Trends in farming come and go, but at the very heart of livestock breeding is a group of enthusiasts who support their breed through thick and thin. Sarah Todd reports.
Breed societies could be described as a vital cog in the wheel of British agriculture, promoting their respective breed’s best interests while educating the wider public.
Underpinning these organisations are steadfastly loyal breed supporters such as the Bulmer family from Salton, North Yorkshire, who this year are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the foundation of their flock of Suffolk sheep.
Back in 1927, Thomas William Bulmer caught a train for the 500- mile round trip to attend the Suffolk Sheep Society sale in Ipswich where he bought his first sheep.
Three years later, in 1930, he formally registered the Salton Suffolk name and flock, named after the village where the Bulmer family still farms today.
The Salton prefix features for the first time in the 1931 flock book, in volume 45, and this registration consisted of 10 shearling ewes and one ram.
Mark Bulmer is Thomas William’s grandson and he still keeps about 50 Suffolk breeding ewes at the family’s Wellfield Farm.
“I couldn’t not keep some,” says Mark. “There is all that family history wrapped up in them.
“But it is not just sentimental – the Suffolk converts grass into meat as fast as any other breed.” The original flock was replenished in 1932, with Thomas William again making the journey down south, this time buying a further 20 shearling ewes and five home-bred gimmer lambs.
Wendy Bulmer, Mark’s wife and the one who keeps the records and old archive in order, says: “Word got around that this new breed of sheep had come to Salton.
“At the Malton Michaelmas Fair in 1932, which was a huge event with thousands of sheep, they won first prize in the Down ram class.
“It was said that people swarmed to have a look at this breed from Suffolk that they had not seen before.” Not one to blow his own trumpet and certainly not a fan of being the centre of attention, Mark quietly admits that he would have laid on a few drinks to celebrate the anniversary at this year’s Great Yorkshire Show, had it gone ahead.
Mark says: “We have always tried to help at the Suffolk Society’s stand at the show, so it is such a shame it had to be cancelled because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“It would have been nice to have been able to raise a drink or two to 90 years.”
"At the 1932 Malton Michaelmas Fair, people swarmed to have a look at this breed from Suffolk they had not seen before"
Anniversary celebrations aside, the cancellation of agricultural shows has also shut the shop window for many planning to exhibit livestock.
“What we have traditionally found is that while you rarely sell any stock at a show, people come and look at your animals while you are showing and then follow them to the autumn sales,” says Mark.
“We have tups to sell and it is such a shame that potential buyers have not been able to see them over summer.
“And it is all up in the air about the sales – they are not going to be the same if all the restrictions are still in place.” Mark’s father, Mick, took over the Salton flock from his father, Thomas William, in 1968.
He was a great ambassador for the breed, serving 30 years on the Suffolk Sheep Society’s Northern Area Council, including being chairman in 1991/92.
Mick’s successes include in 1977, when selling at a Suffolk Society sale in Edinburgh for first time, two ram lambs achieved the top price of 5,000gns each.
Mick also exported Suffolks to Holland throughout the 1980s and in 1982, won the ‘best fine wool fleece grown in the UK’ at the Royal Smithfield Show.
This Suffolk ewe fleece went on to be displayed in Japan.
Mark took over the flock in 2004 and his main aim has been to produce quality rams for the commercial breeder.
He also runs a flock of about 50 Texel breeding ewes and 75 suckler cows.
His son George, 24, has a herd of pedigree Hereford cattle and together with his brother Henry, 23, the pair will always overwinter some store lambs too.
Mark says: “While it is true that it is the fashion for a lot of butchers to look for Texel crosses, there is no doubting that if you cross a Mule ewe with a Suffolk, the lamb will take some beating from the point of view of growth.
“They get ready for the butcher in a short time, converting grass into meat as fast as anything.
“All the supermarkets are after an R grade lamb and the Suffolk gets to that point quicker than any other breed.” With George and Henry working on the farm, along with Mark and Wendy’s daughters, Maisie, who has a small herd of Belted Galloway, and Rosie, who has two young children of her own taking a keen interest in the sheep, the future of Salton Suffolks looks secure for at least the next 90 years.
“Getting on a train from Yorkshire to Ipswich would still be a fair old journey today,” Mark says.
“It is quite amazing really to stop and think about my grandad setting off to travel all that way and coming back with those first Suffolk sheep.
Stem cell donation
The Bulmer family is keen to promote blood stem cell donation among the farming community.
It is three years since Maisie received a life-saving bone marrow transplant following cancer treatment.
Testing is a simple swab which takes just a few minutes.
For further information, visit anthonynolan.org
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