Young Farmer of the Year Louie van Geffen talks to Wendy Short about his passion for farming.

THERE are some tremendous young farmers across Northern England and Young Farmer of the Year award winner, Louie van Geffen, is a shining example of their dedication and enthusiasm. Starting out in his early teens by rearing a dozen pet lambs, he now has 200 sheep on 60 acres and is aiming for 500 head in the near future, with some lamb sold direct to the public.

Mr van Geffen’s main interest lies in his ‘Raisdale’ pedigree sheep flock, but he has also kept pigs and reared calves. The flock grazes up to 15 parcels of rented land, all within a six-mile radius of Carlton-in-Cleveland, in North Yorkshire, where the 21-year-old lives with his parents while studying at university. He also has the use of a polytunnel, which is set up in the family garden, along with a couple of acres of adjoining woodland.

The pedigree side of livestock breeding has captured Mr van Geffen’s interest and he has already collected an impressive array of rosettes. At last year’s Borrowby Show, he took the inter-breed with a Beltex shearling tup and had the native champion with his Hampshire Down tup lamb. On the same day, two of his Beltex-sired commercial lambs took the first and reserve championships in their section.

However, it was in 2017 that the flock had its finest day to date. At the Halifax Show, he was awarded the interbreed championship for his Hampshire Down aged ewe, as well as the reserve interbreed championship with a Beltex shearling ewe.

“Genetic progress has been accelerated through embryo transfer for the Beltex and semen from the 16,000gns Ardstewart Super Mario has been a significant influence in the flock,” said Mr van Geffen. “The technique also helps to maintain a fairly tight lambing period.”

The Hampshire Downs lamb in December and the Beltex ewes in February, with the Continentals following in March. Some 80 per cent are retained for breeding to increase numbers, while 70 per cent of tups run with the shearlings and are then sold at sales and privately. As much lamb as possible is marketed direct and remaining animals go through Thirsk auction mart.

“The Hampshire Down is ideal for boxed lamb sales, as its meat has great flavour and my customers like the idea of a native breed product,” said Mr van Geffen. “The Continentals fit in because they excel at breeding commercial tups, as well as producing a high-value finished lamb that suits auction mart buyers.”

A brief experiment with direct sales of pig meat sausages proved successful, after some Gloucester Old Spot cross Tamworth weaners were brought in to restore a neighbouring orchard that the family had purchased. He has plans to buy a couple of native sows to AI with a commercial hybrid boar, to improve productivity.

“I have found pig meat easier to sell to the public, compared with lamb,” he observed. “People always have room for a pack or two of sausages in their freezers, but they may not have sufficient space for a half-lamb.

“The local butcher made up some very interesting sausage recipes, including a mix of chestnut, apricot and chive, plus caramelised onion and a spicy variety called Welsh Dragon. But having brought the orchard under control, I will have to ensure that it stays in good order.”

Calf-rearing is another previous venture that he is keen to reinstate.

“I bought in some week-old British Blue cross calves from a local dairy herd and sold them to a local finisher after weaning,” he said. “I am hoping to repeat this enterprise, but it relies on being able to get the ewes and lambs out of the polytunnel in good time in the spring. The ideal option would be to rent a nearby building for the calves.”

Mr van Geffen will complete a BSC in agriculture at Newcastle University next summer (he has already completed a foundation degree in the subject). He is considering two potential main careers, while still pursuing his aim to build up his farming enterprises. He currently supplements his income with some contract shepherding.

He said: “I will probably look at finding a job in farm management, or perhaps with a livestock breeding and genetics company. I also find the arable side interesting, so I might try and gain more experience in that area.

“I will continue to expand my livestock business and sheep are ideal, as the required investment in housing and equipment is lower than for other species. The polytunnel at home is only a temporary solution and I could move up a gear if I had more resources. I would particularly like to add to my rented land, or enter into a share-farming agreement.

“I may not have an agricultural background, but I think I am as ambitious as any farmer’s son. As livestock numbers are limited, I strive to improve the quality, and therefore the value, of my livestock.”