WHEN FORMER business owner Barry Stonard bought a few acres of land near Knaresborough around 12 years ago it was the start of a passion that has seen he and his wife Elaine take a vastly different route to their previous life.
Guilford-born and having served his engineering apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer with Dennis Motors, a firm building fire engines and ambulances, Barry got involved in producing technical documents for military vehicles, from tanks to armoured personnel carriers.
He had moved up to Harrogate for what he planned would be a two-year term to set up a northern office, but met and fell in love with Elaine and ended up running his own company that included the production of technical manuals for blue chip companies including British Aerospace.
His business ballooned to 120 employees before ill health saw him sell up. The fervour with which Barry made his move into agriculture and the development of what he and Elaine believe is now a sustainable enterprise is indicative of his business-like approach.
“We started with 15 acres at Thistle Hill between Knaresborough bypass and the town, then added another 20 acres. The farmer who we bought the land from had good quality commercial Texel sheep and so we started with three Texel ewes.
“I’d read a few books and looked at a few videos about sheep but that was as far as my knowledge of them went. In somewhere like Guildford you would never have known sheep existed.
“As we grew our sheep numbers we started buying Suffolks. They are a very good looking and proud breed. It’s often said that if you see a row of different sheep it is the Suffolk that stands out. We decided on going pedigree right from the start and I’m a firm believer that you need a good nucleus of very well bred animals whatever they are.”
With limited knowledge Barry and Elaine sought assistance from those better qualified to buy for them, but as they grew in confidence they attended livestock markets and visited other farms. Showing their Suffolk sheep started with an appearance at Masham Sheep Fair.
“We’d bought some Suffolks from Graham Yewdall who went down to Sandringham to look after the Queen’s sheep and he prepared a ewe lamb for us to take to the sheep fair. Elaine showed it and we took first prize. We couldn’t believe it and that led to us showing for a number of years. Our best achievement was getting a ticket at the Great Yorkshire Show where we finished one place better than our good friend Lester Peel who has won so many trophies for his Suffolks.”
Barry and Elaine bought Holme Grange Farm from Cecil Burgess in the village of Galphay near Ripon in 2007. It had previously been a dairy farm and had been in the Burgess family since 1834. Barry’s engineering background came in useful for the ways in which they have developed the properties on the farm, including the Wheelhouse B&B accommodation that has been open for the past three years along with a further en-suite room and Otter Cottage that sleeps four.
Cattle came next and today the couple run a herd of pedigree Hereford cows that runs to 12 cows and their calves.
“I wanted cows when we came here but I was concerned about making sure they would be something Elaine could handle.
“Herefords are perhaps the best natured and most docile around so we went for them. Lester (Peel) had them at the time too and we talked with him, plus Jayne Walker at Kirby Sigston.
“We bought four cows from Len Cox, father of the BBC Radio 2 presenter Sara, in Little Lever near Bolton, Lancashire. One of the cows we bought had been Sara’s little cow when she was at home.
“We then hired a bull called Colorado from Jayne (Walker). He had won at the Great Yorkshire Show and came here for 10 weeks to serve our cows. Since we started breeding we have always sold the bull calves and although we had been told 20 months was around the optimum time to sell we’ve had people happy to pay what I wanted for them at that age, but take them from us at eight to nine months.
“They really are super animals and apart from selling just one female and losing one we’ve kept all our female stock as either replacements or simply to add to our numbers.”
Kunekune pigs, ducks, geese and hens have all added to the livestock at Holme Grange and Elaine sells eggs from the farm gate. She also has five donkeys that are there simply for the enjoyment of having them.
The sheep numbers on the farm run to 10 Suffolk ewes and their lambs; 20 Suffolk X Mules plus their lambs; and Flora their first ever Texel who is now 12-years-old.
Barry believes the farm business along with the new holiday accommodation diversification can provide a profitable future.
“We wanted to make sure this place paid its way and were heading that way now. The business is already almost 50/50 between the two enterprises and Elaine sees the B&B moving towards a greater proportion in the future.”
Elaine has much of the work to do herself due to Barry’s health and she loves it. She has also earned a reputation for her cake making.
“Barry had CCTV installed and yes I do dread that nudge from him at 3.30 in the morning for lambing but you do it and the adrenaline takes over. I love it here. Our holiday accommodation is really going well. Otter Cottage has a four-star rating and we’ve been very well promoted through Tourist Information, Trip Advisor and Farmstay UK.
“My cakes seem to have gone well. I now bake five to 10 cakes every Friday during the main tourist season and have orders for some each week, the rest are usually all gone on the Saturday by 10.30 in the morning and there’s even sometimes a queue.”
For more details about the couple’s B&B visit www.holmegrangefarm.co.uk