Chris Berry talks with Holly Moscrop of Stockheld Grange Farm
In the village of Scholes, just a short distance out of Leeds where I have lived for the past 30-plus years, there is one farming family name that is known by nearly everyone. The Moscrops of Stockheld Grange Farm are farmers and agricultural contractors and I’ve known Roger nearly all of that time.
Roger is one of the hardest working men I know. He’s forever coming past me is I’m running or walking around the village or I see him as I’m driving to and from appointments whatever the time of day or night. And you can add his brother Chris too, as they operate the farm and contracting business together, but there’s a ‘new kid on the block’ making her presence felt on the farm right now.
The farming operation at Stockheld runs to 225 acres and includes arable crops winter wheat, winter oats and linseed, as well as cattle. They’ve had cattle for many years, but it is the influence of Roger’s daughter Holly that is changing some of the farming dynamic. Lincoln Reds are now a growing influence on the commercial herd.
‘The decision to go with a different breed in the herd came about when I started recording weight gains of our calves, which were largely Limousin X until then,’ says Holly. ‘Ours is a commercial suckler herd that leads us to selling the cattle as stores at around 12 months, so weight gain is a vital part of the enterprise to make sure they reach the right target weight. I told dad that we needed to look at a different breed to our traditional Limousin X cows.’
Holly could see from her records that the weight gain might be better if they shifted emphasis and she shortlisted possible breeds she had in mind for her dad to investigate further with a trip to the Great Yorkshire Show.
‘We chose Lincoln Reds,’ says Holly. ‘We had Beef Shorthorns and South Devons on the list, but it was their maternal traits that sold them to me. Good milk, great shape and their ease of calving were the things that stood out, and of course better growth rate. Dad visited Richard Pearson near Catterick and sent me photos of the heifers he was thinking of buying.’
‘Five years ago, dad bought three heifers on his first visit to Richard’s farm and within the week he was up there again to buy another five. They have proved every bit as good as we hoped they would be, and they have a great temperament.’
The Moscrops now have a herd of 15 Lincoln Reds within the suckler herd of around 35 cows. More recently Holly, now having analysed bull performance, decided that a different breed to a Limousin bull would also aide growth rates and better shape to the stock. Roger was once again delegated by his daughter, this time to find a suitable Bazadaise bull as this had been the breed Holly had identified.
‘Basil, our Bazadaise bull, has proved an excellent acquisition,’ says Holly. ‘He has definitely benefited the herd. I now have ambitions that we could sell our own home-reared beef online in the future, as the Lincoln Red has great marbling and the Bazadaise a better meat to bone ratio. It is all about adding value to what we produce and I’d love to be in a position at some time in the future where we breed our own replacements and can finish cattle ourselves taking them from farm to fork.’
‘I want to reconnect the public with food and we can do that from a far better position if we make that connection ourselves.’
Holly’s website www.onegirlandhercows.co.uk is one way in which she is attempting to educate, with an explanation of what is farmed at Stockheld and why it is there, from wheat and barley for animal feed, to oilseed rape for rapeseed oil and oats for porridge. Holly talks of calves that slip out easily from their mothers, making it easier for the public to understand about why different breeds are used. She has also included a farm dictionary explaining words and phrases familiar to farmers but not generally to the outside world.
‘I knew I wanted to be a farmer right from being very small. I’d grown up being outside and with a love of all things four legged. Dad would put me in a hay feeder when I was little, if he was helping calve a cow and I would watch from what must have looked like the farming equivalent of a playpen, but at least I was safe.’
‘At 10-11 years old I would lamb with my granny Anne. We had Mules at the time. That’s another part of the farm I’d like to see come back with the return of us having a lambing flock. I’m working on dad over that one. He’ll get there!’
‘As I’d been raised on livestock and because our farm also includes arable land I’d decided that crop science, learning more about the soil and different crops, would be appropriate when I went to agricultural college. I was all set to go and looking forward to it once I’d completed and received my results from my GCSEs.’
Sadly Holly never got to college due to what she initially had thought and had been told was a virus knocked her for six.
‘I never got there but I achieved 9 A or A*s in my GCSE mocks. In the end I was diagnosed with ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) also known as CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and also PoTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) which is enough long words to digest for anyone.’
Holly makes light of her condition as best she can, particularly on her website, which is her main means of communication as she has hardly left the farm at all for the past seven years.
‘It’s reality. At first, I found myself trying as hard as I could to fight against the symptoms but accepting my limitations and adjusting my life is the only way really. I now spend the largest part of my day in my bedroom-cum-apartment-cum-office-cum-kitchen-cum-living room.’
‘But I do get out on to the farm despite having been knocked off my meticulously planned path. I can walk very short distances but largely I use a motorised wheelchair to get around and can get in the fields with the cows, which I love. I have a horse whip in the wheelchair with me if ever needed but really and truly my cows are just great. I also take my 21-year old Fell pony Bella and 27-year old horse Alex for walks. It’s obviously not anything like I’d planned but it’s about living with what I have and I’m doing that.’
‘We have cameras set up in the cattle sheds on CCTV and that means I can watch when they are calving from my room and get dad weaving if he’s needed. I also look after all the farm accounts and invoices. My symptoms are something I need to be constantly aware of and at first I couldn’t read for very long at all, but now I’ve improved to about an hour.’
‘What I can do is make my own kind of difference to the farm, with my ideas, analysing what works and what doesn’t, such as the cattle and getting the right breeds. Just wait until we get the sheep!’
The Moscrops also have chickens and a couple of alpacas. Holly’s mum Sam had her life knocked off centre too some years ago when diagnosed with MS, but the Moscrop ladies all keep smiling – and they keep Roger busy!