Farm of the Week: Degree of isolation is the perfect setting for livestock

Farmer Ian Clough, in front of his flock of Dutch Texel Sheep.
Farmer Ian Clough, in front of his flock of Dutch Texel Sheep.
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SWAPPING BURN Bridge near Harrogate for the more remote rural community of Stape in the North York Moors was a dream come true for Ian and Shelley Clough when they moved here in 2002.

Both had come from farming families and had wanted to be able to farm in their own right since getting together and then marrying in 1999. The acquisition of Raindale Head Farm finally allowed them to pursue their ambition.

“My parents have a small farm at Burn Bridge and Shelley’s parents were dairy farmers in Cleckheaton where one of her brothers still farms,” says Ian. “Shelley and I had been breeding sheep on my parents farm but we needed something bigger and couldn’t afford to buy any land near where I had grown up.”

Shelley continued working on her mum and dad’s farm and Ian built up a fencing contracting and tree felling business as they started to look at possibilities further afield.

“When this farm came on to the open market I initially discounted it but after a couple of months I decided to take a look with my father. I fell in love with it as soon as I got here, which worried Shelley because we had looked at a couple before that I liked but she didn’t. I never mind a project and there was quite a bit to do here but it ticked a few boxes for me in that I had wanted a degree of isolation and for the land to be pretty much in a ring fence.”

Shelley’s first impression of the land where she was perhaps going to be moving was of shock, not because of the farm itself but finding herself in an unsuspecting time warp.

“My introduction to the area was watching the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany marching directly at me as we drove in to Pickering. It was the town’s war weekend but it gave me the most surreal experience. Eight miles further on we got to Stape and to Raindale Head Farm and I fell in love with it too.”

A lot of work was needed to put the property and farm along the lines of how Ian and Shelley wanted it to be and their two boys Max, 13, and Jake, 11, but they have gone at it with gusto. The farm runs to 150 acres and they rent a further 50 acres. The land is approximately 800ft above sea level and is registered as Severely Disadvantaged status.

Ian has found that the neighbours he has are the best he could have imagined.

“Although there are not that many of us we all work well together. It’s a great community spirit. Stape might appear remote to some but it’s not that remote and we’ve grown our farm with lots of help and advice from people like Eric here (neighbour Eric Barrett arrived at the farm bang on cue).”

Raindale Head Farm is all down to grass and has 100 pedigree Dutch Texel ewes, 150 commercial Texel X ewes, 10 pedigree British Rouge ewes; 25 Beef Shorthorn cows and eight Charolais cows. It’s a mix that combines Ian and Shelley’s past with their son Max’s future. He may only be 13 but he’s already having an influence on their stocking decisions.

Max’s flock of British Rouge saw him take tickets at Ryedale Show and reserve champion at Thornton-le-Dale Show this year. He’s keen to grow his flock, as well as add to the expanding Beef Shorthorn herd. He speaks wisely for one so young.

“The Rouge is a very milky sheep with a good maternal instinct and the Beef Shorthorn cow shows similar traits. I liked the look of them and had heard they were good milkers. Dad likes them too as he has gone into them even more.”

Ian backs him up, saying: “I can see the Shorthorn fitting the bill as a good natured, not too big, milky suckler cow. We’re also using the Beef Shorthorn bull on some of Shelley’s Charolais cows as we tried one and it showed up really well.”

Leading Beef Shorthorns around show rings is a future hope, but this week the family will be preparing for Countryside Live where they did well last year with Dutch Texels.

Shelley tells of how showing sheep has played a major role in their lives: “Ian and I got together through showing at the Great Yorkshire Show. I had French Texels and Charolais cattle and Ian was showing Dutch Texels. Showing was my and dad’s hobby and how he used to get a holiday. We went to the Great Yorkshire, Royal, Lincolnshire and Cheshire.

“Although Ian and I use shows mainly as a shop window it’s still good to do and both boys have got involved. They’ve done well already in young handlers competitions and we’re all looking forward to next weekend’s Countryside Live event at the Great Yorkshire showground.”

Last year their Dutch Texels were the overall continental pairs champions and they also had the single lamb champion from the same pair. Ian was fair capped as they say in these parts.

“That’s the first time that the single lamb champion has come from a pairs champion and it was a nice surprise. We never anticipate winning and we’d had the odd minor ticket before but last year was just great.

“We never breed specifically for what shows want. We breed for type and want a good carcase, tight skin and excellent mobility. Other specifics we look for include sticking to a breeding policy whereby we never buy a stock ram that has been born by caesarean as we feel its mother’s pelvis must have been too small and as such that would be an undesirable trait to bring into our flock.”

Their policies seem to work well. They recently won the female championship at the Carlisle breed sale and it went on to achieve reserve champion overall.

The Dutch Texels are either sold privately to other breeders or at the breed sales in Carlisle and Ruthin. Around 30 ewe lambs a year are kept as replacements with those that don’t measure up to the mark sold as stores or transferred to the commercial flock.

Countryside Live takes place at the Great Yorkshire Showground next weekend, October 17-18.