Going with what they know is key to farming family's success
The British Grassland Society’s round of summer meetings included a visit to the mixed unit belonging to the Durham branch vice-chairman, John Oulton. Reporter Wendy Short joined delegates for a tour of the farm.
JOHN Oulton and his wife Carol relocated in 2001 to the 400-acre Newlands Hall, in Frosterley, from a smaller holding in Derbyshire, bringing with them a herd of 30 Hereford cross suckler cows.
However, just a few years later, changes to the support system led them to reconsider and the cows, which had been built up to 90 head, were subsequently sold.
Today, the business buys in approximately 200 calves each year during October until March. The Oultons have stayed with the Hereford and the crossbreds are purchased at approximately three or four months old.
Monitored using electronic identification, they are weighed on a regular basis, receiving silage and brewers’ grains over the winter. The cattle are grazed during the summer months, having been split into groups according to their weights and ages.
As many animals as possible are produced off grass and cattle usually leave the farm at 18-24 months.
This practice, explained Mr Oulton, makes good use of the grain and straw generated by the arable enterprise, which is operated by a neighbour. As soon as they reach the 500kgs target weight they are sent to finisher Doug Dear at Osgodby Grange Farm, Selby, with the Oultons retaining ownership and paying a fee for their feed, housing and management. Following a period of about three months, they are marketed to Dovecote Park for the Waitrose Hereford beef scheme, usually achieving 0+ grades, at approximately 330kgs deadweight.
“I only buy steers, mainly because they are generally easier to manage,” said Mr Oulton, who won the regional grassland management competition in 2016 and came runner-up last year.
“Heifers also tend to be expensive to buy, due to the competition from producers who are looking for suckler herd replacements and in addition, females take longer to reach the required weights.
“It is harder to find Herefords in this part of the country, but I have stuck with them, as I have experience with the breed and find the cattle very docile to manage.”
He added: “The Aberdeen Angus scheme that is run by Dovecote is well-subscribed and there are greater opportunities for the Hereford. My cattle will only qualify for the scheme if they are accompanied by paperwork showing a named sire and the company conducts random DNA testing, as part of its quality control system.”
The farm land at Newlands Hall is highly varied, with about one third permanent pasture. The grazing area rises to 900 feet above sea-level and a proportion is made up of rig and furrow allotments. Meanwhile, cereals are grown on the lower ground on a four or five year rotation which comprises wheat; wheat; break crop; spring barley; grass.
One recent investment is the mains-powered electric fencing, which Mr Oulton described as a “great success,” allowing him to move livestock around the farm with ease and thus avoiding the expense of the installation of cattle grids.
Mr Oulton’s involvement with the British Grassland Society has prompted him to experiment with the grazing and silage land and he has started to add red clover to the sowing mix.
The aim is to save on fertiliser costs and increase livestock protein intakes.
“The red clover does not always establish very well, although it has persisted in some of the fields for up to five years,” he commented.
“One of the main challenges with the species is the control of docks, because of its sensitivity to herbicide treatments. I have found that it is better to keep sheep away from new clover leys, to allow the plants to flourish.
“This year’s reseed should have been sown in the autumn, but ground conditions were too wet, so one of the arable fields was ploughed in spring, with the weeds sprayed off before the grass mix was sown. After taking one cut of silage, a contractor will scratch in the red clover seeds. This is a new introduction, so we will have to wait and see how it turns out.”
Two cuts of silage are taken for the clamp each year, with the first grass harvest in early June. About 11 acres of kale, forage rape and turnips are also planted, to act as a break and to provide autumn/ winter grazing.
The Oultons have their own flock of 100 ewes, which mainly graze the uplands, also taking sheep from other farms on tack over the winter. The farm is a member of both the ELS and the HLS schemes and Mr Oulton noted that black grouse have been present on the farm in large numbers in recent years.
CAROL Oulton offers bed and breakfast at Newlands Hall. The farm has two bedrooms to let and sleeps up to five guests.