Farm of the Week: Sisters to continue farming family's enviable showing tradition

Grass reared has become a catchphrase for healthier lamb and beef but for one North Yorkshire farming family it is an approach they have always adopted.

The Liddle family of Home Farm, Stainburn, near Otley, has an enviable reputation in the show rings at the Great Yorkshire Show and at many others in the county. It started with John Liddle’s grandfather, known simply as JB Liddle, and is carried on today by John and wife Sue’s daughters Christina and Alice, but it is the way they farm that John said has now come back into vogue.

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“Our land is all permanent grassland. Our outputs are not necessarily the largest but our inputs are a lot less. It’s a simple system that suits our farm and works for us. We have been farming this way for many years, but rearing a grass-fed product is what we are now finding people want. Something that hasn’t been pushed. It’s a system that is sustainable.”

Christina Liddle with her flock

John and Sue took over the family partnership nine years ago. John had worked alongside his father Keith and the legendary JB, his grandfather. Keith had also earned a great showing reputation.

John said that showing had skipped him a little, but he is delighted that their daughters have carried on the tradition begun three generations ago.

“We are a sheep farm that runs to around 400 acres that we own near Almscliffe Crag and have 800 breeding ewes that lamb outside, starting with the Texel-crosses in mid-March and Dalesbred in April.

“We’re one of the few sheep farms to breed both Dalesbred replacements and Teeswater replacements to breed the Masham lamb.

John Liddle has passed his sheep farm to daughters Christina, a former teacher, and Alice, who works for Cranswick Country Foods

“We have 250 commercial sheep we cross with the Texel, their lamb goes to Fodder on the Great Yorkshire Showground. We have around 200-250 pure Dalesbred and another 300 that are put to the Teeswater tup, creating the Masham, plus we keep 300 future breeding hoggs.

“Our Teeswater flock is one of the oldest in the country with only five flock numbers lower than ours left in the country.”

The Masham ewe fell out of fashion some years ago and has largely been taken over by the Mule, but Christina said this year’s prices have shown up well and the Masham is still proving itself.

“Mashams have had a really good trade this year. The ewes are really good mums and we find generally last longer than the Mule ewe. I guess one of the main drawbacks of the Masham over the Mule is they tend to have a lot of wool, but when you sell the lambs deadweight that fashion side of buying isn’t an issue. Our Masham-crossed lambs weigh well and produce a good carcase for the market.

The family farm near Otley and supply Fodder at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate

“If you get rid of fashion as a reasoning and judge each lamb on its carcase, the Masham stands up to any other. The first clip of a Masham is now in demand from spinners and weavers because of its staple.”

Christina said this year’s Great Yorkshire Show was very special for her and Alice.

“It was pretty amazing. We got reserve supreme champion fleece after having had first and second in the Masham class.”

Christina said their work with worm counts alongside Bishopton Vets is paying dividends.

“We try to keep our sheep as naturally as possible and only give medicine such as wormers when they need it, rather than worming all of them. What it means, along with a nutrition plan, is that if the lambs need something they get it.”

Christina studied biochemistry at Lancaster University, and a Masters in food biochemistry at Leeds. She taught biology and chemistry at Bingley Grammar School and agriculture and science at a school in Staffordshire before returning. She said wormer resistance is becoming a problem.

"It is going to be a big problem. Traditionally sheep farmers wormed everything a certain number of times a year and worms eventually build up a resistance. There are three main types - clear, white and yellow. The white is already not working for some as the worms build up immunity. There are two newer types of wormer but they are more expensive.”

The Liddles sell their sheep either at Wharfedale or Skipton livestock markets, or direct to Fodder, or in the last four years through their boxed Liddle Lamb. Christina said the improvement in liveweight price has brought about more than deadweight sales this year.

“Liddle Lamb is growing year on year. Our selling point is native bred, grass-reared, locally processed and butchered lamb.”

Liddle Lamb now features Christina’s British White beef from her small herd. It is a return to cattle on the farm since the days of a dairy herd of Ayrshires. John said the cattle work well.

“Running a few cattle has the advantage of better grassland management as they clean up after the sheep.”

Christina said she had started the herd through Nidderdale breeder Andrew Fisher.

Alice studied agriculture at Newcastle University and worked in various agricultural roles for Morrisons, and is soon due to join Cranswick Country Foods. Their brother Will also helps on the farm when he can. He studied land management at Harper Adams and is a qualified agronomist.

Sue runs a holiday cottage that was converted from a farm building 15 years ago and was originally on a long-let basis, but now the two double bedrooms are popular tourist accommodation.

John said that running a small sheep farm in the future is hard to predict. “We just try to make things simple, but nobody knows what the single farm payment will be replaced by, if at all. It’s a whole new ball game but we’ve been working towards being sustainable without it for the last five to six years.

“We might be on bread and water by then, but at least we have a house to live in that we own - and we will have plenty of lamb to eat.”