Steeler escapes to the countryside with award winning results

John Key on his farm at Midhopestones.
John Key on his farm at Midhopestones.
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Whether someone with no parental background in farming can come straight into the industry by tenanting their own farm is one of the many unseen problems facing agriculture today.

It is said to be more difficult than ever but back in the 1970s John Key managed to turn the trick. Born and raised in Pitsmoor, Sheffield and the son of a steel worker John decided that since he liked animals he would pursue his agricultural leaning. Last year his Garfield House Farm at Midhopestones just ten miles from Sheffield city centre won the Tye Trophy Award for conservation for South and West Yorkshire.

“We’ve always had a tidy farm, looked after the land and built the walls. Quite a sizeable area of the farm is near the Langsett and Midhope Reservoir and is ideal for waders such as lapwings, curlews and snipes.

“We’re in a Higher Level Stewardship scheme here and we’ve put some scrapes and ponds in to encourage waders and chicks. We also delay grazing in these areas to let the waders breed. We’ve been doing it for around the past ten years. We’ve also incorporated a number of drystone walling projects.”

John studied at Harper Adams College and then lived with his sister in Tideswell, Derbyshire for five years where she still has a smallholding.

“I built up some stock there and in 1975 managed to acquire the tenancy of this farm that was then called Lower Hand Bank Farm. When I first came here it ran to 80 acres and was tenanted from Yorkshire Water. I started with 80 ewes and 40 young beef calves. I’d been selling frozen food while in Derbyshire and for the first 12 months here I carried on with it but then the running of the farm took over.”

The farm now runs to 240 acres and is part-owned and part-tenanted. John has a pedigree Suffolk flock of 80 breeding ewes, Midhope Suffolks that he shows occasionally; and a suckler herd of 70 cows. He and his partner Fiona from Grenoside have been together since 1994 and Fiona runs her own business in partnership with colleague Angela Button called Accountancy & Office Management.

“We changed the name of the farm when this new house was built and finally moved in here in 2006 as the new farm buildings had to be constructed prior to the new farmhouse. We renamed the farm after the architect Garfield Jones as he had done such a wonderful job. We have around 70 acres this side of the main road.”

John tries to control both his lambing and calving operations as best he can and in as tight a period as possible.

“We lamb the first week in January and we do a synchronisation and AI job in early August in order that they all lamb over seven or eight days from January 8. We aim for the Easter market with around a third of the lambs and take the others on further. Signet recording has been part of our operation since 1984. We take a look at the weights at eight weeks and then at 20 weeks. That’s when we make decisions on which lambs we’re keeping. We sell ewes at collective sales and privately and sell rams privately too. Our best ram sale at auction was one for £3,000. We’re a closed flock so we’re producing our own replacement gimmers. We might share a ram with a like-minded breeder.

“We try to keep our calving as tight as possible and try to get started by the end of March. When I started the suckler herd it was predominantly Simmental X Herefords but we’re now producing mainly Belgian Blue X using a Limousin bull. We keep some Limousin X also and they go to the Belgian Blue bull from their second calf onwards. We sell as stores at Skipton and Bakewell livestock markets getting the strongest ones away first. They’re all sold at between 9-12 months old.”

John and Fiona also have a small wind turbine that provides power and heating for the farm buildings and solar panels that heat the farmhouse. And John hasn’t forgotten his roots, he’s still keen on his football team, Sheffield Wednesday.