The Hutchinsons in County Durham have found the combination of breeding Hereford cattle and running a horse livery to be a successful one. Jennifer MacKenzie finds out more.

HEREFORDS and horses are proving the ideal mix for a County Durham farming family.

The tenanted Field House Farm, Greatham, near Hartlepool, has been farmed by the Hutchinson family for several generations and pedigree Hereford cattle and a horse livery have been the focus of the business for the last two decades.

Running to 200 acres, the farm supports the entire family – Bethan Hutchinson and her parents, Geoff and Janice, and Bethan’s sisters, Beverley and Jade, and brother, Ryan, who works on the farm when not busy as a scaffolder.

Bethan, 28, the fourth generation of the Hutchinson family, was always keen to farm and after she left school she completed a Level 3 course in agriculture at Askham Bryan College, York.

“After I left college, I started buying in and rearing black and white calves to earn some money. They were turning over but there wasn’t much money in it,” said Bethan, who with her partner, Chris Sewell, an HGV driver, is now mum to baby daughter, Sydney, named after Bethan’s grandfather Sidney.

“Dad and I were at Bentham market to buy calves. There was a batch of ten Hereford cross heifers and Dad said why don’t you buy those which are beefy and they will give you a good start and help you put money into farming,” added Bethan.

The heifers were purchased in 2013 and Bethan decided to keep them and put them to the Hereford bull to start a suckler herd.

Auckfield Monument was bought privately from successful Hereford breeder John Kemp at Bishop Auckland and the interest in pedigree breeding developed from there.

The Hereford had all of the traits of easy calving and management that the Hutchinsons were looking for and they felt it was a waste of resources to have a bull with a good pedigree and not use him for pedigree production.

The first two heifers for the Bethanfield herd were bought from Robert Wilson, of Cowbog, Kelso, and from the Kemps. More in-calf cows were bought from John Douglas, of Stranraer, to progress the herd more quickly.

Bethan’s sister Jade by then was building up a successful horse livery yard, which she started soon after they took over the tenancy from Sidney in 2003 and the easygoing Herefords were a good complement to the equine enterprise. The farm now has a DIY livery for 40 horses.

Auckvale Monument has left his mark with all of his heifers having been retained in the herd. The Bethanfield herd now numbers about 60 pedigrees, including four bulls, and the aim is to run 50 breeding cows and followers.

Numbers have been built up with home-bred stock with most of Monument’s calves being heifers and some purchases including Solpoll 1 Starlet, bought at the Hereford autumn sale in 2018 at Hereford from John and William McMordie, of Newtonards, Co Down.

Only three years after establishing the herd, it won one of the Hereford Cattle Society’s most prestigious awards, the grand and intermediate championship at the society’s show in 2018 – Bethan’s first experience at a national show.

The 2015-born Bethanfield Lisette was sired by Auckvale Monument and out of Fourstones Lisette, purchased privately from Robert Armstrong, of Fourstones, Hexham.

Hesitant to attend the national show in Worcester, after a lot of encouragement from John and Tom Kemp, she decided to further her knowledge and, to her surprise, went on to lift the premium prize with Lisette, pictured below.

The Northern Farmer:

Bethan embarked on the show circuit in 2016 with the Romany heifer, Lucy, taking prizes at the Northumberland Show and at Agri-Expo in Carlisle.

So far, breeding is by natural service. Current stock bulls are both from one of Bethan’s favourite herds at Coley Manor, near Halifax, run by Heather Whittaker.

Bethan first saw Coley 1 Petrus at the Royal Highland Show when she helped out with the showing when the bull was a calf on his dam and she bought him at a year old and he later won a second prize senior at the Highland for the Bethanfield herd. Petrus, who retained the Best Beef Bull title for the second year in a row at Ryedale Show 2019, is leaving his mark on the herd.

The most recent Coley stock bull is Coley 1 Sebastian joined the herd in December 2019. The bull has got both cows and heifers in calf and the Hutchinsons are awaiting the results.

The family has mixed opinions on breeding polled and horned cattle so both are bred. Bethan prefers horned cattle while Geoff prefers polled animals mainly for safety reasons.

Geoff is always on hand to advise Bethan on breeding and selecting bulls and females, which are generally chosen on conformation and breeding, rather than on EBVs. Their selection criteria are straight legs, flat backs and length with a deep mid section.

The Northern Farmer:

The Hutchinson's trophy room

The herd is spring and autumn calving, which spreads out the workload and it produces cattle for sale and showing at different times of the year. All heifers are currently being retained as herd replacements but in a couple of years time Bethan hopes to be able to sell heifers at the society sales.

A recent development has been the sale of boxed beef direct from the farm. With the farm being ideally placed in Greatham between the larger towns of Billingham and Hartlepool, there is a good customer base and beef boxes have been selling well.

Males are left entire and finished by 18 months old on a grass-based diet.

“We can’t finish the bulls quick enough. We just want to tick over slowly and we are selling four a year straight off the farm,” said Bethan.

“We send the cattle to Trevor Robinson at Wingates and Farm to Fork at Helmsley who have the cattle slaughtered. The carcases are matured for 28 days and they are then butchered into a variety of cuts and joints as well as mince, vacuum packed and returned to the farm. We take orders in advance and sell the 15kg boxes for £150,” she added.

“The Herefords are ticking all the boxes for us as a family,” said Bethan. “They are docile and we can run them in the same field with the horses. At the moment, we have in-calf cows in with some ponies.”

The farm is now all down to grass to provide grazing for the cattle and horses as well as producing hay and silage. The cows are put into the paddocks after the horses, which are selective grazers.

The docile Herefords are also ideal for an alternative education programme run at the farm. This involves the hosting of four or five school-age young people who are keen to make a career in equestrian pursuits or in agriculture. The business also plays host to pupils who are taking a break from the standard curriculum. This generates another income stream for the farm.

“Dad is the third generation of the family to farm here and with a limited acreage we all want to make a go of it and for the business to survive and thrive which the Herefords and the livery are helping us to do,” said Bethan.