thomas and daughter Annie.

“Coming up with all of our diversifications has been great,” said Tracy. “It has also been fantastic for Stephen’s wellbeing.”