The long, long house move for farming family

Paul and Amanda Gill with their son George and daughter Alice at Lowfield Grange, Boroughbridge.
Paul and Amanda Gill with their son George and daughter Alice at Lowfield Grange, Boroughbridge.
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Moving has become a large part of life for the Gill family. Three years ago Paul and Amanda made the decision to build a new farmhouse outside the village of Langthorpe near Boroughbridge.

The dusty, bumpy road as you make your way to the farm is indicative of their still being in the process of getting everything shipshape at Lowfield Grange but they’ve moved in and Paul tells of how it came about.

“The village had encroached around the farm since I moved here at three months old in 1964. Around 40 years ago there were plans to put up a big beef shed but we weren’t allowed to build it where we were in Langthorpe so it was built here on a greenfield site where we have now built the farmhouse. It makes more sense.”

The farm is predominantly down to arable crops on a seven-year rotation but the Gills have sheep and pigs too maintaining their mixed farming status that has been the case ever since Paul’s great-grandfather came here from Bishop Monkton in January 1912 when the farm ran to just 110 acres.

He certainly made an early impression on the locals with his first decision as Paul points out wryly.

“In with the sale of the farm was the Red Lion pub next door. He was a very strict Methodist and because of that he closed down the pub the day after he’d bought it and made it in to two cottages. He’d be popular in the village.”

Today, Paul farms in partnership with Amanda and with the farm still in his father’s name across 330 acres in several blocks with 100 acres around the farmhouse; two further blocks of 50 acres in and around Langthorpe; and land at Ouseburn and Dunsforth. The smattering of land in other places is down to family purchases made during his grandfather’s time. They also rent a further five acres from Newby Hall.

“We’re spread all over. My grandfather lived at Ouseburn, where my father Leslie, his brother Geoff and I were all born. The family had four farms by this time including Moor Farm at Ouseburn; The Hawkhills at Easingwold; and Topcliffe Common. It was my great uncle Dennis who lived here after great-grandfather. When he retired my father and uncle Geoff bought the grange adding further acreage from Newby Hall in 1970.

“We used to have a lot of cattle before BSE hit in 1996. Once that happened we found they weren’t viable and so we moved into pigs on a bed and breakfast basis for Mark Westgarth at Newsham Hall.

“We take in 2500 pigs at four weeks old when they are around seven kilos and take them through to 45-50 kilos at three months. Once they’re gone we get the buildings mucked out and pressure cleaned inside a week and take in the next batch. We will get through four lots in a year.”

The sheep flock runs to 60 breeding ewes that are predominantly Scotch Halfbreds and Texels. They buy-in the ewes during August and September just prior to tupping and lamb around April 10-15. The fat lambs are traded at Wharfedale Farmers Auction Mart in Otley the following year.

“We don’t push them. They are fed on grass, fodder beet tops and stubble turnips. We keep them until March/April of the following year to get them to 55-60 kilos. We have quite a few small 1-2 acre fields where we just have grass, plus we have quite a bit of riverbank against the Ure and where it floods we can’t grow crops.

“Our cropping rotation is fodder beet and oats in the same year, followed by winter wheat, winter barley, oilseed rape, wheat, barley and stubble turnips. This year we have 100 acres of wheat, 100 of barley, 20 of fodder beet, 30 spring oats, 30 winter oats and 15 acres of oilseed rape.

“We’re usually around 50 acres of rape but the wet 2012 season threw our rotation right out of the window. We’ll be back next year although nobody really knows exactly what’s happening with the crop in future due to the ban on using neonicotinoids. There is a lot of talk about farmers coming out of it.

“We grow good quality milling wheat on contract for Openfield, which goes to Warburtons. We’ve grown the variety Solstice in the recent past but we’ve just switched to the new winter wheat variety Crusoe this year. Our barley is all for feed and we sell mainly to Mark Westgarth for his pigs.”

Paul and Amanda were married in 1989 after having been an item for five years, but they had known each other since they were three years old.

“My dad was a farmer-turned-shopkeeper from Great Ouseburn,” says Amanda. “Paul and I got together through Boroughbridge Young Farmers club that both our children Alice and George are involved with today. Paul and I were chairman and secretary back then and Alice and George are chairman and vice chairman today. Paul was club president up until last year.”

Their other major involvement as a family is with Aldborough & Boroughridge Show. Rather like the Gills it has faced a major upheaval this year as it will take place at a new venue on MoD land at RAF Dishforth on Sunday, July 20.

Alice has two careers. She is a swimming instructor at Knaresborough Pool and milks 500 goats for a local farmer. She competed nationally and travelled the world when swimming competitively and made the national finals in the 200 metres butterfly.

She also has a few Hampshire Down sheep that she and her mum enjoy and would love to show but their commitment to the produce tent precludes.

George also competed at a high level in sport, in his case karate. He has just completed his National Diploma in Agriculture at Bishop Burton College and is now studying for his degree.

He’s a dab hand in a canoe as he saved a few sheep that were washed away three years ago.

Aldborough & Boroughbridge Show takes place at Dishforth Airfield on Sunday, July 20.