A ballroom dancing pair with a passion for the environment are on the cusp of meaty success. Ben Barnett finds out more.
Edward and Nicola Duggleby are savouring the start of something big having just taken their first Belted Galloway steer to slaughter.
The couple, who live at Brickyard Farm in Beswick near Driffield, were taken with the distinctive look and taste of the cattle when they came across them on their honeymoon in Scotland and had to start their own herd.
Now, half of the first batch of beef from the rare breed cattle has been snapped up by James Mackenzie at the Michelin-starred Pipe and Glass restaurant in South Dalton.
Having wed three years ago, the couple now boast a herd of 35 ‘Belties’ which roam the farm, one of three farmsteads in the Duggleby family’s 550-acre rented estate, collectively called Beswick Hall Farms.
Nicola, who was born in nearby Cherry Burton, says: “We did a lot of research and rang the breed society and we thought because we’re open to easterly winds here we needed something with a thick coat, so we chose something that was used to the wilds of Scotland and Belties are easy calvers.
“We thought if we were going to have a suckler herd and get into beef production, we would look to add value to them rather than just sending them to auction. The meat you get from Belties is aged longer, the quality of the marbling is better and the taste makes them so desirable. We tried it in a farm shop in Scotland and that was it.”
Their addition to the farm is the latest innovation since Edward returned to the land he grew up on, after graduating from Nottingham University with a degree in Agriculture in 1997. For 200 years, the land has been leased to the family and since Edward’s return, he has gradually taken on responsibilities for the family business from his father, John.
“When I graduated and came home from university, BSE was happening and the cattle enterprise wasn’t doing well so we looked for something that would complement the rest of the business,” he said.
The new direction was rearing ducks on a contract basis for producers Cherry Valley. Fifteen years on, 18,000 ducks are kept in two units.
Edward explains: “The ducks are mainly for the wholesale market, Chinese restaurants for Peking duck dishes and also supermarkets.
“We rear them from a day old through to 39-48 days old and we get six batches through in a year.”
In the last month, the duck enterprise has successfully gained Red Tractor assurance. The farm also has B&B pigs and grows oilseed rape, barley and wheat, and vining peas for Birds Eye.
The couple keep 27 Oxford sheep and their lamb is in hot demand, with the meat supplied to local restaurants and a waiting list for the next cuts.
“My grandfather bred them,” says Nicola. “They went out in the ’70s when the continental sheep took over because of the shorter time they take to mature. Oxfords take a little longer but they are making a comeback like a lot of rare breeds are.
“I bought seven last year and started showing for the first time. I took a pair of ewes to Howden Show and got a Second with the ewes and fat lambs, which also picked up a Second at Ripley Show.”
Further sheep success came in the form of Pearl, an Oxford ewe which won Champion Oxford and the Ciba-Geigy trophy at Driffield Show and a pair of Oxford ewe lambs won Champion and Reserve Supreme Champion at Lincolnshire.
The season also brought success for their cattle, with Bertha, one of the Belties, coming second to a Mochrum heifer, the top herd in the country, at the Great Yorkshire Show.
It’s not just the livestock that’s changed at Beswick Hall Farms since Edward’s return. The farm was signed up to a ten-year Higher Level Stewardship scheme, managed by Natural England, early last year.
“One of the biggest challenges has been implementing HLS to my liking,” says Edward. “I like to create whatever the option is to the best of my ability because I want to see the results. I want to see birds nesting here and lots of bumblebees and traditional farm flowers. It’s nice to see a range of wildlife living on the areas we have created for them.
“In the ’70s it was all production, production, production and as a country we ended up with grain mountains by the early ’90s. That’s when set aside came in.
“It was enforced on us but when countryside stewardship was introduced I looked around a farm in Eastburn and saw how passionate the farmer there was about it. He said he hadn’t lost any of his productivity despite not using fertilisers on grassland.
“The production of fertilisers creates a big carbon footprint, they are expensive and a pollution risk to the natural environment. We have a lot of dykes, water courses and natural springs across the farm that supply our drinking water.
“All our stock, including the ducks, drink natural spring water. There’s an abundance of wildlife including otters and kingfishers at neighbouring Tophill Low Nature Reserve, plus there is a trout hatchery nearby and fishing is popular in the area; so it’s in my interests to farm responsibly.
“The family has been farming here for a lot of years and I’d like to think that when I’m gone the family will still be farming here.”
One of the couple’s proudest achievements is the creation of a new wetlands which supports birds that stop at Yorkshire Water’s nearby Tophill Low Nature Reserve.
Birds spotted on the farm include corn buntings, lapwings, barn owls and skylarks. Turtle doves are also thought to be nesting.
Away from the farm, the couple take ballroom dancing lessons.
Having initially given it a go to learn a dance routine for their wedding reception, they have kept it up and recently picked up a Bronze Award from the International Dance Teachers Association.
The couple can be found tweeting at @BeswickBelties