SATISFACTION: Tim Madgwick says there is a feelgood factor about keeping sheep
SATISFACTION: Tim Madgwick says there is a feelgood factor about keeping sheep

Tim Madgwick does not come from a farming background and only developed an interest in keeping sheep in later life. However, his enthusiasm and drive for livestock production has led to the launch of Dales Lamb, a direct meat sales business with a loyal local following, as Wendy Short reports.

TIM Madgwick has been supplying friends and family with home-produced lamb for several years, but it was not until November last year that he formed a business partnership with another producer, which has allowed him to expand his customer base.

He has teamed up with Wayne Hutchinson, a noted livestock photographer and farmer from Hawes, North Yorkshire. The pair had known each other for several years and Mr Hutchinson has supplied a number of ewes, as well as a border collie, to help Mr Madgwick establish his enterprise. Together, the pair supply a range of meat cuts and speciality sausages, as well as mutton joints and chops and mutton and mint sausages. All of the sheep are grass-fed and a rack of lamb from Mr Madgwick’s own flock won a two-star Great Taste award in 2015.

“Mutton was very popular many years ago and then dropped out of fashion,” says Mr Madgwick, who is based in Gainford.

“But it has been enjoying something of a revival in recent years and that is not at all surprising. It has a reputation for being fatty and that is true to some extent, although it depends on the breed. We find that Herdwicks and Swaledales produce the best mutton and we usually use our wethers at anything over two years of age.

“It is a very flavoursome meat and we eat a lot of it in our family, cooking it in the Aga. I have found that the best method is to colour it on a high setting and then turn the temperature down and leave it at the bottom of the oven for five or six hours, so that it takes on the texture of pulled meat. The mince is also very good, especially for making shepherd’s pies.”

Sheep from the two flocks owned by the business partners are slaughtered and processed by either Simpsons of Cockfield, or MacIntyre Meats, which is based near Hawes. The mutton is hung for an average of ten days, but Mr Simpson has stressed that the best results will be achieved if he is allowed to use his long experience to set hanging times based on individual carcase assessment.

Dales Lamb has a number of regular customers in London and takes orders from as far away as Kent, packing the meat in environmentally-friendly wool insulation material and sending it out by courier.

Meanwhile, local deliveries are made from Mr Madgwick’s home and there is no minimum order. Local retail customers include the Fox Hole, at Piercebridge, where dining customers can look out on to a nearby field and see grazing sheep from the Dales Lamb flock.

Key to the management of Mr Madgwick’s flock is sheepdog bitch Drift, who has become an invaluable help when gathering sheep on the various parcels of land which he rents in the area around his home.

“I am always looking to increase my acreage and will consider any tenancy or temporary arrangement,” he says. “I believe that sheep can make a positive contribution to keeping our landscape looking attractive and they play a vital role in keeping down weeds.”

Mr Madgwick admits that sheep were “just blobs in fields,” before he and his family moved to Gainford in 2004. His interest in farming was sparked when some land opposite his home came up for sale. After a considerable organisational effort, it was purchased by the residents in the terraced row, who were keen to safeguard the grassland against future development; the land is now protected by a covenant.

Mr Madgwick ended up with a small allotment and that is when the idea of keeping sheep was first introduced. He now has about 30 mixed breed ewes and at one time, numbers were up to 40 head. However his association with his business partner means that there is room for significant expansion. In less than 12 months, Dales Lamb has sold 40 carcases direct and sales are set to increase for 2019. Lamb is marketed all year round, with the exception of August.

“I only had a couple of breeding sheep at first, but I started selling lamb to pay for their upkeep,” he explains. “It was marketed alongside eggs from my hens, as well as honey, which was also being produced on the purchased land. At one point, I was putting together hampers of locally-produced food, which were marketed under the ‘Taste of Teesdale’ brand, but I am now focusing on the growth of Dales Lamb.”

He is not alone among livestock keepers in finding it difficult to pinpoint exactly why he gains so much pleasure from farming.

“I enjoy lambing time and watching my lambs grow strong and healthy,” he says. “Selling their meat direct to the public is a completist approach; it is very different from simply taking them to the mart. Sheep keeping is highly satisfying and there is a real feelgood factor.

“I just wish that I had started this type of enterprise when I was younger, because I was in my forties before I owned my first sheep. People say that they are stupid animals, but I do not agree; I find them intriguing and they do show signs of intelligence.

“When I look back on my career, I would probably have been happier being a farmer. Agriculture is in my genes, because my great uncle had a farm, although he had already retired by the time I was visiting him regularly. It is fair to say that sheep have become something of an obsession with me, and luckily my wife has been very supportive.”

Life Before Sheep

Life was very different for Mr Madgwick in his younger days, when he spent much of his time working in London as an ‘A&R’ (artists and repertoire) man, providing a link between the artists and the recording company or publisher and later becoming an artist manager. Advances in technology mean he can continue his work in the music business mainly from home, and he is also employed as a grouse beater in season, and as a school invigilator.

Mr Madgwick, whose wife Joanne is a nursery school teacher, is currently involved in the renewed popularity of 80s and 90s music and is putting together a number of CD re-issues, including releases by Kid Creole and the Coconuts and Andrew Ridgeley (formerly of Wham). His own personal favourite musicians cover a wide range of genres, with Aretha Franklin at the top of the list, followed by the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, the Human League and the B52s.

Dales Lamb does not have a website and instead uses the business Facebook and Twitter pages to take orders for produce.