Farm of the Week: Outbreak that helped to fulfil a dream

Foot and mouth was an opportunity to follow a dream for a Nidderdale couple. Mark Holdstock talked to them about it.

MANY of the farmers who lost stock during the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak in 2001 used it as an opportunity to seriously think about whether they wanted to stay in farming.

Some naturally decided it might be a good time to retire. And David Newbould was already well into his 60s.

But retirement wasn't even a consideration for the man who came to this small farm near Kirkby Malzeard just after the Second World War and had seen it through several major changes since. Instead, he saw an opportunity to indulge a whim which had been nagging him for more than 40 years.

"In my 20s, I went to the Yorkshire Show and I saw these Belted Galloways, which I'd never seen before, and I thought 'hmmmm ... someday I'll have some of them'," he recalls.

For many people, the Belted Galloway is one of the most attractive native breeds of cattle. Stocky and woolly, its defining feature is the white band or belt around its middle. However, they are seen as uneconomic because of the time they take to grow to slaughter weight, in comparison with the commercial crosses based on Limousins and Blues.

"I just thought they were a striking sort of cattle," says Mr Newbould. "They looked nice in the field. There isn't the shape that there is of a Limousin, or anything like that, I just liked them. If you can afford to keep what you like, it's nice to be able to do that."

Strang Brae View farm sits in Dallowgill, close to the moors of Upper Nidderdale. David Newbould and his wife, Gill, farm 100 acres, as well as holding some grazing rights on the nearby moors.

"It's a bit of hard land up in Dallowgill. There's some sweet land, but also some rough land, and a lot of my fields have rocks sticking out. I've a lot of big walls, seven feet high and a yard wide, and a lot of the fields are just two or three acres, so there must have been a lot of rocks about in the first place," he says.

When David Newbould's father took over the farm in 1947, it had a small dairy herd of just 30, which was as much about producing heifers to sell as it was about producing milk.

"We'd produce about 100 gallons a day in summer," Mr Newbould says. "It takes a lot of making does milk up here. You have to give them a lot of feed if you want to get a lot of milk. If you got four or five gallons off an ordinary Friesian cow, going back then, you were doing well, whereas now they're giving 10 gallons a day."

In the mid 1990s the Newboulds decided to stop milking and change to beef production. David Newbould, by then running the farm following the death of his father in the late 1980s, put quite a lot of his cows to a Hereford bull to make the conversion and kept the heifers produced, to start a suckler herd.

"We got up to about 30 cows, and ran a Limousin bull, and had some good stuff for a while. Then foot and mouth came. I used to take a lot of summer grazing and they wouldn't let you move anything around, and it got that bad that they came and shot 10 cows and 10 calves (under the welfare cull). I got well paid for them but it was a horrible thing. I picked the worst cows out, but it was a horrible thing to do." It was after foot and mouth that he decided to do something different. He kept his flock of Teeswater sheep, which had survived the outbreak, but decided to indulge his desires when it came to the cattle.

The Belted Galloway is no longer classed as either rare or threatened, but it is still a minority native breed. Originating, as their name suggests, from South West Scotland, they spend most of their life outdoors and, as a result, are not used to human contact.

"They can be frisky," says Gill Newbould. "But ours are fine. We've never had too many problems with them. They tend to calve on their own quite easily, so we've never had to struggle with that side of things."

The meat from the Belted Galloway is highly regarded by foodies, with its good covering of fat, and marbling within the muscle itself. The carcases are sold to a local butcher, Ian Weatherhead, just eight miles away in Pateley Bridge, and Mrs Newbould says that makes a huge difference to the economics of keeping this particular breed.

"Sometimes when you go to market you don't always get the price you want, and you're stuck with it. Weatherheads has always paid us very well. You just take them off your farm, drop them off at the abattoir, and wait for the cheque to come. That's not too difficult really."

It helps that beef from traditional breeds is making a comeback as an alternative to turkey on many Christmas dinner tables – a trend confirmed by Ian Weatherhead's son, Andrew, who now runs the Pateley Bridge shop.

It was founded by Harry Weatherhead in 1876 and Andrew is the fifth generation of the family name to run it. It has the luxury of a following which includes customers in London and Gloucestershire as well as all over Yorkshire and Lancashire – and aristocracy as well as the likes of TV presenter Janet Street-Porter, who has a smallholding locally and has named Weatherheads in print as her favourite shop.

With its fair share of marginal land, the traditional breeds, and the fact that the cattle are sold to the local butcher, Stang Brae View farm might be seen as something of a time capsule, a glimpse into the past. But David Newbould is acutely aware of its limitations. He and his wife can afford to run it as they do, he says, because they have a private pension and some savings.

He says: "We've got a grandson, who is going to Askham Bryan. He comes one day a week to me as part of his course.

"But if I said to him, 'right you can have the farm', he wouldn't be able to make a living on it. There isn't enough land. You would want at least double what we have."

CW 11/12/10