A shift in emphasis in the wake of foot and mouth worked well for Tom Boothman’s Linton Hall farm. Chris Berry reports.
Linton in Craven is one of the prettiest Dales villages, tucked away from the beaten track that connects Burnsall to Grassington.
It’s also home to Tom Boothman who farms at Linton Hall. While the village may look as though little has changed in many years, his farm shows how agricultural employment has altered considerably.
Tom’s enterprise runs to just over 500 acres. He has around 500 Cheviot X Texel ewes plus a small flock of pedigree Oxford Downs and 40 Belted Galloway cows. He’s not married, doesn’t have any offspring and runs the whole farm under his own steam. It may sound a cliché but farming is all he ever wanted to do. He’s just found a few different ways of doing it to make it work.
“My goal following the effects of the foot and mouth disease year, when all of the stock had to go under a contiguous cull, was to provide a sustainable future for Linton Hall Farm,” he said.
“My grandfather Thomas came here as a child in the 1880s and bought Linton Hall in the 1960s at what must have been a grand old age. In those days it ran to just 150 acres and five or six men would have been employed here in addition to my grandfather, my father James and his elder brother Edgar.
“Today there’s just me. I’ve been grateful for some additional help just recently during lambing from a young lad called Tommy Webster, who has helped out for a couple nights a week and is very eager.
“When we were without livestock for almost a year it was time to think and make changes for the way ahead. I worked with a dedicated team of advisers from David Hill’s in Skipton who pointed me in the direction of obtaining planning permission for several barns in the village that no longer met agricultural requirements. We were looking at how we could make the most of what we had and subsequently received the permission and converted them into dwellings.”
But before you get the idea that this was just a matter of coming up with new housing, making a tidy profit and walking away, think again.
“We let them out to local people who in turn are enriching our small Dales community,” he said. “They are all still retained as part of the farm, and were built by a local firm Foster Builders of Skipton.”
While the barn conversions now make a useful contribution to the farm, closer to Tom’s heart was the erection of a new farmyard and buildings nestled into the hillside and surrounded by trees just a little way out of the village.
“They provide quality accommodation for my young Belted Galloway cattle and winter accommodation for the lambing flock,” Tom said. “Yorkshire Steel Buildings of Bedale supplied and erected the new structures and Daggetts of Burnsall fitted the penning and handling facilities. I highly recommend both of them to others for their dedication to detail and their high standard of finish.”
When Linton Hall’s stock was culled Tom and his father James, who is now in his mid-80s, shifted their farming emphasis. When we last visited ten years ago as Country Week launched they were getting to grips with their new regime. Their substantial flock of between 500-600 Swaledale ewes and a commercial continental suckler herd had been replaced by a shift towards producing butchers lambs and beef that is now in demand from restaurants. It’s a change that seems to have worked well.
“We established a Belted Galloway herd around 2003 when we purchased 14 from Paul Coppen’s very well noted Gilmonby herd in County Durham,” Tom said. “It all came about through the Limestone Country Project managed and run by Yorkshire Dales National Park that gave a grant towards the purchase. I went for the Belties because they are good hardy cattle, nice to look at and because of my interest in native breeds.”
What Tom has found in addition, in common with a number of others who have gone down the native breed route, is that there is a developing niche market for traditional beef.
“I now supply two premium quality businesses in Skipton – Stanforth Butchers and Swaledale Foods who specialise in supplying traditional breeds of beef and lamb to high class restaurants as far as London. We now have around 40 cows plus two years worth of followers with stock going at around 28 months when they are around 600 kgs.
“They are all grass fed with a little bit of concentrates. They start calving in late April and we’re finished in a month. We have two stock bulls. We also sell two year old heifers privately to breeders in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK.”
Tom’s first session of lambing has just come to a close. He has a brief respite for a week or two before the second batch starts in April.
“We just try to provide what the market wants. I have a soft spot for Oxford Downs and it is my native breed interest that is the reason behind them being here. They were the main crossing sire in the country at one time and I’m told that when the Kelso Ram Sales first started there were as many as 2000 there. This last year there were just four.”
The only aspect of the farm that Tom leaves to others is tractor work. He’d much rather be on his quad bike tending his cattle and sheep.
One of his real passions is the countryside landscape. He’s in the Higher Level Stewardship scheme and takes it very seriously.
He said: “In recent years we have restored several wildflower meadows and herbage pastures; and built well over a mile of drystone walls thanks to one of the Dales’ most talented wallers Nigel Fairbank of Hebden. What Nigel has done is simply fabulous and adds to this marvellous area.
“People don’t come to the Yorkshire Dales to buy cheap food you know, they come to look at this beautiful landscape. We’re farming the landscape as much as we are farming the animals.’