THEY started with nothing but now the whole Mackley family from Scarborough is involved in creating a legacy which can be continued into the future, as Wendy Short found out when she went to meet them.
Edward Mackley and his family have been single-minded in their determination to become first generation farmers.
Starting out with just a couple of cows, they have built up a sizeable number of pedigree cattle and sheep, with the animals they produce proving very popular in the market place.
Edward was born at Mount View, Folkton, Scarborough, which comprises a set of farm buildings and just 0.8 hectares (two acres) of land. His father Philip, worked as a telephone engineer but he and his wife Mary, were interested in livestock breeding - a trait which was clearly inherited by Edward.
After leaving school, Edward took a job as an engineer for a gas supply company, saving up all his spare cash in order to buy livestock. And it was during this period of employment he met Sarah, who trained as a fashion designer.
Edward, whose children are Joseph, 14, and 11-year-old Isabelle, says: “Sarah’s parents don’t farm, but her extended family are involved in livestock production, so she knew what she was taking on. Happily, she is just as dedicated to our animals as I am.
“When I met her 16 years ago, I only had eight cows and 30 sheep but as numbers rose she was left to do most of the work, as I was away from home a lot of the time. It was not until 2007 the farm generated enough income to allow me to leave my job.
“By another stroke of luck, both children share our passion for livestock. They have just started showing commercial cattle and we were delighted when they took second place with a cross-bred heifer in the commercial beef class at this year’s Great Yorkshire Show.”
Since the couple married they have taken on a number of parcels of bought and rented land, the largest of which is a 105ha (260 acres) seasonal grazing let belonging to a local estate. In total, the family now farm 182ha (450 acres) and move their stock (and themselves) between seven different grassland tenancies, with the furthest being more than 20 miles away from home.
The numerous and widespread parcels of land which make up the farm mean baled silage is the only option. It is not possible to achieve consistent quality, so careful attention is paid to supplement the cattle and sheep diets with adequate vitamins and minerals.
The practicalities and expense involved in moving machinery around the various lots is prohibitive, therefore the rented land only provides for around one-third of the forage needed over the winter, with the shortfall bought in from other farms in the region.
“Our annual fuel bill is alarming and we spend a lot of time travelling. Because we’ve always been on the move, we’ve tended to take the children with us. They have picked up a lot of information this way and I like to think they have become very knowledgeable, considering their ages. It is a priority for us to breed cows with a good temperament, as the children are usually around when we are handling or moving cattle.
“One essential piece of equipment is our mobile handling system; it would be impossible to carry out routine management tasks without it. We don’t employ anyone or use contractors, partly because of the cost, but also because we like to do everything ourselves.”
The suckler herd is made up of 130 Limousin cows, including 30 pedigrees first registered in 2000 under the Mountsted prefix.
Calving is split evenly into an autumn and a spring group and around three-quarters of the cows are put to a Limousin sire, with the rest to the British Blue.
Due to the lack of winter housing, most of the cattle are kept outside in open straw yards, with a concrete base around the feed and water troughs.
The main buildings have a variety of uses, rotated throughout the year, from lambing, to housing cows close to calving and bulls being prepared for showing.
“The cattle do very well outside and we never get cases of pneumonia,” says Edward. “The key is to make sure the area is well drained and mucked out regularly, to keep them clean. Admittedly the system requires a lot of straw, but it is still cheaper and better than housing them indoors.”
Beef bulls not required for breeding are left entire and finished in the main building on a barley ration. They are sold through the local auction mart at 14-18 months old, weighing 650-800kg.
Sales are staggered from August to late spring, to ease cash flow and most of the heifers are retained for breeding to build up female numbers. The remainder are sold as stores at around 10-12 months of age, either through the local market or privately off the farm.
“The price for our finished bulls varies from 210-220p per kilo,” he says. “This sounds like a lot of money, but returns need to be high, if we are to justify a feed cost of around £230/tonne. The rising price of straw over the past couple of seasons also drains some of the profit out of the enterprise.”
Edward is particularly proud of the breeding bulls he has been producing in recent years.
“Half a dozen of our pedigree bulls were halter-trained and shown last year. As well as enjoying the show circuit, we also find it useful raising our profile. Last year we sold 12 privately and three at auction, at an overall average of £3,000.”
The sheep flock consists of 200 pedigree Charollais and 50 pedigree Texels, all carrying the Mountsted prefix. Again, private buyers take many of the best shearling rams, with almost 70 sold from home in 2011 at an average £450 apiece.
Gimmer shearlings are also sold for breeding, while the main crop of lambs is finished on stubble turnips and forage rape, which is sown by arrangement with the estate landlord. Lambing takes place in March and April, with weaning in July.
“We do not give our lambs concentrates, because we need to be able to select the individuals which grow and flesh easily off grass. We will only secure repeat business if our breeding stock perform well after they are sold. A high concentrate diet may make a shearling ram look good at point of sale, but he might not fare very well, once he is turned out with a group of ewes on a hillside,” says Edward.
Mount View pedigree Limousins
- AI is used over the winter months, with stock bulls run with the cows out at grass
- The herd is fed a total mixed ration containing straw, silage and a variety of bought-in straights, depending on market pricing
- Among the bulls used are: Wilodge Tonka; Carmorn Dauphin; Haltcliffe Doctor; Bahut; Proctors Duvalier and Goldies Comet
- This year, the herd has joined SAC’s Premium Cattle Health Scheme, with the aim of increasing buyer confidence. The cattle are being monitored for Johne’s, BVD and IBR
Maximising the sale price of livestock is considered vital, not least because the Single Payment Scheme allocated to the farm amounts to just a couple of thousand pounds a year.
“Everything we do is geared towards maximising our income and making the business a success in its own right. We are nowhere near to achieving the quality of livestock we would like, but our sheep and cattle are improving every year. Our policy is to breed animals which will help to make money for other people.
“For example, ease of calving is very important within our herd; not just for welfare reasons but also because difficult births end up costing money, as neither the dam nor her calf will reach their performance potential in the following months.”
Edward says private customers have individual ideas about the type of animal they are looking for and this is why he encourages them to visit the farm.
“We like people to have plenty of animals to choose from, whether it’s sheep or cattle. Buyers can select a ram in July, for example, and we will keep it until tupping time and then deliver it to its new home. It’s all about providing a good service, to encourage repeat business.
“The auction mart has a valuable role in livestock production, but private sales offer a greater opportunity to set your own average price.”
Planning permission has been secured to put up a new building at the homestead, but lack of funds has delayed progress. However, one quality the family is not lacking is patience.
“It has taken a while to build up the business to the level where it can provide us with an income, but in farming terms, it’s not really a very long time. Our short-term aim is to increase the herd to 150, and possibly to 200 cows some time in the future, but we accept it won’t happen overnight.
“Sometimes we think how fantastic it would be to have all our land within a ring fence. But really we are just grateful for what we have. Of course, we work long hours but we enjoy every minute of it; farming is in our blood.”
Edward is keen to credit family and friends with helping the Mackleys with their expansion plan over the years.
He says: “Everyone has been very kind and supportive, from family who have looked after the children, to other local farmers, who have been very generous about lending us their machinery when we couldn’t afford to buy our own. Without their assistance, I might be telling a very different story.”