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G.M.Hunter Ltd. Tilbrook Grange

Winner of
Devon Cattle Breeders Herd Competition 2016


Contact us on 01480 860335 or

Winner Best local product

  • June 17

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    For the third consecutive month it is the weather that has been having the most impact. I hardy need to mention that it was hot with a breeze for a week. It was perfect hay making weather. I started mowing on a Sunday morning and the baler was finished the following Sunday afternoon. The yields were about average but the quality is exceptionally good. So good, that I sold a load to a racehorse trainer in Northumberland. Photo attached. He made the 6 hour journey down, saw it being baled and loaded up his lorry. He is going to store it and will be trying for another winner next spring at Cheltenham! We baled in the heat of the day and had to let the hay temperature drop before stacking in the shed. The highest temperature was 42°C as it left the field!

    We have been out shopping again. For a Vantage, not an Aston Martin which has the same model name as a French sprayer. Our current machine is 12 years old, still good but technology moves on. The new one will be 30metres wide with a bigger tank and pump than the old one. It is a trailed model (goes behind a tractor rather than self propelled) It will steer itself and turn the spray on and off by satellites with an accuracy of 100mm (4 inches) It will cover the fields quicker than the old one with less wheeling. It is still relatively basic compared to what the manufactures offer. It will hopefully be made and delivered in time for the autumn spraying. Cost before trade in & discount circa £80 000.

    Gavin has had another good month selling breeding bulls. Some have been sold to the West Country and one to Shropshire. This had been a very good season, helped by our coveted award last autumn. I attach a photo of an impressive lorry that turned up to transport one bull to Devon. It could be described as luxury transport. It is a double decker with water drinkers & ventilation. Far better & more space than commuter trains for humans. It was a back load from the West Country; he had brought up a load of about 45 cattle to a local abattoir.

    Finally, a news item seen in the Farmers Weekly. There is an annual awards evening for 15 sectors of farming. There are such categories as best Arable Farmer, Sheep Farmer & Beef Farmer. Others more specialised as Specialist crop producer, Farm Manager & best Farm Worker. In the latter section in the shortlist of three is Hugh Sapsed, from Tilbrook! He has always strived to do well. I recall over 30 years ago competing against him in tractor driver of the year at The Royal Show.... He did better about 10 years ago & was awarded best combine driver in the country. This current challenge is far greater. There will be a page in the Farmers Weekly about his submission. The awards are made in October at the prestigious Grosvenor House Hotel in London. It is a collection of the very best in our industry. I am sure you join me in wishing him well. I, as will the wider press, will keep you updated.

    No report next month as should be busy harvesting.



  • May 2017

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    Last month I started with the growing problems with the dry spring. I am now pleased and I think you will have all noticed that the rain has come. In May we had 50mm or 2” this has done a marvellous job. If it had come a little later the prospects for a good harvest would have been slipping away. We will have to wait to see what the yields will be when the combine starts at harvest time. I will keep you posted. Our heavy land with a high clay content hang on better than the sandy ground in droughts.

    During the month there was the Devon County Show, the first main show for exhibiting our cattle in the season. Martyn made the 235 mile journey with a cow Tilbrook Gracious and her 8 month old calf and a two & a half year old heifer Tilbrook Teddy. There were 12 exhibitors with 40 cattle forward for judging. This was lower than previous years because of bovine TB restrictions. We had travelled the furthest and were well rewarded. The heifer took first prize and Gracious was second in class. This was a good result in the breed’s home county. Unfortunately the current Bovine TB rules now prevent us going to another show till September.

    During the month we have been shopping, or I could say there have been numerous visits from a tractor salesman. The smallest & oldest tractor, a 2002 Mc Cormick 100 Hp owned since new, has been traded in. We have purchased another New Holland tractor, second hand from a dealer at Ramsey. Ten years ago it would have been a big tractor but in comparison a 180Hp is now the normal. The jobs it will be doing did not justify a brand new one. It is 5 years old with 1700 hours on the clock. Tractor work done is measured in hours rather than in miles. I have been driving tractors since I was 13 and New Hollands for about 10 years. It has a very modern constant variable transmission. The driver just scrolls a knob to adjust the speed in either manual, auto or cruise control. I admit I had to have a lesson on how to drive it! Cost, about £50 000 cheaper than a new one.

    I seldom mention much about the chemicals we use. They are an essential input to produce clean crops for good food production. I attach a photo of what happens the sprayer misses a bit and the blackgrass is not controlled. Unfortunately it is in one of our fields and worse it is a roadside field!

    Finally last Saturday we had a Ball. It was the 70th anniversary of North Beds Young Farmers club. I was a member in the 70’s. It was held at Bates’s farm in Pertenhall. Joe Bates was Chairman in 1949 and was there on the seniors table, accompanied by his sons & daughters & grand children. There were 280 current and old members in the most beautifully decorated grain store. Farmers can scrub up clean and the ladies looked wonderful in the traditional long ball gowns. What a noise when we all knew so many and had so many happy memories over so many years. Farmers are so lucky; we do not move around much and generally marry a local girl. We all work & pull together to produce a simple commodity and we enjoy doing it. There was plenty of food & drink and very good time was had by all!



  • April 2017

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    The most noticeable thing on the farm this month has been the lack of rain. The normal rainfall for April is 42mm, but this year only totals 6mm. The advantage is that the cattle have enjoyed good dry weather since turning out & they have done well. The wheats are not able to take up the nitrogen and are looking a bit stressed. The spring barley has all come up, but the ground has dried up and is hard. The pre-emergence herbicide that was applied needs moisture for it to work, but there has not been enough. If the dry spell continues the potential yield will be reduced. We took a gamble a couple of months ago and sold the barley before we planted it. The price looked good. Hopefully we shall be able to combine enough in August to fulfil the contract!

    If you have driven to Rushden recently you may have noticed the lack of yellow flowering rape fields. From the White Horse to the Rushden roundabout at the A6 I could only count 7 fields (5 good & 2 poor). This is a lot less than a few years ago when about a quarter would have been rape. Last autumn it was very difficult to get the small seed to germinate & grow and if it came up there was a major problem with slugs & flea beetle. The result is obvious to see, numerous failed & redrilled fields. The withdrawal of the neonicotinoid seed dressing has compounded the problems. This has made it very difficult to grow the crop. South of Bedford and Buckinghamshire are worse. Essex it is spot the rape field!

    Early in the month Ruth & I slipped south for a cruise around the Canary isles. We were blessed with great weather, so good I even swam in the Atlantic! We met some friendly people and had excellent food on the ship. It was a better than normal holiday. There are some stories going round the village that I had trouble with my trousers. Hardly surprising considering what was eaten on board in a week. There were about 1350 passengers & 570 crew on the ship. In the week, according to cruise news, we consumed 2850Kg of flour, 1050Kg of sugar, 11 700 Kg of fruit & vegetables. The meat eaters got through 2750 Kg of beef, 2700kg of chicken & 1900 kg of lovely Seafood & fish!

    Gavin also slipped south, down to the Devon Cattle Breeders AGM & dinner. At the dinner, no prizes for guessing the main course meat, the annual awards were made. Gavin was up & down collecting numerous awards. Firstly there was a silver bread basket for the best herd away from the south west. Secondly there was the calf trophy for the best large herd. The culmination was the large shield for the overall best herd in the country. Lastly a silver cup for Martyn’s effort, and a china mug to keep.

    Finally I had a tinkering Easter. We had got back from holiday and the lawn needed mowing. I have been having a bit of trouble with the mower’s engine for a while. It never really went well after 4 star petrol was changed to lead free. I used to put in an additive but this year I was seriously struggling with it. Alas I admitted defeat and ordered a new Briggs & Stratton 4Hp over head valve engine. It now runs so sweet and the lawn is again cut with a quality Ransomes cylinder mower. If the new engines lasts as long as the old one, I shall be replacing it when I am 99!



  • March 2017

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    Firstly I start with a topic that was in the local BBC television news. Wellgrain have gone into administration. They were agricultural grain merchants based in Ely. Their business was to buy the farmers grain & oil seed rape and sell it to the millers, maltsters, feed companies, ports & the like of Weetabix. This is how all trade is done to ensure the correct specification of grain lands up in the right mill. They arranged haulage & managed the contracts & paid 28 days after the last load of the contract was moved. Contracts are all based on full lorry loads and are in multiples of 29 tonnes. A load of wheat is worth about £4000 & rape over £10 000. Unfortunately many local farmers had loaded their January & February contracts and had not been paid before the receivers were called in. The result is that many farmers have grown a crop for the 2016 harvest, stored it since August, loaded it out of store and will probably not get paid for it. There are several estimates of the shortfall in the press, it is rumoured to be about £20 million. This is bad news for many local farmers.

    The weather in March has enabled us to get on well with the arable work. We have made good progress applying the spring fertiliser which has been nicely washed in after application. But the conditions have also been favourable for crop disease. We have had a rust infection in the Reflection first wheats. We have had to go through with a fungicide application earlier than normal. We will have to keep a close eye on it for the next few months to ensure the leaves are protected and stay green to enable the wheat to grow well & produce a good harvest. The Spring barley has all been drilled in good conditions & will hopefully soon germinate & emerge.

    Tilbrook Hawk(pictured), a young bull, last week went down to the breed society show & sale in Exeter. Martyn took him down on Wednesday to get him settled in ready for the sale. He was quite young in his class & did not get a rosette in the judging. He walked well in the sale ring and was sold for 3000 guineas to a farmer in Wiltshire. A good result. Gavin is going down again in April & I will hopefully to be able to report some exiting news next month.

    Miss Mary York who has been on the farm & living in the row of cottages for over 50 years has gone into a residential home. She was house keeper for all the students we had on the farm since the 1960’s. Cooking, cleaning and generally looking after the students we used to have all year round. We had Danish, Swedish and German as well as many from the agricultural colleges. She has been retired for quite a long time. She was a regular cake baker for the Country Fayre for many years. She was finding it difficult to manage on her own in her cottage and is now quite enjoying being looked after in her new home. We wish her well.

    Finally many may have noticed that we have been able to get the cattle turned out. This is a little earlier than some years. The grass is growing, it has been warm enough at night & the ground is dry enough so the cattle are out and are grazing for the summer.



  • February 2017

    Probably the most significant thing in February was Doris passing through last Thursday. The turbine recorded a maximum gust of 74 mph during the storm. However as the wind was consistent & strong neither turbines had to shut down. It was quite a lucrative day! However we did suffer some damage. Firstly, during the morning a Chestnut tree was blown over from the garden and landed across the road. Luckily nothing was passing at the time but the road was completely blocked. James Young donned his protective equipment and started cutting up the branches. Luckily the first vehicle in the queue was a timber lorry going into Sundown. He manoeuvred across the road and lifted the timber to the verge using his crane. In the traffic jam from the other direction was a gardening gang with shovels & a leaf blower to blow the smashed twigs to the side. Luckily with the help from handy people the road was only blocked for a short time. We also had some other trees and branches down and some minor building damage. It could have been worse.

    Soon it will be time to think about drilling the Spring Barley. The field in front of the old Manchester arms has come quite green with blackgrass. This is just what we wanted. (pictured) The blackgrass will be sprayed to kill it leaving us a clean field to drill the barley. If all goes well the barley should grow quickly and smother out any blackgrass that emerges later! This is a new technique, in the distant past we would have kept cultivating the field to hoe out the weeds and let them wither away. This may have been needed to have been done 4 or more times. I will keep you informed. The amount of diesel, time and detriment to the environment is much reduced with just one spray.

    Our beef shop is different to most butchers’ shops selling beef. They buy in just the parts of the animal they are expecting to sell. We have the whole carcass back and produce some rather obscure cuts and make a lot of burgers to ensure the entire animal is sold and nothing goes to waste. I attach some photographs of cuts we do on the bone. Some require slow cooking to ensure they are tender, but the taste, flavour & texture is very good. Pictures of Rib joint, Shin, Tail & T bone steak to illustrate.

    Finally I give my annual warning that we are starting to apply the spring liquid fertilised. It is an acid and will burn your dog’s pads if they run in the crops. Once the fertilised has been rained on to wash it into the soil the hazard has gone till the next application. To be fair to your dogs please keep them off the fields.



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