Jason French runs a mixed farming enterprise on his 180-acre tenanted operation at Stubbins Farm in West Tanfield, near Masham, with his wife Suzanne.
Jason is the third generation to farm here since his grandfather, Joe French, arrived in the mid-1950s after having farmed elsewhere on the estate.
His father, Stephen, held the tenancy up until recently. While it will be regarded to many as a mixed livestock farm the arable enterprise is its bedrock. Around two-thirds of Stubbins Farm is down to cereals with the rest grassland.
Wheat, barley and oats are the three cereal crops and Jason’s aim is always to buy in as little additional feed as possible, keeping it in line with how a traditional mixed farm was envisaged in years gone by.
“‘The amount of cereal we grow dictates the numbers of livestock we keep on the farm,” says Jason. “The oats are a very useful crop. We only grow around 10 acres of oats, but they last us the whole season.
“We feed them to the lambs and to the ewes. The lambs will start on them after they have been out on grass and they then go into the ration for the ewes a couple of months before lambing. It’s good quality, fibrous and eliminates buying in a lot of sugar beet pulp.
“We use the wheat and barley in the mix for the pigs and beef cattle. We buy in such as soyas and minerals and feed the stock using a Caravaggi mill mixer taking advice from our vets, grass analysis and feed mills in coming up with the right diets for each species. Protein levels vary between species, type and age of animals. It’s important to get that right as the starting point.”
Until 1986 Stubbins Farm was a dairy enterprise with over 100 Friesian cows, but a move to beef cattle and then pigs – today the farm’s single most important livestock sector – also brought about the change from being a grassland operation to mainly cereals.
“It was dad who put a lot more cereals in and we handle everything on-farm except the spraying.
We bring in Andrew Walburn of Kirkby Malzeard to do that for us. Our land is largely very heavy clay and holds the water. If it’s a very dry summer we can manage four tonnes per acre for the wheat, in common with others, but if it’s wet we can be down to 2.5 tonnes. I’m currently growing Costello and Graham varieties of wheat for this year’s harvest, which can both handle a bit of wet.
“After last year’s harvest I started drilling this year’s crop in mid-September. I had about three of four days on it and that was it until this year. I put some winter wheat in when it was drier in February.
“That’s later than I’ve ever done before, but I lost about 50 per cent of it when the wet weather came back. Overall though it has proved worth the gamble. The spring barley could do with a lot of showers as it hasn’t had enough water just yet.”
Jason supplies pigs to Martin and Arlene Hare’s Lane End Farm Shop in Tong and Hartley’s butchers in Tholthorpe, near York. It’s an enterprise that sees Jason making one journey every Monday morning delivering 25 pigs a week and is a prime example of matching consistency and ensuring quality.
“We buy 50 Large White X pigs a fortnight from one of our neighbouring farmers, Mark Greensit. They come to us as 40-45 kilos and in Martin’s case we take them to around 100-105 kilos with a little more fat on them than you would get in a supermarket, because that’s what Martin’s customers want.
“Nick Hartley has a variety of customers that sees him wanting a bit more variation between 90-130 kilos. They are fast growing, which is just as well because during lockdown there has been a big demand for pork everywhere.
“Everything we do at Stubbins is about ensuring the animals have a good life and are well kept. Dad prides himself on his animal husbandry skills. Our pigs are all bedded on our own straw.”
The sheep flock runs to 300 breeding ewes with lambing starting usually at the end of March for two to three weeks. Jason is gradually changing the flock over from being 100 per cent Mule.
“We’ve kept around 50 per cent of our Mules pure, but we’ve moved away from using pedigree Texel tups and have gone on to Texel X Beltex tups, the Texel for the size and Beltex for the shape.”
It is obviously proving reasonably successful as Jason reports they are on the leader board now and again at Thirsk livestock market where they sell their lambs starting in June and running right through to hoggs in March.
Aberdeen Angus X cattle are bought-in as stores at around five to six months old and are taken to two years, enjoying a summer out on grass.
Running a mixed farming enterprise of less than 200 acres can prove difficult at times, if there are too many mouths that have to be fed, and Jason realised some years ago, that another form of income non-farm related would be advisable.
“In 2001 just after foot and mouth , I started on with pressure washers. Today that business sees myself and two others using Falch pressure washers to remove line markings on everywhere from roads, tennis courts, school playgrounds and car parks so that others can come along to undertake the remarkings.”
Jason said it was important to get time away from the farm.
“You’ve got to make time to get away. Suzanne and I have two lovely daughters – Shannon and Leah – we also have our border collies, and for my 40th birthday Suzanne bought me a Honda 600RR. In my younger days I loved trials bikes.”