PURSUING quality over quantity is paying off for Tom and Kay Hutchinson on a small hill farm in Upper Teesdale.

The couple took on their first farm Bail Hill, Forest in Teesdale, running at an altitude of 1,300 ft above sea level and comprising just 90 acres with fell grazing, in 2005 as tenants of the Raby Estate.

While farming is in the blood, neither of their parents farmed and the couple met at Askham Bryan College, near York, where Tom was studying for a diploma in agriculture and Kay a diploma in horticulture.

When they moved to Bail Hill with their small beef herd and sheep, both continued to do self-employed work off the farm - Tom doing contract sheep shearing and Kay working as a fieldsperson for mart firm Harrison & Hetherington at Middleton in Teesdale.

Over the last few years their dedication, with help from their young family - Jack, 18, Esme, 17 and Hetty, 15 - is paying off with both pedigree and commercial cattle making good prices alongside their Swaledale sheep.

They now rent almost 120 acres and they run 20 pedigree Limousin and Hereford and commercial beef cows as well as the farm’s hefted flock of 100 Swaledale sheep.

In 2015, the Hutchinson family was filmed over 18 months by Magali Pettier for the film Addicted to Sheep which had its World Premiere at Sheffield Doc Fest in June 2015.

Tom had always wanted to farm, having spent a lot of his younger days at his grandparents’ Valley Farm, Stainmore, and Kay got the farming bug from her school days at Haydon Bridge where the school had a farm.

“After college I got a job on a farm in North Yorkshire then at The Tecket, Simonburn near Wark, working with sheep and cattle for Ken Shield near Kay’s parents. I learned a lot of stockmanship skills there and I also got involved with sheepdog training,” said Tom.

They secured the tenancy of a smallholding, Lady Hill, in 1999, where they established the Kingshaugh herd and flock while still working on a self-employed basis - Tom clipping around 12,000 sheep a season with his clipping partner John Reay and Kay doing gardening design and maintenance.

“Money was very tight to the point when I couldn’t afford to put petrol in the car to go sheep clipping,” said Tom.

The Hutchinsons got into beef production firstly by buying a Guernsey cow they called Gloria from a Northumberland farmer for £220 and suckling Simmental calves on it. Gloria was so productive she reared ten calves in one season.

Tom also took the opportunity to work to pay for an old Limousin cow and calf which led them to establish their pedigree herd.

During the foot-and-mouth standstill they decided to go into a different breed and bought cattle from a reduction sale of the Costhorpe herd in Leicestershire - and also benefitting afterwards from the knowledge and advice of the herd’s stocksman, Steve Edwards, whom they are still in touch with.

As the livestock numbers grew they got to the point where they needed more acreage and Bail Hill became available.

“For the first viewing at Bail Hill I came with Tom’s dad and I just thought this is the place - but I didn’t want to build my hopes up,” said Kay.

“Then Tom came with a good friend and he felt the same.

“We were lucky to get the tenancy and we are so grateful to Raby Estate for giving us the opportunity,” she added.

Tom, who has done an AI course, has used Canadian Hereford semen from Semex on the Hereford females. The most current sire used is Gouldingpoll Gold Spice.

Kay said: “The Hereford cows thrive at Bail Hill and they are easily managed. They produce very tasty beef too!”

With Tom’s access to Limousins with his previous work for Latterford Farm he purchased ex-stock bull Newhouse Lordship, a grandson of Broadmeadows Cannon.

In 2006 they purchased a half share in the yearling French bull Ananas Ben with Michael Davison from the Latterford herd.

He has proven to be a very good breeder with pedigree heifer calves to £2,000 and bull calves to £2,200.

He also bred some extreme cross-bred calves, including Champion Bullock at Middleton-in-Teesdale, which went onto win Reserve Champion on the hoof and Overall Champion Carcase at The Scottish Winter Fair in 2011.

The pedigree Limousins and commercial cattle have been having increasing success since the purchase of the current stock bull Wilodge Inchbyinch, now seven years old, as a calf.

His dam is the imported cow Vanille and he is by Loosebeare Diego.

Inchbyinch sired his first four calves at 12 months old and they averaged £900.

“We both got our eye on him at the sale. Even at that age he had a fantastic top line and loin and he was very correct on his legs. He was also very quiet. He has proved to be the easiest calving bull we have used,” said Tom.

Semen has been taken from Inchbyinch by Scafell Genetics in West Cumbria for future use and some for sale.

They bought another bull calf at four months old as a prospective new herd sire. Beechmount Ozzy, now 13 months old, is by Netherhall Jackpot out of Ampertaine Foreman.

“The cattle and sheep work well together on the farm but we aren’t in a position to keep pedigree animals until they are mature, particularly bulls which need to be kept separate, so we started to look more into keeping crossbred cows,” said Kay.

The commercial females are bought usually as weaned calves from high health status herds mainly from Middleton-inTeesdale mart.

Money from sales of livestock is reinvested in the business and more recently bulling heifers were purchased with 28 females to calve in 2020 - made possible with the Raby Estate offering them extra shed space.

2018 was a successful year for the Hutchinsons.

They sold a shearling Swaledale ram for £18,000 retaining a quarter share in a four-way sale at the Kirkby Stephen C District sale in October.

Suckled calves sold to £3,000 at the Middleton-in-Teesdale calf sale in November while pedigree Limousins made a top price for the herd of 2,200gns.

In November 2019 at the same sale at Middleton they had the supreme champion, an April-born Black Limousin cross heifer which was purchased for £2,150 by well known show cattle producer Phil Sellers from Lincolnshire.

At the same sale their heifers made £1,950 and £1,200 while a bullock sold for £1,200. All the crossbreds were by Wilodge Inchbyinch.

He is the sire of three home-bred bull calves and a heifer sold at the Carlisle Limousin society weaned calf sale on December 13 at Carlisle.

The Hutchinsons would like to expand their farming activities further, particularly as their young family are keen on farming.

Jack is spending five months sheep shearing in New Zealand, returning to a lambing job in Northumberland in March. He gained valuable experience working on a beef and sheep farm near Ulverston before going abroad.

Esme helps with lambing at home and Hetty has her own small flock of Herdwicks and, with Jack, is keen to show commercial cattle.