16 January 1998

Profits first

but farm care vital

In the first of a three-part

series, we profile finalists

in the FW/NSA Sheep

Farming and Conservation

competition, judged in conjunction with FWAG.

Emma Penny reports

CARING for the countryside has to be closely aligned with ensuring profitability for one Yorkshire farm manager.

For Christopher Thomson, who manages 350 Mules and 650 Swaledales plus 200 followers across the 1855ha (4584 acres) at Broomhead Farm, Bolsterstone, Sheffield, profitability is the key.

"As a farm manager, my first and foremost duty is to make the farm work profitably. But I also have a role as a custodian of the countryside, and hope I have improved the farm over the 18 years I have been here."

Broomhead Farm comprises mostly rough grazing and heather moorland, with about 80ha (200 acres) parkland. Besides being in the Peak National Park, about 1695ha (4190 acres) is in the North Peak ESA, and the farm is also included in the North Peak SSSI, which provides a special protection area for birds on the moor.

Membership of the ESA, and the annual payments it brings with it, has allowed Mr Thomson to employ a full-time member of staff. Besides that, he has spent money on rebuilding stone walls, regenerating heather moorland and stockproofing woodlands.

"Stockproofing woodlands – which are entirely broad-leaved species – should allow regeneration. We have so few trees here that I think it is very important."

Some wetland areas have been fenced off to favour orchids, snipe, lapwings and butterflies, while three ponds have been created, he explains. "We are fencing off field corners for wildlife and tree planting, and fencing off stream sides to create wildlife corridors."

His long-term improvement aims are also reflected in the sheep flock, particularly the Swaledales.

"Until now the flock has been bred pure, and we have been breeding up with a particular interest in breeding for scrapie resistance."

This year, however, he has bought two Bluefaced Leicester tups for use on ewes with good Swaledale characteristics.

"The best Swaledales will still be bred pure, but I want to introduce the Bluefaced Leicester to breed my own flock replacements and avoid buying in disease. Currently, all Mule replacements are bought-in from Skipton."

Mule ewes are crossed with Suffolk tups to produce prime lambs, which are sold deadweight. "We also put the poorer Swaledales to a Suffolk, selling the lambs as stores."

Tups to ewes

Tups go to the ewes on Nov 5 each year – the long winter means Mr Thomson aims to delay lambing until the weather improves. Some ewes are housed, and a quarter of the Swaledale flock is moved off the ESA land to meet the prescription for reduced grazing pressure. "We also prevent poaching on the moor by block feeding only on in-bye land."

Mr Thomsons interest in conservation extends beyond the farm. He runs an evening class in countryside management, as well as speaking to local groups about his work.

THOMSON STRATEGY

&#8226 Hill and upland flocks.

&#8226 ESA, National Park and SSSI.

&#8226 Aim to improve stock quality.

Wetland management and regenerating woodland are key tasks, says Christopher Thomson (second left). But profitabiity comes first, he tells competition judges (L to R) FWs Emma Penny, FWAGnational technical manager Richard Knight and NSAchief executive John Thorley.

THOMSON STRATEGY

&#8226 Hill and upland flocks.

&#8226 ESA, National Park and SSSI.

&#8226 Aim to improve stock quality.