The Farm

Our aim is to blend modern knowledge with sustainable farming methods using local breeds that are suited to the area. Devon cattle and Exmoor horn sheep have been bred here in an unbroken line for well over a century, so we are keen to conserve this living link with the past and hand it on to future generations. The photo below is of the farmyard in the 1920s, with George Tucker, Ada Tucker, their daughter Ada (the little girl) and Grandpa French. They are preparing to take a Devon cow and calf to market, with the calf in the cart and the cow walking along behind.

West Ilkerton is our home as well as our business. The welfare of our animals and conservation of our beautiful farm are very important to us. The farmhouse is supplied with electricity from a wind turbine and is heated by a biomass boiler that burns wood from our hedges and trees. The farm is under a Higher Level Stewardship agreement, which helps us to conserve a variety of wildlife and historical features.

A green lane running up to open moorland from our farmyard

Red deer are regular visitors, especially stags

Exmoor Horn Sheep and Devon (‘Red Ruby’) Cattle

These are ideally suited to our traditional style of farming, as both breeds were developed in this area to cope with its challenging environment.

Our livestock eat grass in the summer and home-grown hay and haylage (dry silage) in the winter. Occasionally some animals (for example the ewes before lambing) are fed carefully selected cereal-based feed when grass alone can’t supply the energy they need to stay healthy.

It gives us tremendous pleasure to go around the farm and see contented animals grazing in the fields.

Animals Born & Raised on West Ilkerton
With the exception of rams and bulls (which have to be bought from elsewhere to prevent in-breeding) all the sheep and cattle on the farm are born and raised on West Ilkerton Farm. The animals are kept in stable social groups, and have minimal stress throughout their lives.

Cattle

We keep a herd of pedigree Devon (“Red Ruby”) suckler cows. The cows calve from December until May, and calves stay with their mothers until they are about nine months old, when they are weaned and kept in social groups with others of a similar age. The cattle are housed and fed home-grown silage during the coldest winter months. They are let out into the fields again as soon as the weather permits.
A new bull is brought into the herd every couple of years, to prevent in-breeding, but all the other cattle in the herd are born and raised at West Ilkerton, ensuring a life which is as stress-free as possible.

Three or four heifers join our breeding herd each year and the rest are sold — usually to other farms for breeding. Please contact us if you are interested in buying breeding stock. We may have one or two young bulls for sale, too.

The male calves are kept at the farm until they are ready to go to the abattoir at around 26 months old. This is older than most commercial beef cattle, but we like to let them mature at their own pace.

All our cattle graze the fields from spring until autumn and are housed in the winter to protect them from bad weather (and the soil from trampling and tractor ruts). While they are housed they are fed hay or wrapped haylage, made from our own grass. Winter housing has the added advantage that we can keep a close eye on the cows and their calves, plus help with calving if necessary.

For more information about Devon cattle please see www.redrubydevon.co.uk

Three friends: heifers that will stay in our herd

A family group: bull, cow and calf

Ewes and lambs enjoying the spring sunshine

Exmoor horn rams

Sheep

Our foundation flock consists of around 120 Exmoor horn and Exmoor mule ewes (Exmoor horn x blueface Leicester). However, this year we have bought two Border Leicester rams to replace our blueface rams because Border Leicesters tend to be hardier. Their cross-bred lambs are known as Exmoor halfbreds. When we started farming here at West Ilkerton over 30 years ago the flock was 50 / 50 Exmoor horn and Exmoor halfbred, and the system worked well, but unfortunately we followed the fashion for other crosses, which all had their problems, so now it’s time to go full circle! The only trouble is that Border Leicesters are very rare nowadays, so we’ve had to travel a long way to buy some.

Lambing takes place during the last week of March and first half of April. The ewes are housed in the sheds for lambing. When the lambs are about four days old, and if they are strong enough, they are taken out to sheltered meadows with their mothers.

The sheep are kept for wool and meat. The lambs are grass-fed on the wildflower-rich traditional pastures of West Ilkerton. We like to think our animals appreciate the wonderful and varied views from their fields!

Exmoor Horns are famed for the quality of their wool, which is robust and hard-wearing, but unfortunately the value of wool nowadays barely covers the cost of shearing the sheep.

The best ewe lambs are kept to join the flock or sold to other farmers for breeding. Please contact us if you are interested in buying breeding stock.

The other lambs are destined for the table. We sell some as boxed meat in the autumn (as boxed half lambs) and the rest go to market. Our long-term plan is to sell most of our lamb directly to customers ourselves.

Please see www.exmoorhornbreeders.co.uk for more information about Exmoor horn sheep

Please contact us if you are interested in buying cattle or sheep from us or you would like to order some beef or lamb.

Whether you are interested in meat for your family or larger quantities for catering, we will do our best to provide you with what you want. Please see the Buy Our Meat page for further details.