Hard work and determination have taken Bernard and Barbara Rimmer from 20 hectares (50 acres) of bare land and a few commercial cattle to running a successful herd of polled Herefords. Neil Ryder visits Lancashire to meet the couple.
Impressed with the performance of Hereford crosses in trials at the college he worked set Bernard Rimmer and his wife Barbara on the route to buying their own small farm and founding their Barbern pedigree Hereford herd.
It was a move which eventually led to Bernard becoming the president of the Hereford Cattle Society in 2013, having represented the North of England on the Society council since 1991 and a regular on the judging circuit.
Bernard and Barbara are also deeply involved with the North of England Hereford Breeders’ Association with Barbara having been secretary and then president in 2009 and 2010.
Keeping things in the family, their daughter Jackie is now secretary and promotions officer for the association and has her own small Rimini Hereford herd. Her two brothers Colin and Antony both work outside farming, but help on the farm as and when needed.
The couple’s core achievement, however, is pursuing their ambition to build a successful farming business from small beginnings over the past 30 years.
Today they farm 20 hectares (50 acres) of owned land and another 9ha (22 acres) of rented inbye at Holme Fields Farm, Scorton, near Preston, Lancashire. Stock numbers vary, but are currently at about 80-90 pure Herefords, including youngstock and calves.
Land is heavy and easily damaged in wet conditions, so cattle are normally outside for just five months of the year. All the farm is down to long-term grass with direct drilling used for pasture improvement work.
However, the true story of the farm and the Barbern Herefords goes back to the late 1970s.
Bernard says: “I was working at Myerscough College, looking after its Winmarleigh Farm. We were then living in a tied house on the farm, but also wanted to make a start in farming on our own account. I still work at the college and have now been there for 46 years.
“The college decided to sell Winmarleigh to fund development at its main campus, which meant we had to move out of our home on the farm.
“We looked at both renting and buying a farm, but decided, if possible, to buy a farm so we would not have to worry again about landlords or landowners and so we could develop as we wanted over the long-term.”
They managed to purchase 20ha (50 acres) of land without house or buildings, which is now Holme Fields Farm, and self-fund its development.
“We lived in a residential caravan for nine years while the farm was developed and, after having to go to appeal, gained planning permission for the present farmhouse. To save money we did much of the building work ourselves.
“I was working at Myerscough College as a maintenance supervisor and Barbara would be looking after the stock on her own for much of the time.
“This meant we needed animals which were calm and easy to handle, but also had to be commercial. At the time, the college had been running a number of beef production trials at Winmarleigh, in which Hereford crosses had done well. They were quiet and docile animals.
“We started off with commercial Hereford cross cattle plus some sheep, though the sheep were later dropped. Now we may have a few wintering sheep, but only if there is a need to tidy up the pastures.
“Then, in 1982, we had our first pedigree Herefords. Most herd prefixes are taken from the farm name or locality. We were still living at Winmarleigh and knew we would be moving, so took Barbern – short for Barbara and Bernard.
Their breeding policy is to produce strong muscular easy calvers, with top bulls selling to pedigree breeders and the rest into the commercial herds.
Bernard says: “Our first cow was Caterall 1 Domestic, from Willie Fell, Settle, followed by Pendleside 1 Satin, from Frank and Mable Clayton, Clitheroe.
Then came Kim 1 Foxglove, from Geoff Harris, Hereford; Cheerbrook Jackie, bred by the Shufflebotham family, near Nantwich, and bought at a dispersal sale.
“Our Leslie family came from Graham and Rosie Peacock, Malton, Yorkshire, and the Babs family from Chapelton 1 Angel was bought from Frank Clayton, but bred by James and Donald Biggar, Castle Douglas.
“At first, we relied on artificial insemination for breeding, but as numbers increased, we bought our first stock bull, Costhorpe 1 Jupiter, from Harry Coates, Leicestershire. The bull was bought as an eight-month-old calf after being exhibited with its mother on the society stand at the Royal Show.
“Jupiter stayed with us for about 10 years. Then came Badlingham Badger, from Roger Lionel Broad, Cambridgeshire. Before Jupiter, we had not really bred for type in our cows.
“Jupiter bred three polled bulls which sold well – Playboy, Lordlarkin and Ultrared. Ultrared sold to a community farm in Manchester where he was known for his calmness with children and was even taken into a local pub as part of a promotion.
“Our top bull, Gargantuan, is by Dendor 1 Bonanza, a bull purchased in partnership with Wythenshawe Community Farm.
“Gargantuan is one of our most successful bulls, taking the native inter-breed championship at Westmorland Show, a year which included the National Aberdeen-Angus Show.
“He was later sold, but then bought back a few months later to work as one of our senior stock bulls.”
The decision to show cattle from an early stage was intentional and the couple believes it helped establish pedigree sales.
Barbara says: “We showed earlier on as this helped build a herd reputation and acted as a shop window for our stock. But as stock numbers have grown, we have largely stopped showing because of the time and work involved.
“We now sell most of our pedigree stock privately and have sold a lot of bulls into pedigree herds, but our emphasis is very much on commercial type.
“Pedigree stock buyers are placing increasing importance on performance figures and, as breeders, we have to be able to meet these needs. But inspection remains a key part of the mix when selecting stock.”
The herd is accredited BVD-free and the couple are working to also become accredited for their herd being free of leptospirosis, IBR and Johne’s disease.
Bernard says: “So far, we have had no recorded case of any of these conditions in the herd and all private tests carried out for sales have been clear.
“Now the only animals we buy-in are stock bulls and these all come from health monitored and accredited herds, plus we have isolation facilities here which we use for any new cattle and for show cattle.
“After some thought we have joined the Red Tractor scheme earlier this year as more and more beef producers are members and have this as a requirement when buying stock.
“This has meant a little more work, but has been well worth it for the higher prices we are getting for our stock.
“Apart from the extra paper work, joining the Red Tractor scheme has made little difference to what we were doing already. We just wish we had joined earlier.”
They continue rearing their bulls in the same way as before using a rearing ration. Winter feeding of the other cattle is based on a haylage and cereal mix plus a dry cow compound which provides a vitamin and mineral balance. Red rock salt blocks are also available to the cattle.
Bernard says: “Herefords have changed since we came into the breed. It had become a relatively small, dumpy animal which tended to carry too much fat for the market, then with American and Canadian breeding, became too extreme with a taller, leaner type of animal.
“Now there is a move to a slightly smaller type of animal with better shape which is better to finish with less variation in the breed.
“Our customers want bulls which will last them seven or eight years or longer. Any animals which are not retained as breeding stock are finished at about 18-20 months and sold through Gisburn market where there seems to be a good demand for our type of animals.”
Commercial bulls are kept entire and finish mostly at 500-650kg liveweight. About two months ago, Bernard and Barbara sold their Herefords at 204p/kg in a week when the overall average at Gisburn was 176p/kg.
Barbara says: “It is certainly clear there is now much stronger and growing demand for native beef breeds in the commercial ring.”
For their Barbern Hereford herd, the pair are working to continually improve the breeding of their cattle. Any further expansion in terms of numbers would be dependent on finding additional land.
With the advent of the Hereford Beef schemes, the breed has now been brought to the forefront of beef production.
Barbara says: “It is vital to keep up with new developments and innovations, as failure to do so means going backwards. It is also important to encourage young people to become interested in the Hereford breed. We are big supporters of the society’s activities targeting young people as well as offering free membership to under 25s.”