AGM 2023 Durham

The 2023 Society AGM saw members flock to the North East of England for a packed weekend hosted by the Scottish & Borders Club. The weekend kicked off with a visit in Northumberland to Thistley Haugh (Flock 884) by kind permission of Duncan and Angus Nelless and families. Before heading out to look at the farm Duncan explained that they farmed 860 acres of land across three holdings with half owned and half tenanted.

The Nelless’ run 1900 Lleyn Sheep plus 600 ewe lambs alongside 260 Angus-based suckler cows, which are out wintered. The family also have a free range poultry unit with over 1000 turkeys being finished for Christmas. The farm has been fully organic for nearly 20 years. Members then piled into pickups and onto a trailer for a tour. The weekend got off to a bang when one of the tyres gave way on the trailer!

Out in the fields, Duncan and Angus talked about how they were using clover rich multi species leys to minimise inputs. This caused a great deal of discussion with schemes such as the SFI encouraging these, all agreed it was great to see them working so successfully. Lambing takes places in March and April with lambs finished at grass from 10 weeks old. Lambs are averaging a growth rate of 0.3kg up to weaning. The Nelless’s are strong advocates of using data to maximise profits from their flock and having been gathering data for over a decade, they explained there are many reasons for this, including: to make better management decisions and investment, target poor performing animals and identify those who are thriving and to make as much use as possible of resources such as labour and land. The results from this data certainly look to be paying dividends!

Whilst we could have stopped at Thistley Haugh for hours, unfortunately time was against us so after a vote of thanks by Scottish & Borders chair, Charles Geldard, members departed to Redworth Hall Hotel in Country Durham, our host venue for the weekend.

On Saturday morning, members and guests packed on board a bus ready for the day’s visits. After a short drive to Leyburn the murky and miserable weather did little to hide the sheer scale and impressiveness of Metcalfe Farms, Washfold. Members and guests heard how the business is a fourth-generation family partnership, farming 3000 acres in the Yorkshire Dales. The farm has several enterprises and as we were shown around by Steve Allen he talked in detail about each. The dairy herd numbers 1300 pedigree Holsteins being milked three times a day through a rotary parlour and it was very visible for everyone to see the farm’s clear focus on achieving exceptional animal welfare and cleanliness.

We were also shown the farm’s bio-digester which uses the slurry from the dairy herd to generate energy to use on site as well as sell back to the National grid. Metcalfe Farms is also renowned for its contracting business with an impressive fleet able to cover almost any type of field work required from silaging, arable work to slurry spreading. They also have a haulage business which is involved in moving heavy and abnormal loads throughout Europe for both military and private customers, as well as undertaking bulk haulage of aggregates, grain and animal feed. 

Recently, Metcalfe Farms have also opened a quarry selling crushed limestone aggregates, dusts, rock armour, and walling stone. This works well alongside the concrete plant which is on site. Steve also explained that several local businesses are based at Washfold including a veterinary practice and tractor dealership. Unfortunately time was once again against us, so after thanking Steve for showing us around the phenomenal set up everyone once again boarded the bus to head to Raby Castle, our next visit.

At Raby, the group divided into two. Half enjoyed soup and sandwiches in the spectacular castle settings while the other half were exploring the impressive 14th Century Castle built by the Neville Family. The Castle is rich in history and as we made our way around the impressive array of rooms, guides were on hand to talk about some of the magnificent features.

There was also the opportunity to explore the different parts of the 200 acres surrounding the Castle, home to the herd of deer. Once everyone was fed, it was back onto the bus to return to Redworth for the AGM and meal.

The Bishop Suite at Redworth hosted the AGM and Presentation of Awards. In the meeting Wynne Davies was re-elected as President with John Geldard as Vice President.

The results of the 2023 Society Photo Competition was announced, with the champion photograph coming from Paul Barrow, Flock 726

We were delighted to be joined by Heather Stoney-Grayshon and her husband Martin at the annual dinner. Following the meal, John Geldard talked about all the work Heather had carried out during her 13 Years as the Society’s Promotion and Breed Development Officer noting how much the role had changed during this time. John thanked Heather for everything she’d done to help make the breed and Society so successful. Heather was then presented with a Clogau Gold necklace as a thank you for all her hard work.

The Scottish & Borders club also held a game of “heads and tails” to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society, where £400 was raised to go to this good cause. Members then danced the night away to the band Stereo Typical who played a range of rock and pop classics.

Sunday morning saw a final visit to Page Farms Partnership to see the enterprise being run by Heather and Martin. The partnership had bought Lleyn Shearlings in 2023 and these were out in the fields with homebred Blue Texel rams. Martin also talked about the cattle breeding enterprise with the Beef Shorthorn as the basis in the cows whilst putting continental bulls across them to suit the commercial market. Following a stock judging with Colin Price as master judge, everyone enjoyed a delicious dinner that was kindly provided by our hosts.

Everyone then headed on their various journeys home following a weekend of great visits, great food and great company. Best of luck to the West Country Club for hosting in 2024 and we look forward to seeing everyone there!