Farm of the Week: Success is naturally served at the farm on the top

John Stephenson with some of his sheep on Bordley Green Farm, Bordley near Skipton (GL1007/71c)
John Stephenson with some of his sheep on Bordley Green Farm, Bordley near Skipton (GL1007/71c)
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SWANS arriving early from Russia this week triggered a weather forecaster to predict a winter of heavy snowfall.

One of this weekend’s competitors at the annual autumn livestock show that’s part of Countryside Live in Harrogate will be hoping, probably more so than others, that it doesn’t come true.

John Stephenson tenants the 980-acre Bordley Green Farm in the tiny hamlet of Bordley that today runs to just two properties. The farm is four-and-a-half miles from Threshfield and three miles from Malham with very little in between except for hills, the moor and limestone outcrops.

When it snows here it may be pretty, but not so much to John.

“We’re 1,180ft above sea level at the farmhouse and the hills take it to 1,980ft. It’s a wonderful place to live and I’m not complaining but when it snows we’re usually cut off for a couple of weeks. Two months is the longest I’ve experienced. I hate snow with a passion. Digging sheep out of the drifts is no fun at all.”

John and his son, also John, 19, and daughter Laura, 17, had more immediate matters to turn their attention to this week as they prepared to defend their title of champion animal owned and shown by a Yorkshire exhibitor. Last year they won with Bordley Pot Black, a Limousin X Belgian Blue. This year they have four cattle entered in the classes that take place today with the championships decided on Sunday.

“We’ve had some success in Harrogate both at the Great Yorkshire Show and Countryside Live but we never go expecting to win. We’re up against some of the best cattle in the country and if you get a ticket you’re doing all right. I hope we get tickets but if we don’t we will be in very good company. It all comes down to the judge on the day and what they’re looking for.

“We like to produce our own show cattle and we’ve been doing it quite nicely. Black beasts seem very fashionable and we have a black Belgian Blue bull that throws black cattle so we try to breed from his daughters and use a black Limousin bull on to them.

“Producing your own stock and winning is very satisfying. The one that Bordley Pot Black ended up coming second to in the supreme championship last year cost a lot of money. We’re probably just below the bigger boys who spend quite a bit on their show cattle but we occasionally get in among them as we did last year and that’s a good feeling.”

John has a herd of 70 predominantly Belgian Blue X Limousin suckler cows but with 10-15 Belgian Blues kept pure.

“We’re a closed unit apart from the occasional pedigree Belgian Blue bull we buy out of Borderway Mart in Carlisle or from a noted herd of purebred cattle. We also have our own stock bulls we’ve bred ourselves. Everything we do here is naturally served. We don’t use any AI. We retain heifers and serve them with either the Belgian Blue or Limousin X bull. We aim to sell quite a few as nice forward stores in the spring at about 12 months or just over and look to sell the rest between 13-16 months usually at a weight of between 500-650 kgs. Our main markets are Gisburn and Skipton with some of the better stock going to Chelford and the odd one or two up in Carlisle.”

You can’t keep the Stephensons away from showing for very long and their main fatstock sales of cattle are coming up shortly.

“We sell as much as we can as forward stores but we enjoy selling at the Christmas Primestock sales and have also done quite well at those.”

Bordley Green Farm has been a sheep and cattle enterprise ever since John’s father, also John, came here from nearby Linton with his wife and John’s mum Lavinia in 1966. The only real changes in livestock have been in the type of cattle and sheep they stock and the headage they now run.

“I remember dad having Angus, Hereford X and a few Blue Greys that used to winter outside and a couple of Shorthorns for our own milk. We also had Swaledale sheep and I kept them for quite a while when I took over but we started on with Texel X and they do well up here. It was dad who started showing at Kilnsey, Gargrave and Malham shows in the 70s that started off my interest. I was also involved with stockjudging with Upper Wharfedale YFC.”

Today’s numbers are down about 30 per cent on the breeding ewes John had, but he believes the quality of stock he’s producing has improved. This year he’s changed policy a little and has sold more store lambs than taking through to fat lambs.

“We used to run 1,000 ewes but we now run 700 Texel X ewes and have 70 pure Texels and a few Beltex. We lamb the pedigrees in March with the main flock starting the first week in April. We retain 200 gimmer hoggs every year to come into the flock. Our change this year has been in selling quite a few as store lambs. The fat market is down by about £20 per lamb and that means that the price has been better for us to sell as stores, which we’ve done at around £65 and now only have around 300 left of this year’s crop. We also sell a few tups at the tup sales as we realised how well they can also perform for others.”

When John’s father first came here the farm was just Bordley Green but 23 years ago the acreage of Bordley House Farm was added. He now lives in nearby Hetton but is still involved with the farm. It’s very much a family affair.

“Dad still does all the paperwork and is always around at lambing time or on hand for anything we need. My brother Richard is a gamekeeper on the Bolton Abbey estate. John and Laura are mad keen on showing and we attend around 20 shows a year trailing all over the countryside. They both enjoy the preparation, the washing and clipping before going into the ring. I just take them to the shows now.”

Countryside Live takes place today and tomorrow at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate.