ILC Visit – The HUDSCALES HERD
The views from Hudscales farm, 1000 feet high, near Hesket Newmarket in the Lake District National Park, are truly stunning. To the north you see well over the English/Scottish border to Dumfriesshire’s Solway Coast. To the west, the view stretches across half of Cumbria – to the mountains of the Pennine Chain.
This 350 acre unit is home to William Cowx, his wife Judith and their two sons – Andrew and Adrian. Livestock farming is very much the name of the game here – with the main enterprise being the “Hudscales” pedigree herd of 60 Limousin cows. Cattle numbers are boosted by 50 first and second cross Limousin x Friesian cows. The pedigrees are mainly spring calving, with the commercials calving in the autumn, All bulls are Limousins. The sheep enterprise is based on a flock of 350 North of England Mules, crossed with Beltex and Texel tups.
Such magnificent views inevitably demand a price, Hudscales pays it. Winter comes early and stays late. The cattle are housed for over half the year – from early November to mid-May. The climate forbids the growing of arable crops. Other than silage, all feed plus bedding, is bought in. The annual straw bill alone is £4,000 to £5,000. Some of the cattle are housed in traditional old stone buildings, built in the 1700’s.
The majority however are accommodated in modern, airy, buildings. New they may be, but Andrew Cowx has “blended” in the exteriors, using his dry stone walling talents, developed repairing the miles of walls which criss-cross the farm. The “fell”, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a proposed World Heritage Site, rises steeply from the edge of the Hudscales garden, creating a magnificent backdrop to the farm house and buildings. Hudscales is in an Environmentally Sensitive Area, most of the pastures have been down for at least half a Century. This is a traditional upland family farm in one of England’s most scenic counties.
Farming options are limited by Nature, resulting in a traditional forage based cattle enterprise, supplying hardy, naturally done, genuine breeding and store stock for farmers on lusher, kinder land. Hudscales is a wonderful place to live, but a very challenging place to farm. All but one field is just inside the Severely Disadvantaged Area boundary.
Until the Common Agricultural Policy Reforms, Hudscales position – inside the SDA meant an extra livestock subsidy for farming such non-giving land. However, with future payments based on area rather than production and the SDA land receiving considerably less than non-SDA per hectare, the Cowx’s will suffer a substantial drop in income.
National Beef Association figures for the 3,500 to 4,000 farms with suckler herds inside the fringes of the SDAs, show that they face support reductions of 55 to 75 per cent. “Our initial reaction to the CAP Reforms was to reduce cow numbers and increase the sheep” explained William. “However, having thought things through, we’ve decided to “value add” to the cattle enterprise by replacing the commercials with pedigrees. It is something we’ve been doing gradually over the last couple of years, but now we’re going to accelerate that policy”.
The Hudscales pedigree herd receives no special treatment, the pedigree cows run alongside the commercials, wintering on silage, straw and minerals. Only the autumn calvers are given a “bite” of concentrates – to help them go back in calf. Once outside the cows survive and thrive on grass alone. All calves receive creep feed.
The commercial calves are sold at approximately a year old through Borderway Mart at Carlisle. Very few pedigree females are sold for breeding. “We keep the best for ourselves and over recent years, as we’ve replaced commercials with pedigrees, we’ve been keeping almost 20 pedigree heifers each year. The majority of the remainder are treated and marketed as commercials”, explained Andrew.
The Cowx’s do however sell the majority of their bull calves for breeding – they hold an annual sale each May in Borderway mart of weaned bull calves, up to a year old. In 2002 the 21 Hudscales bull calves averaged close to £1,800. Their 2004 sale is scheduled for May 28th.
“We can keep and feed a pedigree cow and her calf for the same cost as a commercial”, said Andrew, “so if we can get a decent premium for the pedigree stock, it makes sense for us, on this type of farm, where livestock is the only viable farming enterprise, to concentrate on producing pedigree Limousins. The great thing is, even if pedigree Limousins of either sex are not good enough for breeding, they are still eagerly sought by the meat trade”.
The Hudscales herd was founded in 1980 with the importation of five French heifers, selected by William’s uncle and near neighbour – Matt Ridley of the Haltcliffe herd. “We decided to breed some pedigree Limousins after we had inseminated some of our then Black Irish type cows, with semen from the Milk Marketing Board bull – Fanfaron, in the late 1970’s”, said William. “At the time we owned a Charolais bull, and we were so impressed with how easily the Limousin calves were born. And then when we sold them, they made more than the Charolais crosses, even though they weighed less.
Easily born calves and premium prices – it was obvious that Limousins had a great future, and we were determined to be part of it”. Almost quarter of a Century later, the Hudscales herd has established itself as a source of young, naturally done, well-bred cattle with potential. The two current stock sires are the home-bred Hudscales Rambler and the recently purchased Gunnerfleet Talker. The April 2000 born Rambler is a son of the legendary Broadmeadows Cannon. His dam – Hudscales Maxine is a daughter of the oldest cow in the herd – the 12 year old Holly Honeybee who was the top priced heifer when she was bought as a calf from Tommy Holliday at his annual sale. The Honeybee family is regarded as the best family in the Hudscales herd.
Gunnerfleet Talker was bought at Carlisle in February (2004), for 11,500 gns. He was one of a pen of bulls sired by Tunnelby Monkeytricks from Ian and Jim Handley of Chapel le Dale, Lancashire. One of Talker’s paternal brothers – Gunnerfleet Tricks, the intermediate champion, sold at the same sale for 12,000 gns.
It is many years since William Cowx viewed the very first Limousin cross cattle at Hudscales. “I can still picture them now, one summer evening, leaning over a gate and just enjoying watching those exceptional, great shaped, young Limousin calves”, said William. “Andrew who was just a toddler then, was with me, peering through the gate’s lower bars”. “At the time the Limousin breed was new to Britain, but between then and now, Limousins have become the most popular cattle breed. As a result, thanks to their impact throughout British cattle farming they have lifted the quality of cattle throughout the land. What farmers and butchers regarded as exceptional cattle thirty years ago, they now expect as the normal standard”. “When I think back to almost 30 years ago, and our first Limousin cross cattle, I believed then that Limousins would play a major role in our farming future.
Now in 2004 we are relying on Limousins to give us a farming future!” “I’m just as confident now as I was then, that the Limousin breed will not disappoint”.