Keeping a close watch on costs of production and striving to continue to add value to their livestock, are key to the success of Will and Gillian Sedgley, who took on their first farm tenancy seven years ago.

The couple have built up successful beef and sheep enterprises on 900 acres of ground rented from four landlords and based at Low Bank House, Barbon, near Kirkby Lonsdale, where there are 110 of the acres.

Now they run a herd of 60 beef cows, which includes pedigree Limousins and British Blues, along with cross-breds and three-quarter breds of the two breeds, producing quality suckled calves for breeding and finishing – many of them with show potential.

They lamb 1700 ewes, plus followers, in various flocks of sheep – pure Swaledales, Swaledales crossed with Bluefaced Leicesters, pure Bluefaced Leicesters and North of England Mules, and Texel crosses put to the Texel and Beltex rams. All finished lambs are sold deadweight on a Tesco contract.

Both have farming backgrounds. Gillian’s parents are arable farmers in Lancashire and Will’s parents, both accountants, have a 250-acre traditional hill farm, near Sedbergh.

Typical quality Blue and Limousin cross females the Sedgleys aim to breed from enjoying last years summer grass

Typical quality Blue and Limousin cross females the Sedgleys aim to breed from enjoying last year's summer grass

Will and Gillian met while studying for BSc honours degrees in agriculture at Myerscough College – Will specialising in animal science and Gillian concentrating on arable production.

Both were determined to be involved with the farming industry and after they married in 2006, they moved into a second hand caravan costing £500 at Will’s parents’ Lindsey Fold Farm, in Garsdale.

They were both bitten by the farming bug, buying their first six beef cows in 2006 with their wedding money and taking on the running of Lindsey Fold and its flock of Swaledale sheep, which gave them a start.

Home-bred breedy-looking Mule gimmers

Home-bred breedy-looking Mule gimmers

As land came up to rent nearer Kirkby Lonsdale which was more suited to their type of farming, they were funded by working away and through the help of both of their families as well as the bank.

The complications and insecurity of short term rental of the majority of their land did not deter the couple and in 2010 they had acquired enough rented land and livestock to establish WA and GR Sedgley as a going concern.

In 2013, they were fortunate to get a 15-year FBT at Low Bank House, on the Whelprigg Estate, in Barbon, near Kirkby Lonsdale, 17 miles away from the hill farm, where they have made home with their young family – Eva (11), James (9) and Sam (6).

When they moved to Low Bank House they made numerous changes, including investing in new housing for the cattle so that they can now accommodate their 60 cows plus followers during the winter, which in some years can mean housing from early September until late May.

Home-bred two-year-old Limousin cross heifer by Netherhall Henry, with her newborn calf by the easy calving sire, Wilodge Inch by Inch

Home-bred two-year-old Limousin cross heifer by Netherhall Henry, with her newborn calf by the easy calving sire, Wilodge Inch by Inch

“We’ve been trying to concentrate on quality over quantity with both the beef and the sheep,” said Gillian. “We have probably got the commercial cows where we want them on quality.

"Our focus is to breed three-quarter Limousin, or British Blue show potentials and then selling them at six to 10 months old, which suits our system,” she added.

Will said: “We’d like to expand numbers. It’s not so much the land but the buildings we would need because we are farming in a wet area and we haven’t got any other option than to house the cattle in the winter so, because we are tenants, it’s down to the economics.

"We have been waiting to see the implications of Brexit and we have been consolidating the enterprises.”

The herd comprises 50-50 Limousin British Blue crosses, as well as three-quarter bred Limousin and Blues. There are 20 pedigree Limousins and two British Blues registered under the Langstroth prefix. Priorities in their breeding are legs and mobility, conformation and milkiness as well as colour for the Blues.

First British Blue bull calf Langstroth PeakyBlinder, photographed in July, 2020, and his dam Langstroth MissMoneypenny

First British Blue bull calf Langstroth PeakyBlinder, photographed in July, 2020, and his dam Langstroth MissMoneypenny

The Sedgleys are pleased with the Blue herd’s first home-bred bull, sired by Bedgebury Kent. Langstroth Peakyblinder was born last March out of the home-bred Langstroth Missmoneypenny, a daughter of Cromwell Fendt and out of Langstroth Flourish. This blue roan bull is likely to be their first entry in a society sale next May.

From the early days of establishing the herd, the Sedgleys placed great importance on its health status. The herd is in the Premium Cattle Health Scheme and has a Johnes risk level 1 status and is BVD accredited, as well as BVD and Lepto vaccinated.

“Not many commercial herds have that high health status. In the early days, we didn’t feel we were seeing the benefit for the increased cost of testing, but now it is showing through when we are selling commercial heifers with buyers, particularly from Scotland, searching for high health status willing to pay a premium,” said Will.

“Hopefully, when we do get to the stage of selling pedigree stock, the health status and it being a closed herd will pay dividends,” he added.

Gillian said herd health is also reflected in their cow fertility rates, with the target of producing a calf a year and being able to cull cows to maintain a tighter calving pattern.

Two stock bulls have been used for the first time this year, with calves expected from May onwards.

Both were bought privately from high health herds meeting the required herd traits and calving ease being a priority. The Blue bull, Brennand Njinsky, was bought from JC Walker, at Dunsop Bridge, and the Limousin, Gallaber Paddy, was bred by Ian Sedgwick, at Ingleton.

Half the cows and the pedigree Limousins are due to former Limousin stock bull, Netherhall Henry, which has bred very well in the herd.

One of his heifer calves born in late May, 2020, is for sale at the March Kirkby Stephen 'Classic' sale on March 8 and the Sedgleys believe she could be one of the best heifers they have bred to date.

This black Limousin cross heifer is out of a three-quarter Blue dam and Gillian described her as stylish, with a lovely head, good loin, square plates, long and very correct with good legs.

Despite the restrictions imposed on marketing livestock last year, the Sedgleys had their best sale yet in March at Kirkby Stephen, winning three classes in the show and reserve overall champion, with a top price of £2100.

In establishing the sheep enterprise, the Sedgleys had been growing the numbers and, until recently, had been buying three and four-crop draft ewes.

Of the 1700 ewes to lamb from March onwards, there are 700 Texel cross Mules and Beltex and Texel crosses, 700 Swaledales that are put to the Bluefaced Leicester, with a further 250-300 bred pure.

There is a flock of 25 pure crossing Leicesters registered under the Langstroth prefix. The highlight last year was the sale of the Leicester flock’s highest price to date at the Hawes sale for ram lamb, Langstroth N1, which sold to a breeders’ consortium – John Wight and Sons, James Herdman and Richard Wood (Kingledores) for £16,000, one of the leading prices on the day among the 700 tup lambs sold.

The Langstroth N1 tup lamb sold at Hawes last October for £16,000

The Langstroth N1 tup lamb sold at Hawes last October for £16,000

This ram lamb was sired by Midlock J46 out of home-bred ewe Langstroth K30, a two-shear last year. The tup was full brother to last year’s Hawes reserve overall champion.

“We are breeding Leicesters for crossing to produce North of England Mules,” said Will, who is passionate about the Mule and is a committee member and a former chairman of the NEMSA Hawes branch. “Our aim is to breed tups with a bit of power and a good skin.”

Will also fulfilled an ambition to start the Langstroth Beltex flock with the purchase of the first female, Bronic Esmereelda, from Lancashire breeder, Nick and Charlotte Brown, at the August 2020 Beltex society sale, in Carlisle.

“This is the first year we have been almost self-sufficient with our sheep, breeding our own Swaledales, Mules and Texels and not having to buy in replacements. This reduced the age of the flock and improved profitability," said Gillian.

"We’re not now selling breeding lambs and using the money to buy in draft ewe. The ewes are more productive with fewer losses.

"We’ve reduced the amount of yeld sheep in the Mules and Texels to 1% and the Swaledales to 2% this winter,” she added.

All the farm’s finished lambs, including the Mule and Swaledale wethers, are sold to Kepak on a Tesco 'Cost of production' annual contract.

“This is the second year we have been selling on that contract. As tenant farmers, with this contract we know what our cash flow will be for the next 12 months and this gives us re-assurance,” said Gillian.

The Sedgleys share information and data as part of the scheme and they can then benchmark their performance with other suppliers.

To be within specification, lamb carcases have to weigh between 16-21kg. The Beltex lambs usually kill out around 50% and classify E2 or E3L.

Mules go at 44kg live with Swaledales at 47kg to hit the target carcase weight of 20kg grading at R3L. Texels out of the Mules grade R or U.

The couple are keen to monitor closely their cost of production and cost per kg of meat produced and last year took advantage of the Government’s Countryside Productivity Scheme which provided grants for new and innovative equipment.

They invested in a mobile sheep handling system which has been invaluable as their sheep are mainly on land away from home. The Ritchie Combi Clamp enabled sheep to be handled individually with less stress and less need for labour, often making it a one man job.

They have also had grant aid for a Shearwell stock recording system to monitor lambing performance and daily live weight gains when linked to digital scales. This helped when grading finished lambs in picking up any problems and in identifying top performing ewes.

As well as investing in their livestock, the Sedgleys recently joined the Countryside Stewardship mid-tier environmental scheme for five years with their landlords extending their tenancy agreement for the same length of time. Under the scheme, they laid 1300m of hedgerows and planted 1000m of new hedges with another 2000m being planted over the next two years.

To gain a better understanding of Net Zero and the actions that can be taken on their farm to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect stored carbon and enhance carbon sequestration they have recently been involved in the NFU ELMs Test and Trial on Net Zero, this in conjunction with ADAS. They are also NFU farming ambassadors and they both sit on the NFU’s North-west Livestock Board.

“We’re committed to farming and to maintaining the quality and health status of our beef cattle and sheep,” said Will.

“I think there is a positive future for sheep and beef production. It would be good if the British public continued to get behind our farmers again, like they did during the first lockdown last year, and buy from local butchers.

“As the world population grows, there is likely to be a worldwide shortage of beef and lamb which should help make the sectors more sustainable.”