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Meet the Wakefield man with a head for herding

CATTLE ROYALE: Keith Gascoigne washes down one of his Highland cattle before the Great Yorkshire Show earlier this year. PIC: Simon Hulme

CATTLE ROYALE: Keith Gascoigne washes down one of his Highland cattle before the Great Yorkshire Show earlier this year. PIC: Simon Hulme

Keith Gascoigne owns Holly Beck Farm at Flockton, near Wakefield, and has around 200 Highland cows, the meat from which he sells at a number of farmers’ markets. He speaks to Neil Hudson about working outdoors with animals which can weight almost a ton, why Yorkshire folk are the best in the world and about doing business with Her Majesty The Queen.

“I couldn’t live without my family, who all get involved with the business. It’s a busy time for us at the moment with Christmas coming up.

We might be out working at 6.30am and still up at 10 or 11 at night, packing meat or calving.

MY first job was a golf caddy at a course near my father’s farm. I would caddy for the women golfers, who were better than the men, plus they shared their sweets.

It was more profitable anyway because while the men would do 18 holes, the women would do just nine and you would earn the same money.

MY childhood was very substantial, by which I mean anyone who is brought up on a farm gets to know the facts of life pretty quick. You learn about all kinds of things, including death. You see animals born and die.

“TO relax I like to go on holiday to the highlands of Scotland, actually. I like it up there and I don’t mind the odd drop of whisky.

SOMETHING that often surprises people is how I am not absolutely petrified by the cattle and the large horns, which is something people often say when we do shows, like the Great Yorkshire Show. All I can say is, over time, you get to know them, you develop a bond with them. They are all individual and have different personalities.

Another thing that might surprise people is we do business with the Queen. We buy weaned calves from the Balmoral Estate, which is something we have been doing for the last four years.

In August this year my wife, Janet, and I were invited to the garden party at Balmoral, which was just fantastic. Both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were there.

“I have met the Queen before, however, when we won the bull class at the Yorkshire Show in 2007. She told me ‘well done’. She’s quite knowledgeable about agriculture and things like that.

The best piece of advice I can give you is work hard and enjoy your life in work or pleasure, because life doesn’t last very long.

If I could meet anyone at all it would be Harold Macmillan, because I understand he was heavily involved in charity work.

The last time I cried was at the death of my three-month-old son, Robert, and that was over 20 years ago. He was born prematurely on November 5, 1985, and he died on February 10.

The best thing about Leeds and Yorkshire is its people, they are so warm and friendly, I meet them whenever we do farmers’ markets and we do one every week.

We do Cleckheaton on the first Saturday of the month, Leeds Briggate on the first Sunday, Oakwood in Roundhay on the third Saturday, Holmfirth on the third Sunday and we hop over the border into Lancashire to do a market in Manchester on the fourth Sunday of the month. We also supply the restaurant at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is where we also graze some of our cattle. We do not supply any other restaurants, although people can buy meat direct from us, we just ask that they phone us before coming.

“What we sell can’t be found in supermarkets. We sell at local farmers’ markets. For people who are interested in buying a quality product, it’s the bees knees and they also get to know where it has come from as it’s all locally produced.

The cattle we use graze in a particular way which benefits the local wildlife in that they tend to leave the grass slightly longer.

I don’t know any jokes, I just don’t have the memory for them. You could tell me a joke now and five minutes later I will have forgotten it. I did see something funny the other morning though, it was a sheep which had got its shoulder stuck in a feeding ring and it was trying to get out by just pushing forwards when all it needed to do was just walk backwards. I walked up to it to help it and it backed away from me and freed itself. You always find funny situations working with animals.

“We have between 200 and 250 Highland cattle. They are a hardy outdoor breed, they like it like that, unlike most cattle these days, which need a lot more pampering.

We graze them at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and also on Royal Society for the Protection of Birds l and at Old Moor at Barnsley, Fairburn Ings and the Dearne Valley, which is good for the birds because it encourages them to breed and it’s good for the cattle.

“My father was a farm manager. He had one in South Yorkshire and when I was about 25 I worked in the marketing department for Unilever.

I am married to Janet and we have two daughters, Sally and Jenny, we also have two grandchildren. The fold name of our cattle is taken from the names of our daughters, it’s SalJen. That means if a cow called Claire has a calf, it would be named Claire the first of SalJen.

“We had about eight tons of hay delivered this week in readiness for winter, in case we need to get out and feed the cows.”

 

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