Farm of the Week: Managing and showing a pedigree British Blonde herd while working for the NHS

It’s a big month ahead for a young farming couple from East Yorkshire who have already achieved so much with their pedigree British Blonde herd.

Having grown from a starting point of two heifers just over 20 years ago, husband and wife team Neil and Jess Barrett now have 30 pedigree British Blonde cows on their 110-acre Ponds Farm at Everingham.

Neil said they have made good prices on their bulls sold direct from the farm and that he has high hopes for one of his two bulls destined for the Blonde Society’s annual sale in Carlisle next month. And he should know, as he is also now a judge at shows as far afield as Nantwich and the Royal Welsh.

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“We’ve sold a bull there that went for 4,000 guineas and I’d like to think Everingham Royale has a good chance of bettering that. We’ve been selling a number of our bulls as stores and keeping only what we consider to be the elite.

Neil and Jess Barrett with son Cooper

“Blonde bulls have a great reputation as a crossing sire as well as producing fabulous pedigree bulls and heifers. They are particularly well liked to put on to heifers because of their first-calving reputation and Everingham Royale is what I reckon to be our best bull yet.”

Neil said he is now on the Blonde Society Council and much work has been done by the breed society members in recent years to develop the breed further in the UK and meet the market’s requirements.

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“There has been a lot of work done in the background to ensure that the breed is now well placed for the future and I believe we now have what the beef men want, something with more body and that gives the opportunity to finish quicker.

Jess and Cooper on the farm

“We’ve a growing demand for bulls and heifers from our herd and that has been largely down to two cows over the years.

“Doncombe Tanaina became the foundation cow of the herd in our early years. I’d had others before her but it was Tanaina that really started us off. She was my first real show cow and won a lot of breed championships as well as being Reserve Breed Champion at the Great Yorkshire Show twice. Seventy-five per cent of today’s females in the herd stem from her. We have only bought two Blonde females in the past ten years.”

Jess said the other cow that has made their name in the breeding and showing world led to an emotional moment last year.

“We had shown Everingham Judy since 2016 until Driffield Show last year. In that time she won over 30 interbreed and breed championships, including two breed championships at the Great Yorkshire Show.

The couple show their British Blonde cattle at Driffield

“I always say she’s an all-rounder. She breeds well and has done so well at all the shows, but we didn’t want her to get to the point where she didn’t enjoy going and we had decided Driffield last year would be her last appearance.

“It is always great when you are showing something that has been homebred too. That feeling of pride. You don’t get blasé about it, but all of a sudden we really felt the pressure for her as we so wanted her to go out in a blaze of glory, and she did!

“When she took the Interbreed championship I cried my eyes out because of it being her last time. It was such a high to finish on and we were so emotional for her. I was so happy. She doesn’t owe us anything.”

Showing cattle is a big part of Neil and Jess’s marketing of their stock and Neil said that this year, having retired Judy, it is time for a fresh start.

“We’re starting from scratch again. We have two homebred heifers Everingham Ruby and Everingham Sienna who have never been out before. Whether they will go on to be as successful as Judy we have no idea, but it is always exciting to find out.”

Neil said his parents Brian and Anne bought Ponds Farm at Everingham in 1990 and moved into their new farmhouse in 1991-92 having farmed previously in Fangfoss.

“Dad started off as a dairy farmer but started a beef enterprise in the late 70s. They took the farm on as bare land when I was seven and we lived in Holme on Spalding Moor until the house was built.

“Dad ran a commercial herd and I started with my pedigree Blonde d’Aquitaines, as they were then called, in 2001 when I was 16. I studied for an agriculture and business degree at Askham Bryan College and because the farm’s income wasn’t big enough for me to be a part of it I fell on the accountancy route. I’m a finance manager for the Cancer and Diagnostics Care Group of York and Scarborough Hospitals.

“When my dad retired in 2016 he and mum moved back to a house in Fangfoss and Jess and I moved into the farm. We now have the farm that includes permanent pasture for the cattle, 30 acres that we rent out to the turf specialists Rolawn and ponds that are syndicated out to a group of anglers from Hull for fishing.”

Neil said that while his preference would be to farm full-time at some stage, he isn’t intending to quit a regular income from away from the farm any time soon.

“We had a new livestock shed erected last year, which is helping put us in the right place for the future and we also have a couple of quality pedigree Limousin cows that we bought at the Limousin Society Red Ladies Day at Carlisle.”

Jess said the decision to go into a second pedigree breed was motivated by their success with the Blondes plus a desire to learn more about other breeds.

“From my perspective I wanted to try something new. We are doing well with selling our bulls and heifers and we thought we would try it with the Limousins.”

Neil and Jess now have two pedigree Blonde stock bulls bought in from high health herds to introduce new bloodlines having shifted from AI; they also run a herd of eight commercial cows.

Jess said their young son Cooper hasn’t yet become influenced by cattle.

“He seems to like sheep, but we haven’t any of those.”