Part-timer aiming for share of the top prizes
“Could do better” is a phrase synonymous with end-of-term school reports, and that’s how cattle man James Cooper feels as the summer agricultural show season reaches its climax.
It’s almost on his doorstep because he’s six miles away at Hill Top Farm in Dacre, where he farms with wife Sarah and in the past 15 years his herd has become one of the most respected in the breed.
But he doesn’t kid himself about anything and keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground.
“I have a friend in Ireland who refers to a lot of farmers over there as ‘lights on’ farmers because they go to work, to a different job, all day, come home, turn the lights on and start farming at night.
“I suppose I am a lights-on farmer too. There are now a lot of farmers around here who have multiple jobs and there are an increasing number of those who show cattle who fall into the part-time farmer category.”
He’s hoping to finish with a flourish after having “done OK” without taking many of the big prizes this year.
“We’ve had a show team of five bulls and one heifer, varying the stock we take to each show. At Otley we had a champion and interbreed champion. At Lincolnshire Show we only came away with seconds and thirds. North Yorkshire County Show was a strange experience.
“It was the first time I’ve ever been in an ‘Any Other Breeds’ class and we were with the Charolais, Belgian Blues and Blonde d’Aquitaines – four of the most in-demand continental breeds and all in together. We ended up with reserve champion.
“Our Great Yorkshire Show wasn’t quite as good as last year when we had the Limousin champion, but we had reserve junior champion and male champion. At Kilnsey Show, Malhamdale Show and Westmorland Show we had reserve champion too.”
That might seem far better than James’ prediction for his end of term report, and it’s all a far cry from when he started with his pedigree Tomschoice herd back in 1996.
His experience is a lesson for all young showmen and women that success isn’t necessarily immediate.
“When we first started I had no idea about showing. We just tipped them out of the truck into a pen and that was it for the day.
“Washing the cattle before you took them out into the ring was a new concept to us. Consequently I’ve had my share of standing at the bottom of the class and the only time I didn’t stand at the bottom in my first two years of showing was when I had two in the same class. I took last and next to last at most shows.
“But you learn quickly when you’re at the bottom and I like to think we have been on a gradual learning curve ever since.”
James’s son Ben and daughter Laura are now a major part of the Tomschoice team, and although James does enter the show ring himself at times, he admits he is not fully comfortable there.
“I prefer to be on the sidelines. Laura likes taking the stock into the ring and Mark Phillips, a good friend of mine and one of the top showmen in the country, takes them too.
“They’re both far better than me. Ben enjoys the preparation work before the cattle go out in the ring. Laura’s the expert on fluffing the tails and Mark is one of the best clippers around.
“I can clip, but he will do four in the time I can do one, and all of his four are better than mine.
“I’m the one of us that usually gets shouted at for not paying attention when the cattle are being shown because I’m too busy touting for business and chatting away.
“I’m currently the president of the Young Limousin Breeders Club. The next generation of showmen and women is looking very promising. They will all be much better than me.”
James works full-time in the family business of Ripon Select Foods Ltd which is why he classes himself as a part-time farmer. Hill Top Farm runs to just 32 acres of grass with 25 breeding cows and 70 head of cattle. James runs two stock bulls and aims to breed the best he possibly can. He has two bulls ready to go to Skipton in October and five to go to Carlisle.
Nidderdale Show will see James taking three bulls and a heifer in the hope of retaining the breed title he won last year.
Perhaps that will make his end of term report just a little more satisfying, but James is sure he will enjoy it come what may.
“Nidderdale Show has something special about it. We have sold five bulls privately within a 30-mile radius this year and shows such as Nidderdale are one of the few ways that people see what we’ve got.
“It’s our shop window. It’s such a picturesque setting and one of the best laid out.”
The long history of the show
Also known as Nidderdale Rant or Pateley Feast, the origins of the show go back to the grant of a charter in 1319 by King Edward II for a weekly market made to the Archbishop of York, William de Melton, for “one market every week at his manor of Patheley Brigge in Nedredale, and one fair there every year, lasting five days to whit, for three days before the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and on the day and the morrow of the same feast”. This fell on the first Sunday after the 17th September.
Nidderdale Show, Bewerley Park, Pateley Bridge, Monday September 19.