29 September 2000

Diverse winners evoke showtime memories…

Where can you meet an ex-postman who breeds pedigree Hereford cattle, a sales and

marketing man who enjoys looking after Tamworths and a full-time farmer with a supreme

champion? Among the winners at agricultural shows, of course. As this years events draw

to a close, Jacqueline Sarsby remembers the Okehampton and District Show

Gerald Dicker –

Ex-postman

GERALD and Irene Dicker were sitting next to their champion Hereford bull, Old Jockey Samuel, with a flourishing hedge of rosettes in front of them.

Gerald started their herd of Herefords at Crossroads Farm, Box, Wilts, after 25 years working as a postman. In 1988, he had a heart attack and took early retirement, but instead of getting out the slippers and a good book, he started farming.

This was not totally out of character – his father looked after Herefords all his life on a farm near Malmesbury, and Gerald, himself, milked Friesians for 14 years, straight from school.

But why did he swap cows for letterboxes in 1963? When his employer retired and offered him the farm, Gerald couldnt raise enough capital so became a postman.

"We always had a little bit of ground at home," says Gerald. "We had some poultry – Warren hens, a lot of banties – and we lived on a busy, five-way junction, so if anyone had anything to dump, it used to end up there. Wed say, Wheres that cockerel come from?"

When salmonella restrictions came in, it wasnt feasible to go on with the poultry, and he and Irene decided to get Herefords. They started with just an old cow and two yearlings. "Now weve crept up to 28 cows and calves." And a nice row of rosettes.

Nick Hunkin –

Sales and marketing

AT the bottom of the field in the pig tent, Nick Hunkin from Illminster, Soms, was clutching the equivalent of the Tamworth Tiara for his sow, Shutevale Lucky Lass III. It had won Best Tamworth in Show, Best Interbreed Sow and Reserve Supreme Champion.

Nick is the first generation of his family not to be a full-time farmer. Pigs are his hobby.

In the 1950s, his parents kept a 44ha (108-acre) mixed farm in Newton Ferrers near Plymouth, with about 15 South Devon cows, a flock of Dartmoor sheep and some Saddleback pigs. By 1978, it had become a 57ha (140-acre) dairy farm with a herd of British Friesians.

Nick reckoned that he would have had to expand it further to be able to provide for his parents retirement and other family claims on the estate. They decided to sell up, and it was one of the first farms to be split up and sold as a farmhouse and 25 acres.

Nick is now in law publishing. But as he works from home, he can combine his main work with pig keeping – with the help of a young handler.

"All our weaners go up to a finishing farm near Shepton Mallet," says Nick. "They go on and do the farmers markets with Tamworth sausages, rissoles, bacon, ham and pork. It really is good stuff. Theyre doing very well with it, and showing the way we can all go forward."

Once again, in Nick Hunkins case, with a farming background, farming on a small-scale is much better than not farming at all.

Mark Evans –

Full-time farmer

AT the top end of the show-field, among the beautifully shampooed and groomed cattle, Mark and Lucienna Evans were tying a Supreme Dairy Champion sash around their Ayrshire, second-calver, Eastchurch Rebecca.

No one would accuse Mark of being a hobby-farmer. This year he has won five breed championships with five different cows and last year he won the Supreme Dairy Championship at the Devon County Show with Rosetta.

But Marks experience is different from the other two breeders in another respect. He is only a second generation farmer. His parents, John and Cynthia Evans of Eastchurch Farm, Hittisleigh, went into farming after the Second World War – Cynthia had learned to farm as a Land Girl. They brought up five children on 33ha (80 acres) but worried constantly about how they could help all their children from the proceeds of one small farm.

Mark and Lucienna recently left Eastchurch and are now in their second year of organic conversion on a 162ha (400 acre) rented farm at Honiton, part of the Combe Estate. "With only 80 acres it was impossible to go organic," says Mark.

The beautiful old farmhouse and cob barns of Eastchurch are gone, but now they are able to keep 140 milking cows and 100 young stock in "state-of-the-art" dairy buildings, that are easy to keep clean. By going organic, they are able, at one and the same time, to keep their stock in the most modern and the most traditional way.