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G.M.Hunter Ltd. Tilbrook Grange

Winner of
Devon Cattle Breeders Herd Competition 2016


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Winner Best local product

  • November 18

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    A lot has gone on since my last report. The weather has been kind and all things are looking good.

    The most satisfying news on the cattle front has been the result of the whole herd TB test. A dreadful disease covered in the national news. In the 12 months to end of June 18 in England there were 35 511 cattle slaughtered up 8% in 12 months. Wales a further 10 051 were also slaughtered. All the cattle on the farm over a few weeks old have to be tested. We are lucky this farm is on a 4 year testing programme. The majority are annual and in infected areas it can be 6 weeks. All 232 animals were in the buildings ready for the vet to come and set the test up last Tuesday. Two inoculating injections are given in the neck of each animal. The animal is returned to the yard and onto the next one. 72 hours later the same vet returns to read the swelling on the injection sites. We were hopeful that each would get a clear result. Only one animal showed any sign of swelling & had to have an accurate calliper measurement taken. Luckily all animals passed.

    Calving dragged on and patience was required for the last ones to deliver. I am pleased to report that there are more calves than cows. A good result for Martyn the stockman. The majority of the cows should now be just in calf again.

    The autumn drilling was finished in October in good conditions. The rain came at the right time to enable good progress and germination. After rolling all fields were sprayed with a pre-emergence weedkiller to prevent blackgrass from emerging. Some fields have had to have a second application. Luckily the wheat is looking well and little blackgrass is coming through. An expensive start to the growing season is now over.

    We took advantage of the high cereal prices after harvest and have been loading it out of store. The majority of the wheat has gone to Manchester to have it’s starch extracted for industrial processes. Some other wheat has gone to Corby for animal feed and the malting barley to Essex for brewing. It, as we expected, has not all gone smoothly as the price has dropped since the earlier record price for us of £215/ tonne for the barley.

    For those who have been looking up may have noticed the wind turbine was without it’s blades for a month. The blades have rotated for 42 270 hours and needed some upgrading. They were let down by a winch on the ground and then dismantled. Things took a bit longer than expected and then the wind was too great for several days to be able to safely winch the blades up and locate the new larger pins. However we should be good again until after it has paid for itself. During the years of operation it has saved 370 tonnes of carbon compared to conventional electrical generation. It was an expensive up grade but better than ignoring the wear. The worst scenario would have been pin failure and a dropping blade!

    Finally and fresh in the mind was the charity ball I helped with last Saturday in Huntingdon. The evening went well & a jolly time was had by 150 guests. Some raffle prizes and one auction lot came back to Tilbrook. Thanks also to those who remotely pushed some bids up. The final lot, my head gear, sold remarkably well!



  • September 18

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    Why is the Surgery in Hunter’s Way?

    This month I break from the monthly report. I am going to look back further. 40 years ago I recall saying good bye to mum & dad on a Monday morning in November as I set off to college near Grantham for the week. Little did I expect to be back in the afternoon to mourn the death of my Father. I was 20 & dad was just 60 years old.

    Some things have changed on the farm but the overall job of producing food has not changed. The weather is still our boss but the changes in chemicals, plant breeding and machinery has revolutionised the industry. He was brought up on the family farm near Stevenage. During the war he served in the Royal Army Service Corps and reached the rank of Captain. Father came to the farm in 1947 after the war. He was married the same year and after two girls twins Gavin & I came along. Post war there was a great incentive to produce more food; it was needed to reduce the rationing that had been introduced. When I was a boy there were 20 people working on the farm. Today there are 4. Many more crops were grown compared to today. The only ones still grown then & now are wheat, barley & grass. We no longer grow potatoes, peas, beans, cabbage, turnips, parsnips, swedes, mangolds, lucerne, clover and mustard. Oil seed rape, our only break crop now, was not grown here until 1990.

    The beef herd of pedigree Devons was started in 1960 with 18 heifers and 1 bull. This week the total head is just under 250.

    As well as being a farmer my father gave a lot of his time the community.

    He served on the Nene & Ouse River board and was very involved with the building of Grafham Water in the early 60’s.

    He was also vice president of the Country Land Owners Association for many years looking after the interests of farmers & landowners nationally.

    He was on the St Neots Rural District council for many years until it became Huntingdon District Council in 1974. He was then the District Councillor for the Local area until his death in 1978.

    His great friend Dr John Kilby from the Kimbolton High Street surgery was with him when he had a fatal heart attack.

    Kimbolton and all shops & business came to a standstill for his funeral. St Andrews church was packed full & the collection enabled an oak flower pedestal to be made & dedicated in memory of him. It is still in St Andrews to the left of the Alter with an inscription on it.

    A new road was built in Newtown and was named, Hunter’s Way, in memory of him for all that he did during his life for the community.

    He served on Catworth parish council & was chairman for many years. Catworth Gap is also named after him. The Parish council planted an Oak tree in memory of him. It is on the parish boundary between Catworth & Tilbrook to the east of the B660.

    Many in the village knew Mum; she was a widow for 33 years and was a well respected lady who lived in Kimbolton Castle Gardens. She moved there and retired from Tilbrook Grange when I got married.

    40 years on from his death his name carries on and now you know why it is called Hunter’s way.



  • August 18

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    It seems like a long time ago but the most important thing to report is that harvest is all safely gathered in. The hot weather in June just got hotter and the cereal crops very soon burned off. We knew it was never going to be a record harvest as the blazing heat shrivelled up the grain. James, the combine driver, had to cut short his holiday as we started harvest weeks earlier than normal, on Friday 13th July. We did not spray the rape off to hasten ripening, as we have done for the last 20 years. We took a gamble that the heat wave would continue and that it would not come to an end with a thunderstorm. A storm on ripe rape is disastrous; it all shells out onto the ground. It was so hot the rape was so dry we had to stop after lunch each day. It didn’t matter as we had already done 8 hours combining. Some others started cutting as early as 4am.

    We finished harvest on 8th August, the date we started the cereals last year. Quantity was down and the quality was not as bad as it could have been. Our heavy clay land retains its moisture better than sandy ground. As most of Europe was baking like us & Australia drought continues the cereal price has risen. Overall we can’t complain. We have sold the spring barley for a malting speciation at a record price. £215/ tonne, the hope now is that it is accepted at the malsters in October!

    The ground was too hard & dry to rush into cultivations. We have now got all the oil seed rape planted and it is emerging better than the last few years. There has been enough moisture and the pests are not at present active. The cost on wearing metal in the ground has been high but we will have swallow the expense and hope it grows!

    On the cattle front they are much happier now the grass is growing again. We had to give them all supplementary hay & straw in the heat wave. Luckily we don’t stock as heavily as some farmers and the traditional breeds don’t demand as much fodder as larger continental types. We got through without major complications. Calving has started and has got off to a flying start. 4 sets of twins so far and all doing well, I will give a full report next month.

    Finally, I now break from the traditional combine picture. When in a Tilbrook field a took a picture of 3 mature Huntingdon Elm trees (Ulmus x hollandica 'vegeta' ) The county lost nearly all these beautiful trees in the 70’s to Dutch Elm disease. We had 2 survive near the farm for a long time, but lost them in a storm about 10 years ago. I guess most people concentrate on the bend in the road & don’t admire the trio. They never looked back in the drought and are in full leaf at the end of August. Elm wood is strong and durable with a tight-twisted grain, and is resistant to water. It has been used in decorative turning, and to make boats and boat parts, furniture, wheel hubs, wooden water pipes, floorboards and coffins.

    Huntingdon elm is highly susceptible to Dutch elm disease, a fungal disease which devastated populations of elms since it arrived in the UK in the 1960s.



  • June 18

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    There is an old saying “ A dripping June, put’s everything in Tune” This means that a wet June gives the maturing crops a good drink to get the grains to filled up ready for ripening and harvest.

    Alas in June I recorded just 0.5mm of rain. This helped with hay making which went well, despite dull days at the start of the month. All hay is safely in the shed ready for feeding. Will it stay there till November? I have already heard of some farmers up north who are using their winter fodder already. The grass is not growing, when did you last mow your lawn? Grass very soon recovers and grows again as soon as it gets a drink. Remember 1976? The minister of drought? I recall my father grazing the cattle on the grass verges. When the rain came everything soon turned green and it kept raining for ages.

    Pedigree bull sales have picked up this month. Several have gone and another is scheduled to go tonight (Sunday) when it is cooler for travelling. One of the buyers used a different mode of transport. He left North Yorkshire after lunch, spent a couple of hours looking at the cattle & back home again for his tea. As you can see from the picture he couldn’t hook on the trailer to take the bull back!

    One of the advantages from the heat wave has been lots of barbeques, burger sales have boomed. Tilfest used to be our best order but this week I thanked a chap from Tilbrook who broke that record. Just under 1000 have gone out this week. Those in Tilbrook yet to try them have been missing out.

    Any new customers will be made welcome.

    I read an interesting snippet in the Farmer Weekly as follows “British farmers could be sending beef to China by 2021 after the country lifted a 22-year ban on beef imports.

    The move, which is likely to help carcass values by increasing demand for cuts not favoured by British consumers, is still subject to negotiations on market access, which are expected to take three years. China took in almost 700,000t of the meat last year, and is now the world’s second-largest beef importer after the US.

    Termination of the UK ban, which was put in place at the time of the BSE crisis, comes after a successful inspection visit in April 2018 by Chinese officials.”

    As the White Horse is about to open I thought a few facts about beer may be of interest.

    • 82% of beer sold in Britain is brewed here primarily from British Barley

    • UK farmers produce 2 million tons of malting barley / year. Enough for 23.3 billion pints

    • The beer & pub industry provide 900 000 jobs in the UK. 44% filled by 16 to 24 year olds

    • We export over 1 billion pints of beer to 110 countries annually

    • UK beer sales generate £13 billion of tax revenue annually

    Finally I have a new favourite number in my phone. In one week I dialled this number more than any other. No, there is not a secret romance and it is nothing to do with farming, family or work. You may recall that I broke my wrist in March. The thumb is not moving correctly and is has been a very considerable struggle to get the hospital sort it out. Hopefully it will get resolved.



  • May 2018

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    I have moaned about the weather in the past but not this month! It has been very kind and crops are growing well. The late drilled spring barley is storming through it’s growth stages. There has been enough rain with warm days & nights. Not too much wind, so we have been able to spray in near perfect conditions. Long may the favourable conditions continue for hay making & then harvest.

    During the month all the cattle yards have all been cleaned out. The muck was much deeper in the sheds than normal as the winter was a really long drag. The heaps in the fields will be spread straight after harvest.(picture attached)

    Gavin was delighted to be invited to judge the Devon cattle on their home ground at Devon County Show in the middle of the month. There was a strong entry with herds from Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Somerset and Worcester all competing for the coveted prize of having the best Devon animal at Devon County show. It is a very desirable award to be Champion on the breed’s home ground. The substantial solid silver cups are very old and show the winners for decades and have a combined value over £50 000.

    Gavin decided to award the championship to a young bull. The owners were delighted as it was their first time of winning Best in Breed, and they had had a terrible year last year with losing a large percentage of their herd to an outbreak of Bovine TB. (picture attached)

    The number of cases nationally is still very disappointing. I copy official figures. • Total animals slaughtered due to a TB incident in England in the 12 months to December 2017 increased 14% on the previous 12 months to 33,238. In Wales the number slaughtered was 10,053, an increase of 1%

    Luckily we (Cambridgeshire) are in a low risk area and only have to have to test the whole herd every 4 years. Others in high risk areas have such dreadful statistics, I will not report.

    The Basic Payments Scheme forms were all submitted before the deadline to the Rural Payments Agency. We have these for two more years until Brexit’s new scheme is started. We had to submit a further 21 pages as well as the prepopulated forms as their computer removed 6Km of hedges! All are hoping that the RPA do better than last year in processing the forms. The EU fined the UK £230m for poor performance. Minister Michael Grove described the RPA feat “as slow as a snail with arthritis!”

    Last week we sold 14 lorry loads of wheat for October delivery. This is a calculated gamble. Firstly we will get it in the store & that the price was a good deal on the day. The reason was simple; the price had risen sharply in the last fortnight. This was caused by various reasons, Argentinean weather, Politics in Korea and President Trump. Currency Euro V £. Further the harvest predictions in Europe & the UK not expecting a large surplus. These days it is global conditions that have drastic influence on the market.

    Finally I attach a picture of a trailer made by Ted Tirrell who sadly passed away last month. It was made from a Bedford QL lorry. My father purchased these as surplus war stock. The cab and engine were cut away and a new body built and fitted on the rear chassis. Ted made us three as the old lorries were scrapped when the petrol engines packed up in the 70’s. We still have one on the farm & it is used all winter for cattle feeding.



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