It’s the kind of thing that not so many years ago would have seen old men shaking their heads in disbelief and in some cases seemingly offering them further proof that the world has indeed become a far different place to the one in which they had been born.
Indeed I’m mentioning now just in case there are those who may need to acclimatise themselves to the situation in the next 12 months. The news is that Margaret Liddle will be the president of Nidderdale Show in 2015.
Margaret will be the first female president and she’s clearly very pleased to have been asked. At this year’s show that takes place on Monday she will be present as president-elect. I met her on her farm earlier this week.
“Farmers don’t generally do change and I was really surprised when I received the invitation. I’ve always had an involvement from being very little when my mother Janie was part of the Women’s Institute. I also attended as a Young Farmers member as part of Nidderdale YFC, showed in the domestic classes for baking and icing, and have stewarded in the horse classes for many years. It’s such a popular traditional agricultural show and with it being an outstanding stock rearing area the quality of the entries is always tremendous.”
Margaret runs the 120-acre Manor House Farm, east of Summerbridge with her son David. She was born here and came back to the family farm and caravan site business in 1989, firstly running the caravan site before turning her attention to rekindling the farming operation in 2002 following the passing of her father Matt Houseman.
“I decided that I needed to do what I do best and that is sheep farming. I went back into the sheep world with Mules and continental X breeding ewes using Charollais and Texel tups because the land here is largely in the valley bottom and I felt it was best suited for breeding fat lambs.”
The bad winter of 2012-2013 brought an end to Margaret’s decade of producing fat lambs for the meat market and a new approach was adopted that fits in far better with the dual nature of the caravan site and sheep farm.
“That winter was very cold and wet. We used to lamb in early February and just into March because of the caravan site opening on March 1, but that year lambing time went on forever. So long as lambing worked to plan, everything was right but a bad winter really does kick you out. We had found it really difficult trying to get the caravan site up and running while also spending the right time with the flock. That’s when David and I decided to sell the breeding sheep.”
That was by no means the end of Margaret’s sheep farming days. She had other plans and today’s enterprise sees her buy Mule gimmers at Skipton livestock market each September – she bought 450 last week – that she then runs for a year and sells back at Skipton as shearlings. It’s a system that she finds fits in far better with the caravans, although she confesses that since the ewes are not put to the tup at all she initially missed lambing time and all the emotion that goes with it.
“It was a big wrench not seeing the fields full of ewes and lambs that first time, but you get used to it. We did the right thing. There’s only David and myself here and we couldn’t spread ourselves any further. We sold our first lot of sheep we bought last year on August 19 and the rest will have been sold by the time this story is published. We run them on grass and give them haylage and sugar beet if the weather gets bad.”
Years ago the Dalesbred and Masham breeds were more popular particularly around here. Tastes have changed and she tells of why she sticks with Mule X now.
“The Swaledale and Mule are popular because people buying the Mule are breeding terminal lambs for meat and the butchers like the lambs to have a certain type of skin. That’s perhaps why the Masham has fallen out of fashion as it has too much wool on its terminal lamb. It’s all a bit odd really as when they’re hung up you can’t tell them apart and the skin then isn’t as important.
“The lambs we buy in September each year are largely born in March. We’re looking for good skin, good head, good length of body and depth. We don’t go for the biggest lambs. They’re bought as tupping lambs. We buy the biggest of the running lambs. We also share out our business as to whom we buy from. I try to buy a pen or two from each of the local farmers to us who produce Mule lambs. When we first moved into this style of sheep farming, selling as shearlings, I knew pretty much what I needed to do in preparing them for sale but I was also greatly indebted to Kevin and James Wilson of Blubberhouses for their assistance.”
Margaret’s father Matt started the caravan site with just two or three caravans when she was just eight or nine-years-old. Today the site holds 80 in a tranquil woodland setting. It doesn’t have a shop on site, nor does it have pools or modern day extras such as hot tubs.
“We like the people who come here. They enjoy a glass of wine and going for a walk. They enjoy the peace and serenity of being here just as I do.”
Nidderdale Show takes place at Bewerley Park, Pateley Bridge on Monday, September 22.