Lifelong dream for Swinton Estate tenant and pig man who finally has his own Yorkshire farm

Thistles are bad, he needs to get a weed wiper, his fences are dilapidated, he reckons he’s going to need every bit of the new SFI grants available for refencing, planting hedgerows and trees, but he also admits to being on Cloud Nine right now.

Ted Staveley and his wife Lexi have just taken on the tenancy of the 606-acre Highfield House Farm in Ilton on the Swinton Estate, through a unique partnership with near farming neighbour and NFU livestock board member for the north east, Andrew Loftus.

It is a true farming homecoming for Ted, whose pig and chicken farming father died when he was just 14 years old, and it is something he has been working towards for some time, which has included running a sheep flock elsewhere on rented land and the start-up of his flourishing enterprise Yorkshire Woodland Pigs.

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“We’ve been here two weeks,” says Ted, whose varied careers have included land management, tree surgeon and farmer, albeit without a farm of his own until a fortnight ago.

Ted Staveley pictured with his dog Pig on his farm at Highfield House Farm, Ilton, MashamTed Staveley pictured with his dog Pig on his farm at Highfield House Farm, Ilton, Masham
Ted Staveley pictured with his dog Pig on his farm at Highfield House Farm, Ilton, Masham

“Before we came here we had rented about 150 acres in Mickley, and another 50 acres during summer, where people have horses and wanted the grass to be kept down. We had about 200 ewes and we have kept that land so we will have that on top of the land we have here.

“It’s just luck that a farm came up so close to us. A couple of other farms had come up but I wasn’t that interested and then this one came up. Our farming partner is Andrew Loftus, who has Shorthorn cows, and we’ve formed Highfield Farm Partnership to farm together.

“This would have been a big job to take on, on our own, as it needs a fair amount of work doing. Having Andrew with us helped in our bid to get it, because we were seen as a more secure business.

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Ted, Lexi and Andrew are certainly not letting the grass grow under their feet, having got off to an impressive start.

Ted Staveley pictured with his dog PigTed Staveley pictured with his dog Pig
Ted Staveley pictured with his dog Pig

“We have already increased the sheep flock to 300 ewes, but as this is quite a big livestock farm and everywhere needs to be grazed I am keen to expand the flock further.

“We are also in the process of buying the flock of 128 Swaledales that is hefted to Ilton Moor, where we have rights over a further acreage. Our others are mainly Mules and then Texel-cross and Suffolk-cross. We keep all our own replacements. We’ve also got a Hampshire Down tup and Oxford Down tup which we put on to about 80 of the Mules.

“We produce grass-fed lamb and sell to Swaledale Meats in Skipton and to eatTelfit in Marske. Swaledale took 20 last week and eatTelfit have just taken another 30. We also sell fat lambs at Leyburn livestock market.

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“We will be lambing from the middle of March next year, as we now have sheds. Previously we lambed in April. The Swaledales will lamb from the middle of April.

Ted Staveley pictured  on his farm at Highfield House Farm, Ilton, MashamTed Staveley pictured  on his farm at Highfield House Farm, Ilton, Masham
Ted Staveley pictured on his farm at Highfield House Farm, Ilton, Masham

“Andrew was introduced to us by a mutual friend some years ago and he bought the Beef Shorthorn cows that were part of this farm.

Ted says that Yorkshire Woodland Pork came about through his work as a tree surgeon.

“My father, Simon, was a pig farmer and chicken farmer near to North Stainley and had 250 sows and 60,000 chickens. I studied agriculture at Newcastle and then went to London for six years and worked in commercial property.

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“I came back to North Yorkshire when I was 27 and became a tree surgeon. I’d worked for my uncle Robert on his farm where I’d done a lot of chain-sawing when in my teens. I’ve been a tree surgeon for the past twelve years, while also doing some part-time work for GSC Grays.

“My dream was to have my own farm and my first step came through setting up Yorkshire Woodland Pigs. It started when someone wanted some woodland clearing and cost being a factor, I said let’s put some pigs in. We did and it has worked well now on several estates. We currently have 12 sows and a couple of boars. We fatten everything and have around 100-plus head of stock with pigs on local estates.

Ted is relishing following in his father’s pig farming footsteps and has, through taking on Highfield House, been able to have all his sows at home.

“We have a mixture of commercial sows including Tamworth, Berkshire, Saddleback and Mangalitza crosses and a Duroc boar and Saddleback boar. We sell to Piercebridge Farm Shop, Swaledale Meats and eatTelfit. I’ve just bought another Saddleback sow and a couple more commercial sows.

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“I love producing large pink pigs, but I also love the rare breed pigs that take a bit more time to mature. I get paid just as well for them, it’s nice to have two markets running.

Getting the farm set the right way for the future is Ted’s goal and he’s a farmer with producing food uppermost in his mind.

“I’m very mindful of schemes available, but I think we should be producing food first and foremost, not just planting trees and hedgerows. My main income for the past dozen years has been trees, but this farm is about producing food.

“We farm pretty high up and have Moors land in Higher Level stewardship and a bit in

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Mid-Tier. We’re looking at the SFI and we are receiving advice from GSC Grays. It is great to be in partnership with Andrew, who is helping us enormously.

Lexi, who qualified a veterinary nurse, gives her perspective on their new life.

“I quite liked the idea of being a farmer’s wife,” she says while smiling. “But two weeks in I can see quite how hard it is.”

That’s probably because Lexi and Ted also have two young daughters Stella and Sasha and while bringing them up Lexi is also teaching PE part-time at local schools. It’s all go for the Staveleys.

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