19 July 2002

Flying start on a Cheshire holding

The opportunities for a young couple to farm in their own right today, are slim.

For Judith and Mark Bowes, a county council holding in Cheshire has given them

the start they have been looking for. Tessa Gates met them as they settled in

at Meadow Farm, Ridley, and Farmlife readers will be able to follow their

progress in a monthly diary – First Farm

ITS Judiths name on the 15 year tenancy at Meadow Farm but it is very much a joint enterprise. Judith (32) and her husband Mark Bowes (28) have worked and planned for the chance to run their own farm and in April moved into the three-bedroomed house at Meadow Farm, Ridley, from where they can see virtually all of this compact 30.6ha (75-acre) farm. Mainly grass, the farm has a milk quota of 361,406 litres.

Meadow Farm is the second holding in Cheshire that the couple had applied for. "Cheshire is said to be the place letting something decent," explains Mark. "We got down to the final four for a neighbouring farm 18 months ago. We paid a professional to advise us on how to do a proposal the first time and that costs between £300 and £400. The second time we decided to put the money towards a computer and did our own on that, copying the same format. We had to do the proposal after seeing only a video of the farm, because of foot-and-mouth, but we got the tenancy and we are very pleased with it."

&#42 Moving in

The couple, who come from Broughton-in-Furness, Cumbria, moved in with 50 cows. "The tenancy started on Apr 1, but with the kind agreement of the previous tenant and the landlord we were able to bring the machinery and furniture before that," explains Judith. "With Mark having been an agricultural contractor, he had gathered quite a selection of machinery and tools, including a 25ft bale trailer he had made himself from an old articulated wagon trailer. Everything was loaded onto his tractor and trailer, three high in places – with the fertiliser spreader on last. We could nearly convince people that Mark was going to drive it down and that the sofa was being strapped to the top for me! But no, the tractor and trailer was driven onto a low loading wagon trailer, taken down, driven off – the fertiliser spreader taken off and used – and the rest left to unload at leisure."

"The cows and us moved in permanently on Apr 2," she explains. "Again everything went smoothly with plenty of help to load, with one friend coming down to help with the first few milkings. The past tenant also helped us with the first milking. The cows, being used to an abreast parlour, had to get used to standing at an angle in a herringbone, so lots of pushing and shoving was needed. By the third milking most of the cows were quite happy with the idea, and things were much easier and cleaner."

&#42 Left shipshape

The previous tenant had left the farm very tidy. It is easily managed and has good tracks and gates and no roads crossing the land. Even the weather favoured the newcomers arrival. "We were told it was a wet farm averaging 40in a year of rain, but that is a joke compared to where we come from . Here we could turn the cows out on Apr 4," says Mark, explaining that they got up to 152cm/year (60in/year) of rain in Cumbria and that on Judiths fathers farm they had the tide coming up the gulleys too, because it was below sea level.

Both come from farming families. Judith worked with her father and managed to buy his pedigree Holstein cows that can be traced back to the first cow he bought.

"We have cubicles for 64 and we hope to increase our herd but will take it steady and then lease in some more quota," she says. Judith will be doing all the milking, Mark will take care of the grassland and do contract work to supplement their income. He had already done silaging for a local contractor and had a couple of days carting bales when Farmlife spoke to him.

"It is easy to fall into contracting again and I will hope to do that through the summer," he says.

&#42 One difficulty

Its been a good start for the couple so far with only one little difficulty encountered regularly and that is down more to colloquial expressions than accent.

"Language is the biggest problem. I say something and people look at me quite blank sometimes," says Mark.

&#8226 First Farm – a monthly diary from Judith and Mark – starts in Farmlife on Aug 9.