Influenced by his family’s breed of beef, Mark and Catherine Davies focus on creating the best management system for their cows to thrive. Barry Alston visits the husband and wife team to find out more.
Two years after they married, Mark and Catherine Davies were fortunate to begin farming in their own rights.
Establishing their business from scratch, they now have an award-winning pedigree beef herd and agri-tourism diversification.
Luckily Glanyfer, a 19-hectare (47-acre) holding at Crosswell, near Eglwyswrw, in the shadow of Pembrokeshire’s Preseli Hills and not far from where they were living, came on to the market in 2003. They put in what they could afford offer and bought it.
A one-time dairy farm, the cost of modernising the facilities and going into milk production was financially out of the question. Rearing beef cattle and sheep was the only real viable option.
Deciding on what breed of cattle to keep, however, was easy.
Limousins had been part of Mark’s life while growing up farming with his father and uncle, having founded the family’s Eisteddfa herd in the early 1990s.
Mark says: “My family had kept pedigree Welsh Blacks which they started crossing to a Charolais bull, but calving difficulties led to the introduction of a Limousin from Yorkshire called Middledale James.
“Given that background there was no other breed for me when we started farming on our own. To start with we concentrated on rearing commercial cattle, mostly carrying Limousin blood though not registered and selling the calves as stores.”
Buying a further 21ha (54 acres) in 2006 gave them the scope to widen their farming activities and three years later the decision was taken to go pedigree and the Glencross herd was born.
The prefix comes from Catherine’s maiden name and not a joined up version of Glanyfer and Crosswell, as many believe.
Mark adds: “We bought foundation stock from several leading herds, including Hafodlas, Dinmore, Ardbrack, Cowin, Eisteddfa and Dyfri, mostly at Carlisle breed society sales.
“The first bull we used was the Northern Ireland-bred Craigatoke Barty, who has left his mark on the herd, while other bulls used have included Glencross Ifan by Ironstone Brandy out of Dyfri Fennena.
“Our present stock bull is Glencross Ioncalo, out of a Fieldson Alfy x Baltracey Gaga by Mas Du Clo dam, whose first calves look very promising. Our junior sire is Dyke Mozart, who we bought as a 10-month-old at the August 2017 Carlisle sale.
“One home bred bull that has been shown extensively over recent months is the March 2016-born Glencross McMaster, who is by Glencross Incredibull out of Glencross Furious, a Dinmore Ditty daughter.”
Outings have included the Royal Welsh, Pembrokeshire County and Cardigan shows, along with the supreme championship at Fishguard Show, and he was entered for the society’s November Brecon show and sale, making 5,100gns.
“By the spring of 2012 we were up to 60 cows and heifers, again concentrating on the production of quality, pure Limousin store cattle rather than the pedigree market, though this side of the business has grown and continues to grow,” says Mark, a former student at Welsh Agricultural College, Aberystwyth.
The system revolves around block calving in April and May, with the cows and calves grazing on grass through the summer and the calves being sold the following January at ages ranging from eight months to 10 months.
“At last January’s Brecon store sale, a heifer calf by Glencross Ioncalo made £1,250 – working out at 474p per kg – weighing 270kg at only five months old.
“Recent times have seen us retain more heifer calves as replacements, which enables us to sell older cows with calves.
“We still have lines dating back to our early purchases. In fact, there were two cows here last year that were 2001 born who had a calf every year since 2003.
“Unfortunately cows do not go on for ever, but it does mean we now have quite a young herd.”
All the cattle are normally housed by early November, with the cows getting nothing but big baled grass silage, contractor-made in two cuts from the end of June onwards, fed in ring feeders and from behind a passageway barrier.
Fertiliser use has been cut back, with muck from the loose housing and sand cubicles going on the silage ground. Because of the high stocking rate and mixed grazing, calves have access to a creep feed from July onwards.
“In my book the Limousin can supply exactly what the market wants and is capable of achieving excellent prices at a young age, coupled with its easy calving and good growth rates,” says Mark.
“In our experience they are of a good temperament.”
“Our system is all about producing quality calves and allowing others to finish them at a profit. It also means that with our limited acreage we can keep more stock.
“If we were to start finishing cattle we would need to double up on our buildings and on top of that there is the labour element. As it stands I am able to manage on my own with help from the family.”
That fits in neatly with Catherine’s position away from the farm as a departmental head at Ysgol y Preseli, a comprehensive school a few miles away at Crymych, though she would love to be able to spend more time on the farm.
That is a view shared by the next generation – daughters Caryl, 14, Sara, 11, and Lowri, eight – with all of them playing their part in developing the herd, especially by way of the show ring.
Alongside the cattle, the farm carries a flock of 750 outdoor lambing ewes which utilise 26ha (65 acres) of ground, also used for silage a mile away. Around 250 improved Tregaron-type Welsh Mountain ewes provide a nucleus for producing breeding rams.
“Any not matching up to the high quality specifications go to Aberfield tups to produce crossbred lambs,” says Mark.
“Those not needed for flock replacements are sold from May and June onwards, either deadweight or live according to market price levels at the time. Some ewe lambs go off as breeding stock.
“We could go down the route of using a terminal sire, but that would mean switching from outdoor lambing and investing in a lambing shed,” he adds.
The farm is all grass, apart from a few acres of root crops, such as kale or swedes grown for the sheep, with the aim being to re-seed around 15 to 20 acres a year.
The installation of a closed circuit coloured monitoring system three years ago is also seen as having been a well worthwhile investment, minimising the risk of losing a calf.
“With lambing coinciding with calving life can get pretty hectic in the spring but the investment has been worth every penny,” says Mark.
As well as the redundant dairy buildings, the farm came with loose and cubicle housing, a hay shed and a modern farmhouse. Next door was the original dwelling and last year that went on to the market.
It was snapped up by the family – a move which has seen the emergence of a diversification venture by way of self-catering holiday accommodation.
Now fitted out to an exceptional standard, the five-bedroomed main house, complete with hot tub, will sleep 12 and an adjoining cottage caters for two. Mark and Catherine also hope to convert a third unit in the future.
Embracing social media, the couple created a Facebook page and worked with a marketing company in their first year of diversifying.
“Interest in the Ty Llwyd and Y Cartws Holidays has been far greater than we anticipated with solid bookings during the summer and through to Christmas,” says Mark.
“As to the future, we really need more ground and ideally a bigger farm, but land in this area rarely comes onto the market and when it does there is a hefty price tag at £12,000 per acre plus. Maybe we could strike lucky again and either move to a larger farm or acquire some additional acres.”
A reduction in sheep numbers is a possibility, but Mark is reluctant to do this.
“They fit in nicely with the grazing rotation and by using a mobile handling system are much easier to manage single-handed,” he says.
“They are also a valuable asset to have given the prevalence of bovine TB. Should you have a breakdown and unable to sell stock then sheep can help pay the bills.
“You can go in and out of sheep fairly swiftly, but with cattle it is a much longer-term business.
“In order to make a success of farming with cattle these days, you need to have a sound breed, good genetics, the best silage you can make and first-class management.
“Whether you are catering for the commercial or pedigree market, as far as we are concerned the Limousin best suits our options.
“What is for certain as far, as the cattle are concerned, is that there will not be a change in breed.”