Saddleworth White Rose Society


in the county of York



 Agriculture in Saddleworth 2003

Dairy Farming

In the 1950’s every village in Saddleworth was surrounded by small dairy farms. These farms usually had mixed herds of Ayrshire, British Friesian and Dairy Shorthorn cattle and their crosses and normally consisted of 10 to 30 cows, which were milked by hand.    



The milk was then sieved, cooled, bottled and retailed to his customers in the village by the farmer with his horse drawn two wheeled milk float. In winter time the cows were housed in tie stalls in traditional Saddleworth shippons and were fed home made meadow hay, purchased concentrates, and kale, swedes, mangels or wet sugar beet pulp and usually averaged 2500 to 4500 litres of milk per 305 day lactation.

 Today there are only four, very large dairy herds in Saddleworth. Three of these are Holstein Friesian, two of them pedigree, and one herd consisting of Holstein Friesians and our native Yorkshire breed of Dairy Shorthorns.


J&R Lancashires 8 year old pedigree  Holstein Friesian cow Dobcross Mav  Pearl


The management of these herds is now governed by modern technology. Genetics considered to be the best available worldwide are used by local farmers to continually improve the quality of their cattle. Modern strains of grasses are grown in the fields to produce high quality fodder both for grazing and conservation. The bulk feed ingredients are analysed and carefully balanced with an appropriate concentrate to make sure the animals dietary requirements are fully met.

Todays herds no longer spend their winter months in tie stalls  but have spacious comfortable cubicle houses with thick rubber mats to lie on and freedom to walk about at will. Food is continually available and consists of a basic diet of high quality high dry matter grass silage supplemented with sugar beet pulp, brewers grains potatoes, fodder beet, carrots etc plus concentrates.

The cows are milked by machine in a milking parlour under very hygienic conditions. The udders are cleaned and each quarter examined for any sign of infection before the milking cluster is applied, the milk is then transferred directly from the udder via a pipeline through filters and into a refrigerated bulk tank where it is stored to await farm bottling before distribution to the retail customers the following morning.

These modern dairy cows produce 5000 to 9000 litres of milk in a 305 day lactation, which is quite an achievement on these  high Yorkshire Pennines of Saddleworth with its often very severe weather conditions. They also produce a calf each year. The best of the cows are bred pure using artificial insemination and the female calves are then retained and reared as herd replacements to calve at around 30 months old when they join the milking herd. The pure bred bull calves do not have a suitable conformation for beef production and are some times kept for veal but as sexed semen is now available it is possible to have almost all pure bred calves born female. The cows not required to provide dairy replacements are bred to a beef bull. The Belgian Blue as an extreme beef sire is sometimes used on these extreme dairy type cows to produce a quality beef type calf, other popular beef sires often used are Limousins and Simmentals.

Very great care is taken over the rearing of the calves, the farmer making sure that the calf receives adequate colostrum (first milk) within the first 6 hours of birth to give passive immunity from infection during the first few weeks of life until natural immunity develops. It is kept in a clean dry airy draft free pen receiving a special baby calf concentrate. Straw is also made available to enable the calf to develop its rumen so that as an adult it is able to graze and cud efficiently  At about three months of age the calf will join other calves in a large straw bedded pen where they will remain until they are old enough to go out into the fields to graze. They are then usually put onto clean pastures that have not had cattle on them the previous year, to protect them from parasites and enable them to develop and grow into healthy cows.

When walking across farm land walkers should be aware that farmers are the guardians of the countryside they maintain the delicate ecological balance. Without them the fields would become overgrown and unattractive and many wildlife habitats would be destroyed. Keep to the paths and keep dogs under control so as not to stress livestock. Litter, particularly plastic bags can prove fatal to farm animals and discarded food or food containers can introduce disease to farmland and should never be left lying about. 




Beef Farming


The farmers of Saddleworth are the guardians of the countryside they manage the delicate ecological balance and maintain many wildlife habitats, without them the countryside would become untidy and unattractive and many species of wildlife would disappear. Visitors can help farmers by closing gates, keeping to paths, keeping dogs under control especially in the presence of livestock and taking their litter home with them. Plastic bags can kill farm livestock and food waste can introduce disease to farmland.


There are several herds of beef cattle in Saddleworth. These are known as suckler herds, this is because the calves stay with their mothers (dams) suckling them in the fields for the first few months of their life. Most of these herds are commercial crossbred herds usually Charolais cross Holstein Friesian or Limousin cross Holstein Friesian. These two crossbreeds make a good quality suckler cow inheriting their milking ability from their Holstein Friesian dam and  beefing characteristics from their beef breed sire. These cows will then be bred to a beef sire of a third breed perhaps a Simmental to give the calf the benefit of hybrid vigour

Mr Bryan Hough  at the Cheshire Show with his pedigree Whitebred Shorthorn cow Burnedge Goldie and calf at foot Burnedge Lorraine 2nd.




There are also the  pedigree herds of  Limousin, Simmental, Black Galloway and Whitebred Shorthorn on other Saddleworth farms which  supply some of the pure breeding stock required in the commercial herds. Very little crossbreeding is done randomly in the agriculture industry, it usually has the purpose of combing specific genes for specific purposes. The Limousin and Simmental herds supply bulls for cross breeding with the extreme dairy type Holstein Friesian cows so that the crossbred calves can be reared economically and fattened for beef or in the case of the female heifer crossbred calves can be reared as suckler cows for the commercial suckler herds, if required. The pure bred Holstein Friesian calves are totally unsuitable as beef animals and can only be fed as veal calves for which there is a very limited demand in Britain. The Black Galloway and Whitebred Shorthorn produce a very superior type of beef for the top of the market and when bred together produce a top quality hy-bred suckler cow called a Blue-Grey which is very much in demand by commercial beef farmers. There are also pedigree Longhorn and Dexter herds supplying niche markets.  

The calves in both the pedigree and commercial beef herds are usually born in early spring so that advantage can be taken of the relatively cheap summer grass as feed. If the calves are born around March the grass supply will increase as the calf grows and the cows milk supply increases with the calves need. Later in the year as the grass growth slows down and the milk supply drops, the calf becomes more and more independent of the cow prior to weaning in the Autumn.

A calf with a birth weight of around 40 kgs could be expected to gain 20 to 30 kgs live weight per month depending on feed quality, reaching a suckled calf weight of 200 to 280 kgs at weaning at the time of the Autumn Suckled Calf Sales. These calves are then taken in batches to the suckled calf sales where they are purchased by graziers with good quality land who winter these animals in covered yards on a store ration of concentrates plus silage, straw or hay which allows the animal to continue to make a steady daily liveweight gain of ½ to ¾ of a kgs until springtime when they are turned out onto fattening pastures to graze and reach a marketable weight at 14 to 22 months of age depending on the market requirements.                                                                                                                      

The cows of the suckler herd on the Saddleworth farm will spend the winter in a covered yard or cubicle house (free stall barn) where they will have access to a maintenance ration of silage and straw plus vitamins and minerals which will see them comfortably through the winter and prepare them for the next spring calving.

Although it is not economical to grow arable crops for finishing beef cattle on Saddleworth farms the area is very suitable for producing good quality calves which can be fattened elsewhere and in this way contributes very much to the human food chain.

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