Keeping farming in the family

Collette Kerfoot cuddles one of the new-born lambs on the farm. Photo (MIKE DAVISON): SG200312-20MD
Collette Kerfoot cuddles one of the new-born lambs on the farm. Photo (MIKE DAVISON): SG200312-20MD
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THE Kerfoot family of Gosberton Clough appears to have an idyllic lifestyle on their family farm, where three generations work and live closely together.

Cattle munch sweet smelling hay in ancient byres, young sheep, goats and pigs are tended in small enclosures and a couple of old heavy horses graze in a field where the medieval ridge and furrow indicate there has been a farm on this land off Chopdyke Road for centuries.

Ashley Kerfoot and his brother James work the land, growing arable crops to feed to the animals so that they are almost self-sufficient.

They are assisted by Ashley’s wife Vikki, who has been getting up in the night with the new-born animals, despite the fact that she gave birth to the youngest of their three children, Cameron, three days before Christmas.

William (76), who bought Orchard House Farm just over 40 years ago, is still involved, and says he is always doing some welding or fetching and carrying. “We are all in it together,” he explains. “I like it that way.”

His wife Jane babysits Cameron and the other two children, though five-year-old Clayton and his big sister Collette (8) like to help out with the animals.

The Kerfoots’ lives follow the rhythm of the farm, with the cattle and lambs and kids born in the spring going out on to grass in mid-April, followed by hay making in June and harvest later in the year.

Ashley has checked farming records going back 70 or 80 years, during his grandfather’s time on a farm elsewhere in the country, and discovered surprising similarities, with his grandfather also producing crops to feed his livestock.

It all seems tranquil, but Ashley says family farms like theirs are under threat. It’s undoubtedly hard work. Ashley and James undertake contract work to help make ends meet – and it has its stresses.

As Ashley told a friend who envied his lifestyle: “We have got the bank manager, accountants and the weather against us and as for the markets, we don’t know what we are going to get. It’s nice to see the little ones enjoying it though.

“You don’t know what the future holds. The number of small, family farms that’s gone in the last 15 to 20 years is unbelievable. There is only a handful left in the village. It’s not good.

“I’d like to think the kids would take over, if the red tape doesn’t stop them. There is that much red tape with lifestock and everything.”

In the meantime, William can still see the evidence of the old farming practices around him, in the remaining heavy horses that were used up until two or three years ago and their time-worn harnesses hanging in the barn.

In the workshop, there is every tool imaginable – “if you want it and the Kerfoots haven’t got it, it’s not worth having,” jokes Ashley – as well as grandad’s old tractor, bought in 1936, the same year William was born.

However, there is no time for nostalgia on a busy working farm, with between 100 and 120 cattle and their calves to look after, mainly Hereford and Short Horns crossed with Continental bulls and Charolais crosses, and 50 ewes who had given birth to 14 lambs at the time of our visit.

Vikki says: “There is nothing so uplifting as lambing when it is going right, and nothing so disappointing as when it is going wrong.”

Then there’s a litter of Large Blacks to care for, the horses, five nanny goats, a Billy goat and their kids, the hens as well as domestic animals and hand-rearing a lamb and three baby goats.

It is tragic to think the Kerfoots’ sheds and barns, their animals, the ridge and furrow and 200 acres might all one day in the future be swept away in the path of commercial pressure towards industrial-size farming.

n Ashley says they are short of sheep grazing and could do with an extra field or two. Call him on 07951 124376 if you can help.