Farm of the Week: Top of the hoggs for Cottingley butcher opening up on his own

John Lunbrook at Cliffe Farm, Cottingley near Bradford.   Pic: Tony Johnson
John Lunbrook at Cliffe Farm, Cottingley near Bradford. Pic: Tony Johnson
Have your say

WHEN JOHN Ludbrook returned home to Cliffe Farm in Cottingley near Bingley having attended Wharfedale Mart on Monday he was in good form. He’s one of several farmers who have brought weekly pig sales back to Otley and was satisfied with the price of 132p per kilo that his hoggs peaked at this week.

“The pig price wasn’t quite so clever just before Christmas but it was a good trade today. The top price was 150p but that was for gilts and the buyers will pay a little more for them.”

We serve with the Pietrain boar to produce a pig that today’s consumer wants.

John Ludbrook, of Cliffe Farm in Cottingley, West Yorkshire

John’s been in and out of pigs a few times over the years but having taken them on again in 2012, he and his fellow pig men around the pens in Otley have developed a product that it seems independent butchers recognise as ideal for their customers.

He’s been sufficiently buoyed by success at market that he’s built up his herd to 25 sows by keeping back his best gilts and adding them to the herd. His sows produce an average of 10 pigs per litter and maintaining that level should see them produce 500 this year.

“There are four or five main buyers at Otley and that means there’s enough trade for around 15-20 pigs each week. It’s the butchers themselves who attend rather than the wholesale trade and they are prepared to pay for the right quality, which is good because that creates a competitive market.

“We have Large White sows, which we serve with the Pietrain boar to produce a pig that today’s consumer wants. We aim for back fat of around 10-12mm.

“We had previously been serving our Large Whites with a Large White boar but I saw some Pietrain weaners at Gisburn Mart and everything about them was better. The Pietrain boar on the Large White gives us pigs with good shape and can put as much as £30 on to the pig price. We try to get them finished and away by 20-22 weeks.”

Sales of pork, beef and lamb raised at Cliffe Farm are also made direct from the farm to a number of regular customers and John is hoping this will increase even further when he opens Ludbrook’s Farm Shop some time later this year. His butchery career that started nearly 40 years ago has long been a valuable asset.

“My dad Frank had a 60-cow dairy farm in Denholme Gate where I was born but when I left school in 1976 the farming industry was really depressed and he ended up coming out of dairy completely.

“We were coming back from Skipton where we’d sold some fat cattle and the price had been unbelievably low. He told me ‘the best thing you can do if you can’t beat these butchers is join them’ and that’s what I did. I trained up with Lewis Greenwood & Son in Halifax and opened up my own butchers shop on a council estate shopping centre at Saffron Drive in Allerton, Bradford in 1979.”

John left the shop behind in 1986 after developing a thriving business that subsequently suffered as other shops closed and trade moved from the area. Undeterred, he turned his focus back to farming as by then he had started his own farm business at the 36-acre Cliffe Farm. His father had initially begun renting the farm in 1982 as an addition to his home farm at Denholme Gate.

“At one time I used to have the butchers shop and work all hours for my dad too. I bought a skip hire business in 1990 that has worked well for us and at one time both myself and Dawn (John’s wife) would be out on the wagons delivering and bringing back the skips as well as farming and bringing up our family.

“I bought Cliffe Farm in 1997 and today we farm across 140 acres with our 36 acres here and another 64 acres that my mum Joan owns, my dad having passed away four years ago, plus another 40 that we rent in parcels all around Cottingley and a bit further away.

“We have a suckler herd of 60 mainly Charolais X cows with a few Limousins and Shorthorns. The Charolais are pretty much pure bred or three-quarter-bred and I’ve always liked them as they are easy to handle, good calvers and really quiet.

“We have two Charolais stock bulls. There’s one we bred ourselves that is about nine-years-old and another we bought 18 months ago. We’ve also just introduced an Aberdeen Angus bull that we have put with the heifers for the first time. We sell stock as big stores in good shape at around 14 months usually around the £1,000 mark.”

Lambing starts around February 25 and the Ludbrooks have 190 breeding ewes with 90 per cent being pure Texels.

“We look to breed traditional big-bodied Texels and we’ve been selling them as stores and fat lambs as well as producing our own replacements, but we decided last year that since they are nearly all pure we’d also try for the shearling rams and ewes market this year.”

The new farm shop is already in place. John bought what was a classroom building from a nearby school that was being pulled down and brought it to Cliffe Farm.

“I was going to turn it into a farrowing house but Dawn said it was too good for that so we’ve installed counters and butchery equipment. We had a really good trade at Christmas selling everything that we produce on the farm including beef, pork, lamb, sausages and eggs from our 70 free range hens to regular customers, but we won’t start pushing it properly until we’ve widened the lane from the main road.”

John and Dawn have four children at the farm including Sam, 19, whose enthusiasm for farming fuels John’s desire to increase livestock numbers on the farm.

“As Samuel has got older all he’s wanted to do is farm and we have encouraged him. He’s been to Craven College and has studied agriculture and rural mechanics. He also works for others with sheep shearing and dry stone walling.

“I think farming can be all right providing you haven’t any borrowings otherwise it would be difficult for a young lad.”