Leaving the parlour behind

(L-R) Son-in-law Richard Crowther with John and Ruth Dean with some of their Limousin (Gl100339c)
(L-R) Son-in-law Richard Crowther with John and Ruth Dean with some of their Limousin (Gl100339c)
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You won’t find despair in the voices of John and Ruth Dean at Far Barsey Farm near Barkisland on the western reaches of Calderdale, but you may occasionally uncover a tinge of disappointment mixed in with their natural verve and enthusiasm over the decisions they’ve had to make in the last decade.

Theirs is a story of how practicality has trumped carrying on family tradition. Ruth’s grandparents Cecil and Gertrude Lumb arrived as newly-weds in the 1920s. Her parents Robert and Betty Lumb were next and the then 45-acre farm saw 80 years of milking until she and John called time on the dairy herd 10 years ago. They’d previously given up retailing their own milk in 1999, a tradition that harked back to the days of delivery by horse and cart.

Poor prices paid for their milk made it impossible to carry on and today a 170-strong Limousin beef herd on the now 140-acre farm, along with the popular Far Barsey Farm Shop have replaced the dairy cows, with the latter proving the bigger cash cow. Ruth would still love to have a dairy herd as she misses milking and the cows but she’s pragmatic.

“We tried to stay self-sufficient purely as a farming operation but in reality no-one can do that. Everyone has to find a diversification that will work alongside the farm and this is ours. Our daughters Katie and Rachael couldn’t have worked back at home without what we’ve done.

“We had been milking between 50-60 cows and were getting just 18p per litre from Arla which was just not viable. We made the decision to sell the herd once we received funding for the shop through a rural enterprise scheme.

“The shop is now situated where the milking parlour once stood and we retail our own beef as well as locally produced pork, chicken, game and lamb. We also have a bakery on site as well as many other lines and employ six other staff in addition to Katie who manages the shop and Rachael who runs the office.”

Funding was not all down to grant funding. The change from milking cows to managing a beef herd and farm shop wasn’t cheap says John. “We couldn’t continue with the milk price so low. If we filled the Land Rover with diesel we lost money that day. That’s how bad it had become. Things had to change so we sold a property, pulled down the whole farm as it had been and rebuilt it all with new farm buildings. It was a £1m project. Selling the herd and the property made sure that we completed the transition with no debt.”

John faced a steep learning curve before Far Barsey Farm Shop opened. “I didn’t know how to even sharpen a knife let alone make the right prime cuts. Fortunately I found Andrew Seed of Pateley Bridge who trained me up and we opened in May 2006.”

The Deans have high hopes for their Limousin herd that includes 50 pedigree cows and 120 three-quarter bred Limousin X cattle, along with one or two Belgian Blue X to put on a little shape, but the size of herd started from humble origins. “Rachael bought a Limousin heifer called Mr Knight for £700 out of her own money 14 years ago and bought another a couple of months later. Ruth and I had no real intention of building a herd but we became hooked. We started with them slowly at first, buying beef calves in and bucket rearing them. Our first beef from the farm to go through the shop was partially dairy bred because we still had the dairy herd on the farm but we soon realised that when it came to butchering them you need fully beef bred animals to get the right carcase.”

A massive advantage that John and Ruth have in their breeding programme is son-in-law Richard Crowther, married to Katie, who is an in-demand AI man and who works for Genus, a leading breeding company. He says: “We’re working on improving the genetics all the time and artificial insemination is helping considerably instead of spending large amounts of money on cows.”

John says he thinks it’s disgusting that dairy farmers are again having to take cuts on their milk price. “It’s the farm shop that makes the money but we’re now just starting to look as though we can make money from the farm again. It’s a shame it couldn’t have been with milk.”

Family’s farm history

Ruth Dean’s sister Jane was involved at Far Barsey Farm in Barkisland as the girls were growing up but today lives at Hazel Slack Farm in the village. She married Jim Clarkson and runs Just Jenny’s Ice Cream with her daughter.

Ruth’s husband John first caught sight of the sisters when he was passing the lane end and saw them struggling with loading bales onto a trailer. His act of chivalry in assisting them led to he and Ruth attending Ripponden YFC dances, leaving the family haulage business half a mile down the road and ultimately their marriage.

For more details about the Deans’ farm shop visit www.farbarseyfarmshop.co.uk