There is much to celebrate at Little Hall Farm, Shropshire, such as the sale of their well-known herd and an anniversary which marks 60 years of service from farm worker Richard Tinsley. Emily Ashworth reports.
Alot can happen in 60 years and Richard Tinsley is someone who can prove it.
At 75 years-old he still works part-time, but he started working at Little Hall Farm, Bettisfield, in January 1960, at just 15-years-old.
Originally rented by Peter Edwards, it was a mixed enterprise nestled between England and Wales – the ‘welcome to Wales’ sign is only 300 metres from the farm.
Life has, however, changed onfarm, from conducting all farm work by hand to operating tractors with no cabs.
Richard, whose memories come thick and fast, says: “My designated job was tractor driver.
“My tractor was a Massey Ferguson 35X without a cab.
I was responsible for doing all the tractor work which included muck spreading, ploughing, sowing, bailing, hedge-cutting, ditching, hedge laying, mowing, picking up the grass for silage and the topping and tailing of root crops.”
In January 1968 the farm was hit by foot-and-mouth, which, he says, was devastating, but by March the same year they had somehow managed to restock.
The following year the farm invested in a new milking parlour, replacing the pipeline with a bulk tank plus new cow kennels and lagoon.
“We had gone up in the world,” says Richard.
In 1985, Peter’s son Roger and his wife Lin then took over, sparking real change in the business.
Roger says: “Additional silage bays were incorporated, and kennels were replaced with cubicle housing.
“Sheds were added to cope with the ever-increasing herd, which went from 60 in 1960 to 270 in 2018.” But Richard is much more than a farm worker and is considered to be part of the Edwards family.
For Roger, Richard has been a significant figure in his life.
Roger was only three years-old when Richard began working for the family.
"The only thing throughout this time that has not changed in any way is our devotion to the beautiful, humble dairy cow "
Roger says: “My memories of him go deep into my childhood.
“He would babysit us as kids and when we were a little older he would play football with us in his dinner hour.” Roger has also seen the industry change, especially as machinery began to get bigger and more efficient.
He says: “Following foot-andmouth, farming went through an improvement period and it mean milking more cows, so machinery was improved.
“Tractors became bigger and silage replaced hay as the main forage.
I think these were Richard’s favourite times as we started to make our own silage as well as growing our own cereals.
“I can remember silaging for a week in lovely sunshine – something we don’t seem to get much of nowadays.
“Unfortunately, as machinery became more expensive to run and labour much harder to find, agricultural contractors moved in, with their big self-propelled harvesters capable of doing in a day what took us a week.
“All this has meant that Richard’s role has changed immensely over the years and he has had to adapt to it.” There is no doubt mutual respect has played a huge part in pushing the business and relationship forwards, and it is Lin who puts it in to perfect perspective.
She says: “For me at Little Hall, it has all been about teamwork and great team players.
Farming has changed so much throughout this time in so many ways.
“More buildings, another bigger parlour, more acres, more cows, more locations to operate from.
“But the only thing throughout this time that has not changed in any way is our devotion to the beautiful, humble dairy cow.” Between them, they have built up their Willenhall herd of pedigree Holstein Friesian cattle, but the dispersal of the cattle is imminent due to the lack of a successor.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the herd was mostly British Friesans, and it was Roger who convinced his father to change direction to Holsteins, but ‘traditions were deep rooted’.
Roger says: “It was not easy, but I was allowed to experiment in the early years.
Having come through Walford Agricultural College, Shropshire, I was the keen middle son.
“It has always been mine and Lin’s dream to breed Holstein Cattle – they are a joy to look at and a pleasure to work with.” They have had quite the journey with the herd since, and in 1988 Roger had full control of breeding, working closely with Genus and then RMS, utilising the emergence of sexed semen.
Roger says: “Some of our bulls brought in ‘whiter cattle’, which farmers were unsure of back then. We love them.
Some of our best cows have been more white than black.
“We carefully selected sires that would continue our development.
Matson, Zebra, Bossman, Captain, Corinthian, Liftoff, Classic, Loveheart, Fantasmic, Seagull Bay Silver, Allstar – these were all fabulous contributors to the production of good quality milk.
“We were still using traditional proven sires, selected for good type – nothing less than 2 points – with good legs and feet and improvements on milk yields, fat and protein.”
But they had their moment at the Shropshire National Milk Records herd competition two years ago, when Willenhall swept the board taking home best large herd and best herd on inspection, along with super heifer, the progeny cup, family cup and champion herd.
“It was an unforgettable evening and one we will forever cherish,” says Roger.
It is not an easy time for Lin who is overwhelmed by the sale of the herd, which was supposed to be conducted on April 16 at Halls, Shrewsbury, by Stuart Hassall.
But with the outbreak of coronavirus, the sale will now be held online.
The herd is being sold in groups, according to stage of lactation and age.
She says: “It will, I believe, be the first sale of this type, in these dire circumstances.
“Fingers crossed our treasured herd will all find wonderful new homes, which they so deserve.
“I cannot tell you how many tears I have already shed at the thought of selling our wonderful herd.
I am not quite sure how I will be after the cows have gone.” The farm still runs 220 cows across 89 hectares (220 acres) and supplies Tesco.
Milking is carried out twice a day in a 16:32 herringbone DeLaval parlour, but is set to change once more.
Lin says: “We are stepping away from cows to a caravan and camping farm.
This is opening in autumn.
“Following that is a farm shop and cafe, plus our agricultural hub.
This is where we are going to educate people about what our beloved countryside provides for everyone.”
Both are still as passionate about the industry as ever and talk of the future and of Richard’s dedication to agriculture and their family, which looks set to continue until he can farm no more.
Richard says: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my 60 years of farming and I still do.
During the early years, although we were very busy, we were very happy. This has all gone now.
The contractors arrive with no time to spare, rushing to get to the next farm.
“The peace and tranquillity of farming life has gone.
“There is not a lot, however, to encourage the younger generation to take up farming.” The family have celebrated Richard’s contribution in various ways, including presenting him with a personal painting of Willenhall.
Lin says: “Try and match Richard if you can, but how many in the UK have held a job for 60 years and counting?” “It has been our greatest privilege to offer Richard such a job in the wonderful countryside for all this time “Long may it all continue.”
Lin and Roger Edwards and Richard Tinsley have dedicated their lives to the farm and to building their beloved herd, and they want to go out in true Edwards style.
The sale booklet will have a bespoke painting on the cover, by Seth Earl, who runs Capel Clay in Bala, Snowdonia.
Lin says: “Seth has managed to capture the beautiful spirit of our cows and our farm as well as Roger and myself; just a happy kind place.
“It’s a celebration of 60 years and how much we have loved our Willenhall herd of cows and more than that, just how talented the beautiful dairy cows are and the product they make.
“As I like to say, milk is life’s kindness and kindness is life’s milk.”