Farm Walk - NSA Central Region

Date: 8th October 2017

Time: 10.30am

Location: Langford Farm, Lostock Green, Northwich, Cheshire, CW9 7TG

By Anne Payne, NSA Central Region Manager

On the first Sunday in October, about 30+ members and friends were treated to a really enjoyable day at John Gate’s farm near Northwich, Cheshire, where the weather was thankfully kind to us.  John and his son Richard were very generous with their time, sharing their farming year with us and giving us details of their various farming enterprises.

Though they have other parcels of land on 2-year Farm Business Tenancies, the home farm – which they started renting 20 years ago – is a tenancy of 120 acres with Inovyn Enterprises and because it is sited on salt deposits, this imposes limitations for them in many ways.

 At intervals throughout the farm, sections of large pipes to carry the brine containing the extracted salt were visible, and occasionally there are brine bursts onto the land for which they receive no compensation.  In addition, because of the complicated underground systems (including fibre-optics) John has to seek permission for doing any fencing.    It is also known that salt locks up copper (though gypsum can help if there’s a leak).  As well as this, the tenancy has specified “no dairy farming”.

 As there are just John and Richard running the farm, they emphasised that they try to keep the farm activities as simple as possible, but also plan their time-tables to assist cash-flow throughout the year,

Sheep – Their sheep enterprise consists of 600 mule ewes, 150 mule gimmers –  which are bought in annually (100 from Kirkby Stephen and 50 from Bentham Market) – and 100 pedigree Rouge.  Tupping time is mid-November using Texel tups on the older ewes to give some Texel X shearlings for sale, and Rouge tups on the ewe lambs, in a ratio of 3 per 100 ewes. 

The main flock is lambed outdoors in April, and though the pedigree Rouge are reared commercially, they’re lambed indoors and put out as soon as possible.  Apart from the 100-150 ewe lambs they grow on to sell, all lambs are sold dead-weight and they aim to produce a 21kg. carcase, R3L spec.

As regards sheep health, they vaccinate with Enzovax, Heptavac P+, Scabivax, and this year with Footvax.  John and Richard were quite open about the foot problems they’d had this year, showing some recovering ewes which were then on the Parkland they rent from Tabley House – now an exclusive Nursing Home.

Cattle – Of their 100 sucklers – a combination of Black Herefords and Limousins (1st cross off the dairy cow for ease of calving) – 70-80 are spring calvers and are calved outdoors.  The rest calve in the autumn, and if any cows “slip round”, they are put into another group.  They have 1 Blonde bull and 2 Limousin bulls, chosen for both conformation and calm temperament, who are fertility-tested annually, and run with the herd for 3 months.    All the calves are finished on farm, on ad-lib barley system with the aim to finish them as quickly as possible at around 500kg (estimated at 1.5 ton per beast)

 The Continental X calves have been creep fed for the 1st time this year to encourage frame growth, and help reduce stress at weaning when they are indoors, and introduced on to the ad-lib system. The Hereford X calves have not been creep fed as they are better able to convert on a grass based system.  All progeny off the farm are sold for slaughter mainly through a livestock auction, with some going dead weight. Herd replacements are bought in as mainly in-calf heifers.

Their cattle health regime includes vaccinating against salmonella, rotavirus and BVD.

Acreage – As well as the 120 acres rented at home, a further 220 acres of parkland is rented off Tabley Esate with a further 100 acres also rented in smaller parcels of land on short term FBT's. Winter sheep grazing is also taken on which includes 300 acres of the Cheshire Show. In lieu of rent, they pay in fencing when requested.  However, John was understandably vague as to the total acreage they farm each year, as they are regularly approached by local farmers with offers of surplus grazing when conditions are favourable.

 At home, they put 20 acres down to barley for their own use, and source the remaining feed barley and straw from local farms.  Short term grass lays are established where possible to provide good quality silage and provide some after-math lamb grazing.  Where possible, as much machinery work and maintenance is taken on in-house, including silaging and the transportation of stock from their multiple locations.

Turkeys – 750 are grown ready for Christmas, all of which are traditionally reared and hand plucked.  Around 200 are sold direct from the door and the rest are sold through farm shops.

 All in all, it was a fascinating day, with a combination of lovely countryside to walk in, welcome mini-buses provided by Reaseheath College to transport us to the off-farm sites, excellent refreshments dished up by John’s wife Rachael (partially funded by Willows Vet Practice – and much appreciated) plus good company throughout the day.  You know it’s been a good day out when there’s a real buzz from folk staying afterwards, chatting for ages, and not appearing to want to go home!