Meet the woman bringing a traditional and magical Christmas on the farm experience to Herriot Country

Bringing back a traditional family Christmas is at the heart of a North Yorkshire farmer and feed mill owner.

Dawn Croft was born and raised on a family hill farm, but it is at Burtree Farm on the A19 just south of Thirsk, where she has sheep and cattle, an animal feed mill, exclusive glamping tipis and country house accommodation, that is now home to the kind of Christmas she believes people want to enjoy.

Dawn said she recalls Christmas when she was a young girl, growing up in the hamlet of Hurst, in the heart of Swaledale where she still has land today.

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“I was brought up in a traditional Christmas atmosphere when it was all about the simple things like talking, laughing and having fun.

Dawn's business includes a B&B, glamping, feed mill and seasonal family eventsDawn's business includes a B&B, glamping, feed mill and seasonal family events
Dawn's business includes a B&B, glamping, feed mill and seasonal family events

“That’s what we are trying to do here at Burtree. I want us to make our Christmas more personal and that’s about providing the kind of place where parents and grandparents can bring their children and grandchildren without being overrun by hordes of people and everyone on top of each other.

“Our folly is where granny and granddad can come and sit and keep toasty warm, have a drink and something to eat, while watching their grandchildren have a supervised ride on a Shetland pony, or make a Christmas card to post in our letterbox, or play traditional games along with bubbles and fun in our party tent."

Dawn said that the Burtree Christmas is meant to be an exclusive experience and as uncommercialised as she and her team can make it.

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“I really truly believe that many people want to go back to when Christmas wasn’t all about rushing around everywhere but coming to enjoy special times with family and making memories that last forever.

Dawn at the livestock martDawn at the livestock mart
Dawn at the livestock mart

“It’s not all about the present you get from Santa when you visit, although ours is a quality personal gift. It is more about providing the kind of evening that everyone will remember. For the children there is the magic of the lights and trees of our winter wonderland, a children’s disco and karaoke, Santa’s grotto in the igloo and a real snow machine. There will certainly be snow at Burtree this Christmas.

“We will also be showing a nativity movie on the big screen and parents and grandparents can pick up their own Christmas trees and homemade Christmas wreaths will be available too. We are fortunate that because this is also a farm we are blessed with lots of space and the children are in enclosed yet spacious grounds.”

Dawn said the events side of Burtree has grown in recent times with other special themes including Easter and Halloween, while also opening up Burtree Country House for holiday accommodation and two fabulous glamping tipis with amazing panoramic views.

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“We have built the folly like the ruins of a castle in our garden and with its gorgeous log fire and bar it’s where we host various events and has its own hot tub.

“The tipis are amazing and very secluded. The views across to the White Horse of Kilburn and the magnificent countryside are mentioned by all our visitors. The tipis have firepits, barbecues and hot tubs.

“With so many changes coming to agriculture through what still is to happen after Brexit, plus rising costs of keeping livestock, we had to find other sources of income and the leisure sector was the obvious way forward.

“Geraint and I, our daughter Jess and Uncle John have moved out of Burtree Country House, and now live in former stables we have converted in the courtyard. This has allowed us to open the house, which is a wonderful country home, to visitors with four bedrooms one of which is the exclusive master bedroom White Horse suite."

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Dawn owns 65 acres at Burtree, plus the family farm at Hurst and also rents elsewhere. Her livestock enterprise runs to 250 Texel, Beltex and Charollais crossed breeding ewes and a suckler herd of 20 Belgian Blue and Limousin crossed cows with the aim of breeding show calves to sell on.

Burtree Farm rears calves that are bought at a couple of weeks old and others that are sourced from local farms and livestock markets. It is her ability and prowess with producing animal feed through her own Croft Feeds mill that she said stands her own stock in good stead.

“We rear the baby calves on our own milk powder that we manufacture here at Burtree Mill. We are currently developing a specialist calf unit and I personally monitor calf progress through daily weight gain. It offers me first hand proof of the bespoke nutrition we can offer. All of our cows and calves benefit from the mill and we also buy in store cattle to finish."

Dawn recently went back to university to study for her Masters degree in animal nutrition and said she is committed as ever to working with livestock farmers and providing a bespoke diet for farmers.

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“We manufacture our own minerals, protein, concentrate and blends. I realise how difficult it can sometimes appear to make cattle stack up when barley is over £200 per tonne, but if you skimp on the right feed by trying to save money it costs you far more in the long run. Most livestock farmers want their stock to be in, fed and then gone as fast as possible. If they are not because of skimping on feed, you only find they eat more, use more straw and take longer to finish costing more."

Dawn said she is currently looking for someone to help her to push Croft Feeds further forward.

“I’m a mum with a young daughter. I could do with someone, maybe a farmer’s daughter or son, who is able to get across the benefits of producing bespoke feed to sell our mill produce to farmers, as well as me. Now that would be a great Christmas present at the moment. Maybe I’ll send this Christmas wish to Santa.