Farm of the Week: Angus is everything for North York Moors farmers

Anne Turnbull with Aberdeen Angus in readiness for show season.
Anne Turnbull with Aberdeen Angus in readiness for show season.
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ELVIS HASN’T yet left the building at Fox Foot Hay Farm but he and his good friend Danny are now part of the Turnbulls’ Aberdeen Angus show team this year.

Whether they will have other cattle all shook up is another matter but they are two young homebred bulls that will be paraded at 20-plus shows by one of the most enthusiastic show season families.

For many breeders it kicks off in just three weeks’ time at the Nottinghamshire County Show held at Newark, swiftly followed by the first white rose show at Otley the following week. It’s a busy time on this tenanted farm on the outskirts of Coxwold village near Thirsk.

Peter Turnbull has farmed here all his life taking over from his father Charles who moved from Sinnington Mill in 1950. The farm runs to 330 acres of what Peter terms black warp Grade 3 or 4 land. The arable side accounts for 150 acres with wheat, naked oats and beans this year. Cattle, pigs and sheep also play a part, but only the cattle are owned by the Turnbulls.

Today’s herd of 60 suckler cows includes 40 pedigree Aberdeen Angus and the rest Angus X Belgian Blue with sales of stock to other breeders and beef destined for Waitrose and Asda via Dovecote Park, ABP in York and Scotbeef. Peter also buys Angus store cattle at 14-months-old to sell at 20 months.

“We also sell about ten pedigree Angus bulls each year and 10-15 heifers that generally go to people who are looking to start herds. We run about 20 pedigree Angus bulls for hiring out and have three stock bulls that never leave the farm.”

Peter supports local livestock markets by also taking bulls to York, Malton, Thirsk and Northallerton.

“Whenever there is a special sale at Thirsk we will take a bull and we’re showing at Beef Expo in York on May 21. Shows and sales are the best advert you can have for livestock.”

The rest of the farm operation includes fattening 750 pigs on a bed and breakfast arrangement arriving at 40kg and leaving at 110kg for pig farmer Ian Mosey; and grazing around 1,000 Texel X Mule sheep from August until fat on behalf of a Welsh sheep farmer.

“We’re on quite a level footing,” says Peter. “But we turn over a tremendous amount of money for very little profit. The supermarkets run the country and they govern the price. We do a bit better for our beef than your average animal because of the excellent trade name the Angus has and the current emphasis on native breeds.

“I took over from my father when I was 30, nearly 50 years ago. When arable prices were good I ploughed nearly everything out, but then the farm became wetter and we’ve tended to go the other way.

“We entered into stewardship schemes. In the past five years we have been in the Higher Level scheme. It has worked very well. We’ve put in scrapes for skylarks, lapwings and waders and we’ve had 86 species of bird recorded. We now have the highest number of plovers in the north of England.”

If this gives any impression that Peter’s passion is changing from farming to birds and wildlife you’d be wrong. Like many farmers he enjoys the benefits that come from being part of the stewardship schemes but it is still livestock that brings out his natural verve. It’s the same for his son Alan and partner Anne; and for Peter’s wife Jean. Start talking Aberdeen Angus and light bulbs are turned on in each of them, but it’s not just the cattle they talk about it’s also the people they come into contact with.

“It’s a belting social scene,” says Anne, who comes from Scaling Dam originally, the daughter of dairy farmer John Bird.

“We have made some great friends and at this time of year you’re really looking forward to seeing everyone. There’s a great community spirit and we all help each other. When we first started showing about 13 years ago we knew nothing and people like Craig Bentley, Rachel Mudd, Andrew Scarborough and others pointed us in the right direction. We started by showing bought-in commercial cattle at Wetherby Show where we got reserve champion. It showed us that Peter has a good eye for what will do well.

“We first took an Angus to a show about ten years ago but what made the big difference to us was taking our homebred bull Fox Foot Enchanted, also known as Teddy, to the Great Yorkshire Show. He’s five-years-old now and we took him as a yearling and three years on the trot. I’m not saying he’s won us a great deal but he has certainly helped us promote our cattle particularly for the hiring of our bulls.

“I love showing and last year was our best season ever. We won eight Aberdeen Angus or Native Breed championships and had a great team. That includes the people as much as the cattle. Lucy Corner who won at Harrogate both with her own stock and as young handler of the year is as lovely a girl and cattle handler as you will find. She’s very much part of our team. Winning the supreme championship at Cleveland County Show was my highlight as we won with a two-year-old homebred heifer. It’s not the biggest show in the world but to beat the commercials and dairy was special.”

The Turnbulls’ attention is now fully turned on to the 2015 season.

“We started preparing Elvis and Danny this week. You go around them, spend time with them, talk to them and stroke them. I know this might sound silly but it’s amazing how much difference it makes. Jean spends most time with them and when our animals hear her voice at a show they really do relax. We all spend a lot of time with them and Alan does so much work behind the scenes preparing them for me to take in to the ring.”

Peter has an ambition to breed a beast that will win the commercial classes via his Belgian Blue bull. He might have lots of plovers but the cattle certainly still come first.

Bed and breakfast doesn’t just apply to sheep and pigs. Jean has been running bed and breakfast for people using two of their rooms for 25 years.