Farm of the Week: The family who went back to their roots after moving to Yorkshire when they inherited land from a distant cousin

It has been a whistlestop past five years for a North Yorkshire farming family that swapped the Midlands for a return to their ancestral roots, traditional farming techniques and a farmhouse that was once the home of the village stationmaster.

David and Sheena's children Tom and Zoe have been to agricultural college and joined their parents on the farm

Husband and wife David and Sheena Peach, son Tom and daughter Zoe, plus a lone chicken, moved into Rock House Farm in Newton-le-Willows, near Bedale, in September 2016 when they inherited the 40-acre farm from David’s mother’s cousin, Alan Hudson.

David was born in Saltburn but moved to the Midlands when very young. He said that his childhood summer holidays and haytime were always spent back in Yorkshire at Rock House and had proved his inspiration for a career in agriculture.

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“I studied at Harper Adams and work in the crop protection sector, but Sheena and I had always come up here with Tom and Zoe. When the opportunity came to move here permanently following Alan’s passing we made a family decision to move lock, stock and single chicken to Rock House.”

David and Sheena are now keen sheep breeders and also run a poultry operation

It is a team effort that saw Tom follow his father in studying at Harper Adams and Zoe study at Askham Bryan College and has seen the livestock enterprise and farm shop gradually taking shape.

David said the nature of some of the land being designated SSSI since 1994 has influenced the way they farm.

“We have 11 acres that is specified as SSSI and our main field of it is next to the village cricket club where we have early purple orchids in our hay meadows which provide a wonderful display of wildflowers in late May.

“When we first came it took a little bit of getting our heads around how best to manage and maintain the ancient hay meadows but we also realise their importance and beauty. When we inherited the land Alan had already been involved with environmental stewardship schemes which we have maintained.

“By the very nature of the agreements it means we have to farm it in a very traditional, environmentally friendly way and the more we have done so, the more we have become invested in it and see our duty is to protect the land and wildlife.”

Breeding ewes were the first larger livestock to be reintroduced at Rock House. Zoe looks after the sheep enterprise that now runs to 65 ewes. Zoe said that from having purchased their initial 11 North of England Mule shearlings they now run a mix of breeds.

“We were guided initially by neighbouring farmers whose advice was to get some North of England Mules and we then borrowed a tup to get them in lamb. The majority of the flock we have now is still Mules that we largely cross with a Texel tup to produce commercial lamb.

“We are quite interested in breeding for the right lamb and we also now have 13 Swaledale ewes and a Bluefaced Leicester tup to breed our own Mules. We’ve not bought in any Mules as replacements for three years. We also have Herdwicks and our own Herdwick tup.

“Our main focus with the sheep, as with all the animals on the farm, is direct marketing, selling what our own animals produce through our farm shop. We are currently selling two to three through the farm shop each month with the rest sold through Northallerton livestock market.”

Tom has main management responsibility for the pigs and cattle operation. Tom said the pigs came before the cattle.

“When lambing time was over we realised we had an empty barn and so we bought weaners and fattened them. That was the first of our own home-produced meat that we consumed and we immediately noticed the difference in flavour, texture and quality between our pork and supermarket pork.

“We then started with Berkshire pigs. We hadn’t specifically searched for a breed but a neighbour mentioned he had a sow that had just had a litter and would we like her. We still have her and we now have three sows.”

Cattle arrived at Rock House last year when Tom purchased two very traditional Hereford cows with calves at foot and also in-calf. Tom said they will add to the family’s farm shop offering.

“We now have six in the herd and the plan is to AI when appropriate and eventually produce our own Hereford beef.”

Tom and Zoe are also working in agriculture away from the farm to create additional income. Tom works with a local agricultural contractor and Zoe works on two farms.

David, dubbed Farmer Dave over four years of the family having run Open Farm Sunday events, runs the poultry side of the farm business that includes laying hens and turkeys. David said it is quite a large part of the enterprise.

“We have 150 laying hens and sell the eggs through our farm shop or on an egg round we have developed, plus they are used in Zoe’s cake-making business that has become another income stream.

“The whole essence of the farm shop that we have developed from originally an honesty box is that we wanted to eat our own meat and other produce.”

Sheena is in charge of the farm shop and the holiday cottages which now run to four with the three on Chapel Row in the village and a fourth, a barn conversion at the other end of the village called Shepherd’s Den.

Sheena said; “Before we came here we could see the holiday cottage market was set to expand and we renovated all three at Chapel Row. We are now focussing even more on tourism and education. Our Open Farm Sundays have been very successful and we are looking at doing more.

“Our forbears were either very clever or it was just coincidence, but our land, dotted all around the village manages to circle about three-quarters of it. We’re looking forward to introducing our farm to many more visitors in years to come.”