Farm of the Week: Long way round but farm life comes full circle

Peter Farmery, at Brantingham in East Yorkshire with some of his Texel sheeep on the hills overlooking Brough and the River Humber (GL1007/99g)
Peter Farmery, at Brantingham in East Yorkshire with some of his Texel sheeep on the hills overlooking Brough and the River Humber (GL1007/99g)
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SIZE ISN’T everything as many farmers will attest. Peter Farmery of Sycamore House in the hamlet of Sandholme near Gilberdyke in the East Riding is however very self-deprecating about the size of his own farm enterprise.

“I call myself a hobby farmer because the 70 acres I rent in various locations isn’t really a full-scale working farm today is it? I would have liked to have tenanted or owned a farm 20 years ago, but I was working 80 hours a week on the docks in Hull and the money was better than I felt I could have got out of farming.”

Born in Gilberdyke the son of a brickyard labourer, Peter’s penchant for farming began when watching his grandfather Harold Westoby on his tenanted farm in Sandholme’s neighbouring village of Hive where he kept cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. Peter’s family, including mum Enid and father Ken, moved in with Harold following his wife’s passing when Peter was aged just four. Later, they all moved to Sycamore House in 1965.

“When my granddad was alive farming was all I wanted to do. I remember as a child walking down the dairy with my little plastic cup. There were six cows tied up and granddad would milk the cow into it. I’d then drink it with the froth on top, hair and everything. It doesn’t look like it has hurt me does it? I wish I’d taken the plunge and gone into farming as a young man. I envy the younger ones trying to make a go of it today.”

Peter is now giving it a go in his own way and while keen to set the size of his farm into context and not give any false impression he’s no less running a farm than those with larger acreages. In common with many, Peter’s also taking on other roles to pursue his passion for livestock, particularly keeping cattle and sheep. He supplements his income with contract baling; working for another local farmer’s 700 acres; and has become an agent for an animal health and nutrition company. “I’ve always had livestock and when we came here from Hive all we had was a couple of acres. Granddad had pigs and market garden produce including potatoes, carrots, beetroot, sprouts and cabbages. The pigs were Large Whites and Landrace that we took to pork or stores dependent on the state of the market at the time. I’d go with him to Beverley Livestock Market on a Wednesday when I wasn’t at school. He had 30 breeding sows and in those days the sows would produce litters that could vary from two to 15. There was no scanning, breeding or feeding programmes as the industry has today.”

Peter started working life as an apprentice agricultural engineer with Clayton’s of Gilberdyke, before going self-employed and working as a pea vining driver. He drove wagons for local hauliers Scruton for seven years carrying mainly steel and timber. Dock work was next at Howden Dyke, operating a forklift for two years, before 20 years as fitter and then engineering manager with Humberside Sea & Land, now PD Ports, at the Queen Elizabeth Dock Container Terminal.

“When granddad gave over I kept up to 20 sows until I went to work on Hull docks. I had also taken on a few sheep to keep the grass down. I then started breeding them and followed up by going into cattle.

“I now have 35 acres rented at Brantingham and other lots of 20, 10 and five acres elsewhere as well as the couple of acres here. I started with Herefords in 2006 and currently have half a dozen pedigree cows and a pedigree bull called Wilson that I acquired from Cumbria. We have six calves from this year and three left from the previous year. The stock tends to go at around 18-24 months. I’ve sold one heifer to a pedigree breeder this year and our best result with them so far has been when we won at Countryside Live in Harrogate a few years ago. Herefords are back in fashion at the moment.”

Peter also has a commercial suckler herd of eight Limousin X Belgian Blue cows and shows both the pedigrees and the commercials. His biggest success with the commercials is a Reserve champion at Lincolnshire Show. He missed the shows this year due mainly to pressure of work but he’s looking forward to being back in 2016.

“I’ve definitely missed competing. We normally start with Newark and get to quite a few including the Great Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and a lot of the more local shows including Driffield. My objective is to breed and hopefully do well with my own home bred show stock and now that we have a registered bull it means we can compete in the pedigree Hereford classes.”

The sheep are pedigree Dutch Texel and Texel X and include some crossed by the Beltex tup. Peter enjoys competing in the carcase classes while his elder son Andrew and his girlfriend Laura show them live in the pens at Eastrington Show and others. The flock runs to 40 breeding ewes and 20 gimmers.

“The rest of my time is spent either contract baling with good friends Charles Walker and his partner Julie who drive the wrapper or undertake whatever cutting is needed - I use a McHale V660 and we get to farms in Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire baling somewhere in the region of 5,000-8,000 bales of haylage or straw a year; helping out a neighbouring arable farmer with his baling, spreading, corn leading and other crop work including combining; or I’m on the road visiting farms everywhere from as far south as Market Rasen in Lincolnshire to as far north as Market Weighton in my role as agent for AgriLloyd.”

Peter’s friend Pam Starkey of Elloughton also has sheep and he helps with lambing, which starts for her in December. Peter has two sons, Andrew and Luke, who both have an interest in showing cattle and sheep.

Peter is happy with life at the present and he’s also clearly a standard bearer for his favourite native breed.

“If I had my way the beef I’d have on my plate would always be Hereford. It’s a much more tender, sweeter meat than most.”