Stokesley farmers' struggle to build up their stock on rented land across three villages while working full-time jobs

Tarmac farming is how one young North Yorkshire couple describe their attempt to farm in their own right.

The Woods keep their stock on land scattered across three different villages

Richard and Hayley Wood of Stokesley have been involved with agriculture since they were very young and currently have their pedigree Bleu du Maines, Millennium Blues and pedigree Beltex along with their 10-year old daughter Jovi’s fledgling flock of Dassenkops on several rented acreages around the villages of Potto, Swainby and Great Ayton.

Hayley explained that while it is not ideal to have sheep in so many different locations because of the time it takes getting around, they are happy to have land for their own stock which they are trading successfully and showing, while also holding down their respective jobs.

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“Richard works for a company that hires out diggers and I work for Green’s Country Store at Thirsk livestock market. We both know it is very difficult to make an income from a small farm and that we are not alone. A huge amount of people have to farm early in a morning before they go off to their day jobs and then when they come home at night.

Richard and Hayley both have full-time jobs while trying to establish their farm

“We are trying to get our foot on the farming ladder and we have been lucky enough to know one or two people who we now rent land from in the area.

“Having our own smallholding would be better, as it currently takes us about two hours to get round all our stock properly, but we will still carry on that way until something comes up.

“We rent around 35-40 acres. It would be good to get up in a morning or come home from Green’s in an evening and just to be able to walk around the stock instead of driving around, which is where the tarmac farming comes in.”

Richard and Hayley are not complaining about their lot. They are in good spirits and love what they do. Richard said he was originally more of an arable man before he and Hayley got together 15 years ago.

“I’ve been farming all my life working for local farmers and contractors either tractor driving, spraying or combine harvesting.

“We set off with the sheep as a hobby, but they have to pay for themselves especially now that we have around 70 breeding ewes. We currently have 10 pedigree Blue du Maines, a dozen Millennium Blues that we’ve bred ourselves and also pedigree Beltex, as well as crossbreds.

“You get a really good cross of the Bleu du Maine and the butchers certainly like them. We were originally supplying a local butcher when we just had a few coming through but now that we’ve upped our numbers we sell through Skipton livestock market where we are made really welcome.

“There are quite a few more buyers at Skipton and we are selling our fat lambs to customers such as Scotlamb, Knavesmire Butchers in York, Keelham Farm Shop and Andrew Atkinson.”

Richard said that it was a sniggy-lipped pet lamb that proved the start of their Bleu du Maine flock that now goes under the name of Woody’s Blues.

“Bleu du Maine breeder Stuart Goldie gave us it. From there we thought we’d best get a tup and some more females. Our first year saw us lamb just seven ewes. We lambed 60 this year. We now sync them to lamb in February at half-term so that Jovi is also involved. Our tup goes in when we come home from Stokesley Show.

“We send around 60 lambs to market from July onwards having pulled out 26 gimmer lambs to run on. By the time we reach September we will select the best for the flock and send the rest to Skipton.”

Richard, Hayley and Jovi were not showing their own stock at the Great Yorkshire Show as their flock isn’t MV accredited. Instead they were showing for their good friend and mentor Robin Johnson of Northallerton.

Hayley said Robin’s advice has been extremely helpful in assuring that they grow sheep that will sell well at market.

“Robin has been brilliant for us in not getting too carried away with producing everything as show sheep. You go to the Great Yorkshire and see all these amazing sheep beautifully turned out with great back ends and top lines, but we now know that sometimes when they are taken home and are put back on to purely grass they might not look as good.

“We try to feed ours on grass all the time. Our show team will live off grass and a bit of cake, but we don’t push them.

“We exhibit at around 15 shows a year and the bulk of the time we keep them on grass, although in the last couple of years we’ve had no grass at spring and so they’ve been on creep.”

Hayley said they were delighted to have shown Robin’s Bleu du Maines.

“Robin’s senior tup won its class and went into the Bleu du Maine championship.”