Managing one of the UK’s leading auction marts alongside a large commercial beef herd requires a variety of management techniques to ensure profitability and productivity. Jonathan Long meets the key players behind the Gascoine family.
As the family behind Newark Livestock Mart, Douglas and Rachel Gascoine also have significant farming interests in both Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.
The 162-hectare (400 acre) Mill Farm, Upton, Nottinghamshire, is home to the family’s recently established 60-cow herd of pedigree Limousins, managed by experienced stockman Alisdair Smith. Meanwhile, the 300ha (730-acre) Rudda Farm, Staintondale, Yorkshire, carries a suckler herd of 450 cows, explains Rachel Gascoine.
“Mill Farm, which we have owned for many years, totals 400 acres, three quarters of which is arable land let on a Farm Business Tenancy and the rest is grassland for the Limousin herd.
“Meanwhile, Rudda Farm was bought in 1994 when it was a 270-acre unit. Since then we have bought further ground adjoining our land, bringing the farm up to 730 acres with good, modern buildings. This is managed by Stewart Robertson who has overall responsibility for the cattle at Rudda.”
The suckler herd, which now stands at 450 cows, is largely based on Limousin bloodlines with a Salers bull used on heifers and a number of replacement females kept from this crossing programme, says Newark Market head auctioneer Paul Gentry, who helps the family manage both farms.
He says: “The aim of this commercially run suckler herd is to produce top quality finished stock for sale.
“The pedigree herd at Mill Farm has been established to provide a source of top quality Limousin genetics for the commercial herd and a small number of bulls for sale locally. Breeding our own bulls means we know everything about them and can select from proven dam lines which we know will work in the commercial herd.”
Rachel says both she and her husband have been passionate about establishing a pedigree enterprise for a number of years and their recent venture into Limousins has provided much enjoyment.
“We only set the herd up in 2013, but have already had some show success, including picking up the reserve breed championship at last year’s Newark and Nottinghamshire County Show,” she says.
“The intention with this herd has been to buy the best quality females we could at sensible prices and move the herd forward through judicious use of quality bulls.
“As such, the pedigree herd is fully performance recorded and has a rigorous programme of health testing for bovine viral diarrhoea, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, Johne’s and leptospirosis.”
Stock bulls currently working in the pedigree herd include Dinmore Escort, a Wildoge Vantastic son which is full brother to the noted female Dinmore Elle, and Mereside Hallmark. This Dormeur son, out of the Vagabond daughter Mereside Enabel, was bought for 18,000gns in February last year.
Paul says: “The key for the Gascoines’ herd is to ensure we breed functional cattle which can breed the right sort of commercial cattle in the herd at Rudda Farm.
“This means paying close attention to locomotion and good tops while also breeding for ease of calving and milk in the female lines.”
The commercial herd sells all progeny at Newark Market, regularly being among the top prices for prime bulls and heifers.
Farming has never been an easy way to make money, but it keeps a connection with customers, explains Rachel.
“We go through the same trials and tribulations as our clients, which they respect. The fact we sell through the market helps give our customers confidence in our ability to do the best job we can for them.”
Heifers at Rudda Farm calve at 30-months-old and are put to a Salers bull for ease of calving. To ease the workload and make best use of the farm’s resources, the herd is split, with about 130 cows calving in autumn and the remainder calving from April 1.
About 20 heifers are retained for bulling from the autumn calving herd, with 30 or so retained from the spring calvers.
Male calves are castrated and, together with any heifers not retained for breeding, these are sent to Upper Coton Farms, Northamptonshire, for contract finishing before being sold as prime cattle through Newark Livestock Market.
Going forward, the plan is to maintain cow numbers in the commercial herd and sell a draft of 40-50 cows and calves a year in a production sale.
“It is a hard farm at Rudda. We aim to keep the herd young and sell a draft of third-, fourth- and fifth-calvers which will suit a kinder climate.
“We’ll be running the Rudda herd much like a hill flock and the cows will go away and thrive elsewhere.”
Rachel believes their farming enterprise is well-balanced, delivering on a number of levels, including benefiting the local environment.
“We have always been careful to ensure our farming practices are as environmentally sustainable as possible. Keeping our land in good heart is essential for the future of farming.”
Ensuring the future success of the two farms is, Rachel says, a central objective for the Gascoines Group, despite it also running four estate agent offices and the nationally recognised Newark Auction Centre, which hosts weekly sales of furniture on behalf of national retailers.
“Our daughter Emma Saywell is heavily involved with the estate agency business. But, having previously been a top class show jumper, she is as committed as both Douglas and I are to keeping the farms as part of the group’s portfolio.
“Emma’s children will hopefully be the third generation to be involved in the business and we are committed to ensuring all aspects of the business are sustainable and profitable.
“The group is also a major sponsor of our grandson, Jake Saywell, who is a successful young showjumper, and has just returned from working with trainer Roelof Bril in Holland.
“In 2012, he was selected on the British Equestrian Foundation World Class Development Programme, qualifying through his success at the European championships. Jake also won a gold medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games,” she says.
Despite all the components of the family enterprise, farming will remain at the core and,
having been chair of the organising committee for Beef Expo 2011 at Newark, Rachel is keen to remain involved in the beef industry long in to the future.
“Increasing export demand, both from Europe and further afield, means British beef farming has a bright future, so long as we can ensure the competitiveness of all involved in the processing sectors, including the medium-sized abattoirs who support Newark Market, week in, week out.”
“It is not exactly a secret neither ourselves nor Paul are fans of the major abattoirs and their deadweight buying tactics.
“Live markets are still the only true way to achieve the best prices for prime, store and breeding stock and in the last 12 months we’ve sold sheep and cattle for customers from as far afield as Aberdeenshire, Kent, Somerset, Powys and all points in between.”
The addition of regular Saturday store cattle, plus prime and store sheep sales to Newark’s calendar has been well received by both vendors and buyers alike, says Paul.
“Farmers are busy people and we’re keen to give them every opportunity to trade. Moving our store and breeding cattle sales to a Wednesday has enabled us to run slaughter only markets on Wednesday’s helping our vendors avoid the need to TB test cattle before coming to our prime markets.
“This makes a big difference to the flexibility they have when it comes to marketing stock and also means they can continue to buy store cattle through the week without being caught up by the six-day standstill.”