Return to Great Yorkshire Show for family with champion history after overcoming outbreak of bovine TB in their herd

This year’s return of the Great Yorkshire Show will hopefully have an extra special significance for a North Yorkshire dairy farmer whose family have a long-standing tradition of exhibiting their Ayrshire cows.

The Waterhouses are ready to show again after an outbreak of bovine TB in their herd
The Waterhouses are ready to show again after an outbreak of bovine TB in their herd

James Waterhouse, of Fourth Milestone Farm, near York is the third generation to have competed at Harrogate, as well as others such as Ryedale and Stokesley, but was noticeably absent at the last Great Yorkshire to be held in 2019 as a result of bovine TB found in the herd at the end of 2018.

James is pragmatic over how he coped with the news that every cattle farmer fears. He said it was fortunate that his farming business partner at the time, Mark Cash, was around.

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“We had never had a case of bovine TB in the herd before and if my wife Nicola and I had been on our own on the farm I think it would have been devastating but Mark had experienced it elsewhere previously and was able to talk through what would happen.

The family have a history of showing but were unable to enter classes in 2019

“Luckily, we only lost 18 of our 350 cows and heifers that had calved that year.

“We were aware that it could have been as much as twenty per cent of the herd, which would have been far worse. We lost a few that we had shown also.”

James had his fingers well and truly crossed on Tuesday this week when his calves and cow that he and his daughters, Mia and Anna, hope to show at Harrogate took a pre-movement bovine TB test, the results of which they will have found out yesterday.

“It will be brilliant to be back if we are. The Great Yorkshire Show has always been special in our family. My grandad, my auntie and my dad were all big into showing and we had a lot of success in the 1980s when we won the breed championship five years consecutively and took the Interbreed title in 1989. We’ve since had the reserve breed champion twice.

“The Great Yorkshire just seems to have this big beating heart in the middle of it and it is where everybody meets up.

“We still went to the show the year we couldn’t compete because it is that special to us all. I’ve been going since I was a teenager and we took the girls as babies.

“I enjoy the thrill of winning and competing but it is the friends you make and the people you meet each year that are just as important.”

This year marks 20 years since James took over the family farm. James said the changes made in that time and continue to make have all been extremely relevant to continuing in dairying.

“Everything we do is about the bottom line. The main thing for our profitability is days in milk for each cow. We have upped our numbers from dad’s day when he had a herd of 100 milkers. We now have 315 milking cows of which 50 are pedigree Ayrshires with the rest being New Zealand Kiwi crosses of Friesian-cross-Jerseys, although we are moving away from the Jerseys.”

Rotational grazing and block calving are the two main new methods of dairy farming adopted by James since first having been involved with Tom Rawson and Evolution Farming and then partnering up with Mark Cash.

James and Nicola now have Tom Coast-Brown as farm manager alongside James. Tom is from Somerset and has worked on farms in Derbyshire and Cheshire.

James said that rotational grazing means the cows eat the grass when it is at its optimum and that the movement of the cows allows the grass to replenish to a good fresh crop once again a short while later.

“Rotational grazing is high density grazing with greater frequency of movement.

“Tom measures the sward and all 350 cows go in to the paddock, eat it off in 12 hours, the fence is then lifted and they eat off the other half of the paddock.

“The cows move from field to field daily and then they don’t go back to the same field until it is ready to take them again, which is usually around 21 days in summer, but can be 40-50 days the rest of the time.”

James said block calving in spring each year rather than all-year round was a personal decision.

“Block calving means we have higher milk yield spiking at a certain time of the year, which is not always what is wanted by the dairies, but it works for us as we have the grass and it is cheap feed.

“If we were split calving all through the year we would never have a rest.

“This way we can enjoy times such as Christmas and New Year when the girls are on school holidays and it makes life more relaxing for us.

“It means that from February when we start calving all the work is in front of us, which can appear a bit daunting but on a yearly basis we now have periods like arable farmers when your work is not as full-on, so you can recharge your batteries.

“It’s a more intense time but it’s also a more efficient usage of it because we can concentrate on one thing at once.”

James said the land helps his system for the cows too, plus the relatively new milking parlour put in six years ago.

“We are on more favoured sandy soils on the 250 acres we own and the 240 acres that we rent on adjoining land.

“It drains easily making it ideal for block calving and we’ve worked hard on cow tracks around the farm using recycled astroturf.

“Our cows only come in to calve and milk. We use a Waikato open-sided parlour which we had commissioned in July 2015 and is ideal to milk in during summer. Our old parlour saw us milking four hours in a morning and three hours at night.

“We are now milking two hours morning and evening.”