Pedigree Limousin cattle breeder, fieldsman for the livestock market in Skipton, agent for a feed company, a grass seed company and a fertiliser business, you’d think that was enough jobs for two or three people but it’s all in a day’s work for Janet Sheard.
But Janet, of Low Common Farm in Almondbury near Huddersfield, isn’t complaining about her workload, indeed far from it as she clearly revels in her various roles and neither, she is keen to stress, has she ever suffered from the phrase ‘a woman in a man’s world’.
“As far as I’m concerned I have never had a problem and I give talks using a PowerPoint presentation under that title to WI groups around Yorkshire. I’ve always been treated as an equal whether at an auction market or any other farm meeting or gathering. My own feeling is that if you want something badly enough you’ll do it.
“I was one of only three girls at Askham Bryan College in 1968. The thing I realised most of all was how much I didn’t know about farming, but it was all I ever wanted to do.
“My mum and dad Ivy and Kenneth had moved from Heptonstall to Royd House Farm just down the road, which is where my twin sister Judith, older than me by 10 minutes, and I were born. Judith didn’t like farming and trained to be a hairdresser before becoming a beautician. We moved here when the tenancy became vacant and I joined Huddersfield Young Farmers Club which gave me further grounding in farming through stockjudging.
“After leaving college I went to work on a dairy farm in Farnley Tyas. When they sold their cows I moved to Burnhill Feeds in Cleckheaton. Dad enjoyed his own milk round and only had a small herd of cattle on the farm. I took on the tenancy here when I was 30 and just wanted to get on with some real farming. New buildings went up and today I have just over 200 head of cattle. The farm runs to 52 hectares and is all down to grass. Cattle make up 90 per cent of my business.”
Janet had wanted to move into the pedigree cattle market and had spotted her favoured breed but didn’t make her move until 20 years ago.
“I started with Limousin cattle in 1996. I’d first thought about them at the East of England Show where I’d been impressed with the breed but I’d thought they were out of my reach.
“The reduction in price due to BSE meant that I could afford them and I purchased my first two from a dispersal sale at Skipton auction mart, swiftly followed by others from Carlisle.
“Since then I’ve bought cattle from the Masons of Oddacres Farm in Embsay near Skipton and from the Greenwell herd in Lanchester, County Durham but I largely produce my own replacements today and all naturally. I have five bulls at the moment one of which I purchased from the Masons and two of them are out on permanent hire.
“Calving is largely in spring but there are about 15-16 that are now calving in the autumn. I try to keep six to eight heifers back each year and sell breeding stock to other breeders either through Skipton or direct from the farm and sell bulls to dairy farmers.
“The pedigree herd now runs to 43 Limousin suckler cows and I have another 12 commercial sucklers. Currently I have 150 head of store cattle of which 60 have been purchased.”
An aspect of farming that Janet keeps away from is sending her livestock direct to slaughter.
“I take everything to what is termed forward stores. That means they are nearly ready for finishing at around 18-20 months but not quite. They may need another six to eight weeks. I just don’t want to be the one who signs their death warrant, that’s all.”
Janet’s Limousins look good even on a cold January day but she’s not one to get carried away with the quality of her stock.
“Sometimes I don’t think I’m in that big league for the big sales, but I do think I’m getting there. Other breeders buy regularly so I must be doing something right and Fiona Jowett, Stephen Jowett of Queensbury’s daughter, will be showing a young bull I’ve bought at this year’s shows. She showed a bullock and a heifer of mine last year alongside her dad’s stock and had a few reserves and firsts.”
The link up with the Jowetts came through Janet’s role as an agent for Massey Feeds.
“Stephen came up to me at a show and we were talking about giving his cattle a proper finish. I mentioned trying Massey and he hasn’t looked back. I also now act as agent for Hurrell grass seeds and Glasson fertiliser.”
It was 15 years ago that Janet took up the challenge of representing Craven Cattle Marts/Skipton Auction Mart as a fieldsman.
“Jeremy (Eaton) asked me into his office in the market one day and he explained that they were interested in whether I would go out and see other farms in the area and find out what might bring them to sell their stock, or what their reservations were. It all fits in well with everything else I do and I’ve been fortunate enough to have attracted a number of new vendors and buyers from as far away as Derbyshire.”
Janet also has sheep and rabbits on the farm. The sheep are 50 pedigree Lleyns. She buys them at the back end from Peter and David Knowles in Cumbria and sells them as shearlings.
Janet’s rabbits are Netherland Dwarf and Dutch X. She has 40 does and sells around 15-20 a week.
“In the wild three days after birth they can mate again and with just a month’s gestation by the time one lot of around six or seven is ready the next lot is dropping.
“I used to have Continental Giants that weighed 25kgs and would have 11-12 at a time.”
Janet is also a committee member of Stocksmoor WI; a member of the Honley NFU branch; and of the Huddersfield Choral Society.
“The first Society concert I attended came about because I was asked to take some potatoes down a spiral staircase and cheekily asked the farmer who was involved whether I could have a ticket for doing it.”