Farm of the Week: How Humble Bee Farm pioneered lambing experiences, camping and children's events in Yorkshire

In Malton livestock market he’s known by his real name John Warters, back on the farm he’s Farmer Percy and at this time of year it is the latter that takes the eye at Humble Bee Farm near Flixton.

Humble Bee is a 318-acre Yorkshire Wolds farm that comprises arable and grassland and for the past ten years Farmer Percy has concentrated on the grassland as he and his wife Julia have expanded their holiday accommodation business and developed their sheep enterprise as a commercial flock and as a public experience.

Lambing Experiences have gathered momentum in recent years as farms have looked to other forms of income and Farmer Percy says he thoroughly enjoys engaging with everyone who comes along to the various types of events he hosts, which include VIP experiences, and he’s pleasantly surprised at those who want to get up close and personal with the birth of a lamb.

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“I’m the second generation to farm here and the way things have gone we now have someone else who rents our arable acreage, but we also have some beautiful dales with a lot of wildlife strips, ideal grassland for our sheep and for our holiday accommodation.

John & Julia Warters at Humble Bee Farm at Flixton near FileyJohn & Julia Warters at Humble Bee Farm at Flixton near Filey
John & Julia Warters at Humble Bee Farm at Flixton near Filey

“The main thing I do now is the sheep. We have 200 Texel breeding ewes that we put to five Beltex tups.

“We lamb the flock from March 1 and will run right through Easter this year. We sell a lot of tickets to day visitors and those that are booked to stay here are very welcome to look at the lambing. VIP lambing experiences are where people come with me in the lambing pen and anyone who takes this on and wants to get involved with helping birth a lamb is welcome.

“Sometimes you get what might seem the most unexpected person who wants to lamb a ewe. You think ‘wow, never thought you’d do that’. For some it’s a bucket list thing. I had one blonde young lady with all her makeup on who asked, ‘can I come and lamb one?’ She jumped over the fence. It makes their day.

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“I do make sure the ones they lamb are definitely going to come out okay, that the lambs haven’t got their heads back, things like that.

John Warters speaks to visitors during lambing at Humble Bee FarmJohn Warters speaks to visitors during lambing at Humble Bee Farm
John Warters speaks to visitors during lambing at Humble Bee Farm

Julia says Farmer Percy has become something of a celebrity and that visitors return every year to enjoy the experience all over again.

“He’s the face of Humble Bee. He’s that popular that we’ve had to do Mini Farmer Percy Club T-shirts, with his animals on. They sell well for all the little people that come.

“The lambing experiences help build our accommodation before Easter, as March can sometimes be a tricky time, it gets our Hive Café Bar going where people can get food and cocktails as well. With the lambing experiences you can either come and stay or come on our public days when you can come for the day, it’s all on our online booking system.

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“We all really put a lot of effort into the public days as it also gives people the opportunity to see our accommodation too. This year we have new lamb areas for our maternity and nursery wards and really good signage.

Askham Bryan College student Al Lewis lambing at Humble Bee FarmAskham Bryan College student Al Lewis lambing at Humble Bee Farm
Askham Bryan College student Al Lewis lambing at Humble Bee Farm

“Farmer Percy and the lambs are also always available for an excellent photo opportunity. Our experiences are generally about a 90-minute experience where they can meet and feed a lamb. We also have sheepdogs and this year we’ve introduced a sheep trail where children have to go around the farm and site and come back to reception for a little treat.

“I enjoy talking to everyone,” says Percy. “It’s amazing how little people know about farming, about sheep and about what we all do as farmers. I get a lot of good reaction.

Farmer Percy changes back to John Warters to talk about the commercial side of the sheep on the farm and how he’s switched to a different breed.

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“We had Suffolk-crosses but over the last 10-15 years the butchers now prefer the Texel and Beltex lambs for their shape and they stand out better at market. Ours go to Malton livestock market starting in June and July fattened off grass and are bought by local butchers such as Andrew Radford in Sleights.

“We don’t keep any as replacements. We buy breeding ewes at the Malton Michaelmas Sheep Fair in the first week in October, all well-bred from the borders of Scotland. We buy Beltex tups from Kelso Tup Sales in September.

“Things have altered a lot in the last 15 years. We diversified by going into the leisure industry. Before that we were sheep, suckler cows and arable including seed potatoes. We now have a contractor who rent the 160 acres of arable.

“I now manage 158 acres of grass. We are in a higher level stewardship scheme and this year we are putting about 70 acres into the new SFI scheme.

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Julia, who comes from Holmfirth originally but moved over to Wold Newton near the east coast and met John when they were both members of Muston Young Farmers Club, says it was Farmer Percy’s parents Don and Iris who initially diversified with a small caravan site.

“We started our diversification in 2006 with a cottage, two pods and wigwams, put a website together. It has snowballed from there. It’s been quite a journey and it just goes on and on. Social media has helped us greatly.

“We were one of the early ones to do what we are doing. We have to continue making sure we’re ahead of the game. Every year the bar rises. One of our key themes is cleanliness. We make sure all our accommodation is the highest standard and we get that mentioned in reviews a lot. That’s important to me personally.

Julia says the part Farmer Percy plays cannot be underplayed.

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“Interaction is something our visitors value and love the Farmer Percy Club. He’s a USP for our farm. Every morning he’s out there and children’s little faces light up. It helps with their confidence around animals and is an important part of what we offer.

The Warters’ have increased their offering over the years.

“We now have three luxury cottages, three premium lodges, four deluxe cabins, four nomadic yurts, six pods and have space for six tents and two tourers. The premium cottages and deluxe cabins all come with hot tubs.

“Our daughter Olivia has a dale where she has bell tents and our son Jacob helps with the hot tubs and ground maintenance. Jacob’s wife Faye manages our café bar.

“People can come and stay or come for the day, trail our rambles, have a meal. We are open all year round and getting more into events. We’re in the planning stages for our first Christmas event.

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“Some of our visitors refer to Humble Bee as their happy place, that it is about making memories, some like the peace and quiet.

“Farmer Percy also has his beehives and likes making honey, as well as looking after other animals including alpacas, goats, donkeys, a pony, rabbits, hens and guinea fowl.

“He’s even got a beer named after him brewed at Wold Top Brewery.

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