At Barrock End in Cumbria’s Eden Valley, Paul Coates is taking a whole-farm approach to sustainability and profitability – all the way from the livestock reared through to the cropping on the farm.

Paul, who farms in partnership with his father, Peter, is looking to the future too for the next generation – his sons, James (18), who is now working at home and still-at-school Daniel (14) – with the focus is on self-sufficiency and for the unit to be Net Zero.

The Coates have had a long-established relationship with Woodhead Bros, a subsidiary of Wm Morrison’s supermarket group, initially selling their finished cross-bred cattle through the company and more recently taking on the group’s pedigree Beef Shorthorn herd.

The Morrisons’ ethos fits well with the system and strategy at Barrock End, where the most recent development involving the Coates is working closely with the supermarket on its pledge to be the first food retailer to be completely supplied by ‘net zero’ carbon British farms by 2030 – five years ahead of the market and any government target.

Barrock End farm is working with Morrisons to understand carbon measurements on farm and how farmers can reduce carbon emissions. Due to this, Barrock End has become one of two of Morrisons ‘Beef Blueprint' farms.

Together, they will look at the emissions picture through the whole lifecycle of farm produce – from germination to leaving the farm gate for a Morrisons store. Once a workable blueprint has been established, the models will then be shared with all Morrisons farmers, so that all food can be produced in the same net zero carbon way.

Key areas of focus at Barrock End are on cattle breeding and fertility to encourage healthier livestock and optimal efficiency; sustainable home grown feed through a more integrated farming system reducing food miles and associated costs with purchased feed; manure management in terms of storage; and application to reduce emissions.

But the most important factor when it comes to sequestration of carbon is in land management and Paul is working closely with organisations to help him get the most from soils, trees and hedges. Morrisons is working with other farming organisations and with 'Map of Ag' in developing a tried and tested measurement system which calculates farm emissions.


Sheep are also an integral part of the livestock mix at Barrock End and the Mules are seen here grazing at 720ft

Sheep are also an integral part of the livestock mix at Barrock End and the Mules are seen here grazing at 720ft


The Coates farm 500 acres in a ring fence at Barrock End which runs up to 720 feet above sea level on the top of Barrock Fell. They rent a further 300 acres at nearby Armathwaite. Of the land at Barrock End, approximately 180 acres is cropped as part of the grassland rotation and 75 acres is permanent pasture. On the rented ground, a further 140 acres is cropped.

The farm carries the pedigree Barwood herd of Beef Shorthorns, as well as 1200 breeding ewes which are also grazed on the rented land, while the latest livestock development is finishing dairy-bred beef.

The Shorthorn herd which is now owned by the Coates, was established on the farm in 2015 and cow numbers were running at 90, plus followers. The farm’s dry, sandy loam soil allow the cows and calves to be outwintered on forage crops until January when they are then housed.

“To make the optimum use of our housing on the farm and to diversify the business, we started finishing dairy-bred steers and heifers in October (2020) with the Morrisons’ dairy beef programme,” said Paul.

“The buildings were empty after the cows were turned out in May and we decided we wanted to use them year-round and create another income with the dairy beef with James coming home to work. With cattle houses year-round it is producing muck which will help reduce our fertiliser usage.


The dairy-bred bought in calves are aimed at maximising the use of shed space at Barrock End

The dairy-bred bought in calves are aimed at maximising the use of shed space at Barrock End


“The pedigrees have high health status under the SAC Premium Cattle Health Scheme so we needed to keep them separate from the commercial cattle coming on to the farm. We have reduced the number of calving cows to 40 and we are running them outside throughout the winter.

"We are strip grazing them on a mixture of stubble turnips and fodder with access to a grass run-off field should the weather become too wet. In late autumn cows and calves have been on forage rye and after a few weeks of grazing, the ground is rested to enable it to be grazed early in the New Year.”

The outwintered cows have access to big bale silage and and the calves are creep fed on home grown barley – treated with Dugdale Nutrition’s Home and Dry crushed alka barley – plus minerals. Spring barley with a higher moisture content was treated with Home and Dry to produce 300 tonnes of the alka grain which is also incorporated in the TMR rations for the dairy beef .

The barley analyses at harvesting 10-11% protein and treatment with the Home and Dry contributes up to 15% of the protein required for the 18% finishing diet.

The Morrisons dairy beef programme, which is worked in partnership with Buitelaar International, involves continental dairy-bred calves being reared in a dedicated unit to a minimum weight of 140kg ranging in age from three to five months. They are then vaccinated and sold to Morrisons’ beef finishers, like Paul, at a fixed price with an underwritten finished base price and prepayment available where required.

The calves are mainly British Blue cross Holsteins and are fed on a rearing pellet for approximately six weeks, before being introduced to the TMR ration comprising mainly home grown ingredients with the pellet element reduced to zero.

Trial work is being carried out on the calf finishing system looking at diets to improve daily liveweight gain and reduce emissions. The calves are fitted with EID tags when they arrive on farm and weighed and they are then weighed every four to six weeks to monitor weight gain. By around seven months old they are expected to be putting on 1.1kg a day, rising to 1.3kg a day until they achieve 350-400kg in weight.

With input from a nutritionist, the diets are adjusted at every 100kg of bodyweight gain. The cattle will be on the farm for about 12 months until finishing, with up to 250 head on the farm at any one time – the first to go were at 330-340kg deadweight classifying R3 and R4L at 15 and 16 months old, which compared favourably with other finishers.

Paul also added to the farm’s finishing system by buying in some strong Beef Shorthorn cross stores to finish by 22 months, selling to Woodheads for the Morrisons Beef Scheme where they will attract a 30p/kg premium.

The pedigree Shorthorns provide an added interest for James and Daniel, who exhibited at the North of England Beef Shorthorn Club’s calf show at Darlington mart, in November, where they were among the tickets with a home-bred heifer calf, Lilly Rose.


Using root crops has become a feature of the rotation, with cattle newly turned out onto a crop of stubble turnips

Using root crops has become a feature of the rotation, with cattle newly turned out onto a crop of stubble turnips


The majority of the herd calves from the end of April to the end of June with around a dozen calving in November-December time. The cows calve outside in a calving paddock, which enables calves to be tagged including with a BVD tissue sampling tag and navel treated with iodine.

The aim is for all spring calving to improve carbon efficiency and to tighten up the calving pattern to six weeks, bringing the calving back to the beginning of April.

The herd’s first stock bull, Glenisla Hooch, a roan by Glenisla Excalibur, was bought at 19 months old at Stirling in February, 2016, for 8500gns. Other bulls used on the herd have been Chapelton Ferdinand, Highlee Gabriel and Sowerbyparks Kincade.

A nine-month-old bull purchased for 3500gns at the the Coldrochie dispersal sale in Stirling in February 2018, Coldrochie Louis, is also now one of two current stock bulls. The other is the home-bred Barwood Monarch, by Poyntington Himself out of a home-bred cow. Semen is being collected from him and will be available for sale. Now, since herd numbers have been reduced, more AI will be used on the herd.

Cows are pregnancy diagnosed. All the herd is Breedplan recorded for various traits they are weighed at 100 days. The better quality bull calves are selected for breeding and kept entire. Each year about six home bred bulls are sold for breeding.

The bulls along with in-calf heifers, are housed until the spring. The steers and any heifers not suitable for breeding are finished on home-grown barley and sold to Woodheads at 18-24 months old. The system helps the health of the animals keeping stocking levels as low as possible, particularly reducing pneumonia and breathing problems, and the hardy Shorthorn cows outwinter well. Each year, only a handful of calvings require any assistance.


Some of the housed Shorthorn cross beef finishing cattle making use of a redundant Spacehopper to keep them occupied

Some of the housed Shorthorn cross beef finishing cattle making use of a redundant Spacehopper to keep them occupied


While the herd has minimal inputs for health, the Coates work closely with their vets, Paragon, at Dalston, taking blood samples from cows prior to calving to check on trace element levels in relation to colostrum protein. The herd is Johnes level 1 and clear and BVD accredited.

“The Shorthorn herd is living up to my expectations of the breed - easily managed and calving, docile, easily maintained and finished with low in-puts. We want to keep it simple,” said Paul, with it and the finishing cattle fitting well with the 1200 breeding sheep, 200 of which are bought in as ewe lambs each year.

The majority of the flock are North of England Mules, along with Scotch Mules and Cheviot crosses. This year, 80 home bred Abertex/Scotch Mule ewe lambs have been brought into the flock with the aim of being more self-sufficient in flock replacements.

The flock starts lambing in mid-February and finishes at the end of March. The ewes are lambed indoors and turned outside within 24 hours.

The early ewes are put to the Suffolk for the early market, with the later batch lambing to the Texel, and Innovist rams, Aberblack and Abertex. The first lambs are sold to Woodheads in mid-May with most finished by Christmas, averaging around 21kg deadweight.

“Our input costs are rising all the time and I’m trying to breed a sheep that’s not too big and that fits our farm and can utilise the land as best as possible, particularly the more marginal land we rent,” said Paul.

The farm is in mid-tier Countryside Stewardship which comes to an end in 2022 and it will probably be renewed. Paul has been working closely with Eden Rivers Trust, an environmental charity dedicated to improving and protecting the River Eden, its tributaries and lakes in the Eden Valley, which has involved sowing nine acres of field margins as part of the rotation with wild bird seed and nectar flowers for bees.

Without any grant aid, 500m of hedging have been planted in the last few years to provide shelter and prevent soil erosion as well as providing wildlife habitats and corridors.

On the arable side, Paul has moved from ploughing to a min till system using a Horsch Pronto 4 DC cultivator drill for planting all crops. This is helping to cut establishment costs by up to 50%, including fuel and it is reaping benefits. Low soil disturbance helps keep carbon locked in the soils and improves soil structure.


The Horsch min-till drill has become a useful tool at helping to promote better soil health and help store carbon

The Horsch min-till drill has become a useful tool at helping to promote better soil health and help store carbon


The arable rotation is about 350 acres, including the 200 acres at Barrock End, growing oilseed rape, winter wheat, winter barley, spring barley oats and fodder beet. Of the 15 acres of fodder beet – which grows well on the farm – 10 acres will be lifted and the cows will get the tops, the beet will be kept for either the sheep at lambing time, cattle in the spring, or sold.

Paul said that while it was an expensive crop to establish, if a good yield can be achieved, it can be a cheap crop.

For the last three years, herbal leys have been used in the arable and grass reseeding rotation. A GS4 mix of 15 different herbs, including sainfoin, sheep's burnet, plantain sheep's parsley, chicory, and yarrow is used as part of the stewardship scheme. The herbal leys are more drought tolerant and deeper rooting, and are direct drilled into stubble and used for cattle and sheep grazing and lamb finishing for up to four years.

They develop a beneficial soil structure and the nitrogen fixing ability of legumes reduces the need for artificial fertilisers – and provide productive grazing for livestock while providing habitat and food source for invertebrates and pollinators, supporting biodiversity.

Paul added that the crop also better withstands the continuing trend for dry and cold springs which hold back grass growth. “We are carrying out soil testing for carbon and for soil management. We’ve probably cut our fertiliser inputs by a quarter and I would expect it to reduce by 50% within the next five years,’ he said.