Running an organic beef, sheep and egg-laying operation across four farms covering some 670ha, a well-known Northumberland farmer is investing for his family’s future. A new cattle handling system is just the latest purchase for the farms’ on-going development

‘If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ — an adage you might well apply to beef and sheep farmer Simon Bainbridge, whose family business goes under the name of Bainbridge Farms and is based around the home farm of Donkin Rigg, near Cambo, Morpeth. The business has been centred there for almost 30 years since Simon’s father and mother, Ivan and Elisabeth, took on this National Trust tenancy, Ivan having farmed for more than 50 years. The tenancy transferred to Simon some 20 years ago when it occupied 145ha, an enterprise he has since increased to 670ha by a combination of additional tenancies and the purchase of just over 283ha.

The conversion to organic status began in 2009, but the development of a 24,000-bird organic free-range egg-laying enterprise only came into being in the spring of 2017, driven not least by uncertainty over the viability of the farms’ existing core enterprises in the light of an impending ‘Brexit’. It now contributes towards two thirds of total farm income. The layer units — there are actually eight flocks — are managed by Simon and his wife, Claire, a qualified chartered surveyor and agricultural valuer, who also looks after most of the administrative work on the farm as well as taking care of their two children, Abigail and George. There are farm buildings on each of the four Bainbridge Farms steadings, and, rather than being a logistical disadvantage, Simon says it’s an advantage from an animal health angle. “It means we can keep different classes of the suckler herd separate — breeding females, youngstock and finishers etc.” All the cattle and sheep feed is grown around the farms, and, up until this coming autumn, no concentrates have been bought in. But, in the future, to minimise any growth check at weaning, the calves will be fed 2kg or so per head for a short while afterwards.

There is, therefore, ‘plenty going on’ at Bainbridge Farms, with Simon’s father still active and the only paid, non-poultry staff are stockman/ steward Michael Taylor, shepherd Joseph Barrass and Lewis Kerr, who joined as an apprentice when he was 15, and now works with the hens and on the farm.

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