Earning respect in whatever walk of life doesn’t come overnight, it is built upon through maintaining and then improving on disciplines that assure others of your ability to provide consistent quality.
Sheep, cattle and pig producers and those who buy around livestock market sale rings are a hardy, loyal and canny bunch. They give credit where it is due and, for the Farrars of Wighill Lane Farm, Healaugh near Tadcaster, the recent Christmas fatstock sales at York and Selby brought about a double triumph for father and son Mark and Tom.
Mark’s journey has seen him farm in the Dales and the North York Moors before he and wife Kirsty arrived in the Vale of York ten years ago. The family-run farm runs to 180 acres with 600 ewes and a herd of 25 suckler cattle.
“Texel X Mule sheep are our bread and butter and we sell mainly at York and Selby but also Wharfedale at Otley,” says Mark. “We have a few Swaledales that we buy in as gimmer lambs mostly from Hawes to breed our own Mules, which are then put to the Texel tup. All our tups come from Paul Slater. We like to think we’ve got a little bit better and we try to buy better tups.
“Tom won at the York Christmas primestock with three lambs from his own Beltex ewes that were put to a Paul Slater-purchased Texel X Beltex tup. He’d made a good job of getting them look right, washing their coats and trimming. I was busy with other lambs when the announcement came that he had won but I’m told his face just beamed.”
“It was a great moment,” says Tom, who is 17 and studying at Askham Bryan College while also working two days a week on another farm at nearby Newton Kyme. “You always hope your lambs are good enough. Tim Garside was the judge and they were the type of lamb he looks for so that helped. I have a small flock of 35 ewes and aim to breed my dad’s tups. The lambs I won with had the right length and quality carcases. We took £145 each for them and had another pen of three that made £118 each.”
Preparation is another key factor in success. “I was fortunate enough to go on a Beltex Society course that showed me how to present at sales. I’m also thinking about showing in the commercial classes at the Great Yorkshire Show.
“Knowing which tups to put with which ewes is what the breeding side is all about and this year I’ve put all my ewes to three pedigree Beltex tups as I’d had a good year buying them in up at Carlisle. The quality is on the increase and hopefully we will get some winners using our own home produced Beltex tups.”
Tom also won the young handlers prize at York and, through his young farmers club of Tadcaster & Wetherby, regularly takes part in stockjudging competitions. Sheep farming is clearly on his agenda. ‘I’m in my second year studying agriculture at Askham Bryan and I’d like to follow that up with a degree and then hopefully eventually have my own place.
“None of us know what’s going to happen with Brexit but people always need to eat.”
Mark is originally from Sowerby Bridge. His father was a teacher, but it was working on his uncle Robert Harrison’s farm at Malham Tarn that sparked his interest in agriculture.
“That’s where it all started for me. I spent a year there and loved it. I left to study agriculture at Bangor University before returning to Malham for what turned out to be ten years that also saw me take on a role with the National Park undertaking everything from dry stone walling to mending stiles, and also saw Kirsty and I marry, and me work at Settle Creamery.”
The lure for Mark was to run his own place and the next step came when he and Kirsty moved to Hawnby in the North York Moors.
“I worked as stocksman and shepherd for Robin Garbutt and was largely left to my own devices. The farm was taken out with Foot and Mouth in 2001, which had one benefit in that it allowed us to clean it up. We had a good seven years there until we saw an advertisement to farm here in our own right.
“Texel X Mules are our mainstay. They are what I won with at Selby’s Christmas primestock show, but we keep Swaledales and Blue Faced Leicesters to breed the Mules to go to the Texel tups and in Tom’s case the Beltex tups. We lamb around 100 of the older ewes from the third week of January to provide early fat lambs for market and help with cash flow. The rest are lambed in March. This is a much kinder environment for lambing than what we’d been used to previously up in the Dales and Moors. I really appreciate not having to dig sheep out of snow.”
Mark and Kirsty have three sons – Cyril, 20, Tom, and Simeon, 16 – and it is Tom who is looking to carry on the family tradition.
‘He has a good eye for sheep,’ says Kirsty who comes from farming stock too. She studied at Bangor University where she and Mark met and works as a secretary for Stephenson & Sons at Murton.
“He always has had a good eye. It’s never been particularly about the price. He can simply spot a good one.”