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Youngstock – FG | 8 February, 2008
Teenager Tom Cox has surpassed all expectations for his young age. His tenacious dedication to his pedigree flock and unwavering commitment to the family farm is something to aspire to. Angela Calvert reports.
MANY pedigree livestock breeders strive for a lifetime to attain what teenager Tom Cox has achieved in just a few short years.
In 2006, Tom, then aged just 18 years, was named the winner of the Bristol Gold Cup, the Suffolk Sheep Society’s National Flock Competition, with his Tomcroft flock.
The young farmer beat off stiff opposition from all over the UK and Ireland to gain the national accolade and is also enjoying tremendous success in the show and sale ring.
Yet despite his impressive professional triumphs, Tom still remains unassuming.
“I did not expect to win and it came as a complete surprise, but we were absolutely delighted,” says Tom.
The Cox family farm at Marston in Staffordshire where the main business enterprise is in dairying. Determined to take an active role, Tom, at the age of 12, was keen to establish his own pedigree flock of sheep and acquired six in-lamb Suffolk ewes for Christmas 2000, from Robin Hulme’s Crosemanor flock.
For the first two breeding seasons Tom used AI on the ewes with the sire Burness Aqua, and expanded the flock by retaining ewe lambs.
The MLC Signet recording scheme is used and a strict selection policy to ensure the genetics of the flock are constantly improving.
However, Tom feels that a turning point for the flock came in 2003, with the purchase, jointly with Clive Norbury, of the ram Muiresk Adrenaline, whose influence on the flock has been enormous.
“Adrenaline’s daughters have now formed the basis for the flock and as well having good conformation, have a certain presence and style, which I think is partly responsible for winning the national flock competition and has given us success in the show ring,” he reflects.
In the past three show seasons, Tom has taken champion or reserve at every show entered, including Shropshire and West Midland, Newport and at Staffordshire County for three years running.
On the sales circuit, the sale of his first ram lamb, in 2005, broke the £1,000 barrier at the National Show and Sale of Suffolks at Shrewsbury Market.
Although ewe lambs have been retained to build up numbers, there have also been some purchases of ewes from several of the leading Suffolk flocks, to improve genetic traits. AI from high-class rams has also been used to introduce new bloodlines.
In 2006 Tom used a homebred ram lamb, Tomcroft Persuader, on a number of ewes. He is by Castlewellen Nutcracker out of a Muiresk Adrenaline ewe and has been used for his fast growth rate, high muscle score of 42.2mm and low fat score.
The resulting progeny have been outstanding and Tom believes they will lead the flock to even more success.
“We are extremely pleased with Persuader’s first crop. He obviously crosses well with the Adrenaline ewes, which is good for the future improvement of the flock,” he says.
Last year, his flock was the winner of the Midland and Eastern Area flock competition, with Persuader taking the award for best stock ram. A share in Persuader has now been sold to Ken Powell of the Beechcourt flock.
In spite of the difficulties encountered by all livestock farmers during last year’s sale season, Tom was delighted with his results and the high demand for his stock, with the highlight being the sale of a ram lamb for 4,000 guineas.
“In spite of increasing popularity of continental rams in recent years I am still finding a strong demand for Suffolks. I am selling to both pedigree and commercial breeders,” he explains.
“The aim is to produce high index lambs, with good conformation, good muscle depth and little fat.”
Lambing takes place in January and some AI is used to ensure a tight lambing period. Ewes are left outside as long as possible, before coming inside to lamb. They are given minimal hard feed and are turned out again, with lambs, in February.
Any ewes, which have a bad lambing, show poor mothering instinct or have any other problems, are culled to improve the ‘easy care’ management of the flock.
Ewe numbers have now reached about 60, which Tom feels is probably the optimum number to fit in with the rest of the farm’s activities, as any further increase would start to take grass away from the cows. So now efforts will concentrate on further maximising the flock’s potential.
The Cox family bought Manor Farm in 1971, when it was just a 138-acre holding, to expand and develop their then 30-head Steve Acre herd of pedigree Holstein Friesian dairy cattle.
The expansion has been rapid and the farm now extends to 700 acres. The dairy herd stands at 350 cows, which are producing 11,000 litres at 4 per cent fat and 3.35 per cent protein. The milk is sold to Muller at Market Drayton.
The herd has been the highest yielding herd in Staffordshire, 18 times since 1978, and has also won numerous inspection awards at county level.
About 80 per cent of the cows are put to Holstein bulls to breed replacement and additional heifers and the remainder put to a Limousin bull. All calves are reared on farm, with the beef ones being sold as stores, resulting in around 800 head of cattle on the farm at any one time.
Although evidently enthusiastic about his sheep, Tom is committed to the dairy herd and rises at 3.30am to milk them and whenever possible, likes to do the feeding of the cows himself.
The current parlour was installed in 1996 and was only intended for 170 cows. Plans are underway for a new 40-point internal rotary parlour, which will allow 150-200 cows to be milked per hour and will enable the herd to expand even further. It’s hoped the new parlour should be operational by the end of next year.
“I see a good future in dairy farming and would like to significantly increase cow numbers. The new parlour should allow us to do that and make management so much easier,” he says.
Tom says he did not ever consider a career other than farming and after completing a National Diploma in Agriculture at Robaston College now intends to focus on the family farm. Working full-time alongside him are his sister, Rachael and girlfrie
nd, Lucy Moss, who share his commitment to farming.
Tom’s father, Stephen has embraced the enthusiasm of his three young workers. He says, “Although times have been difficult for some, there have been some real opportunities in farming over the last ten years and it has certainly given us the opportunity to expand.
I think the way forward is family farms, where everyone works together with the aim of moving ahead.
“If it was just me, I may feel differently, but these three young people are all so keen, I want to support them and we are all very optimistic for the future.”
Unsurprisingly proud of Tom’s achievements, Stephen believes the reason for his son’s success lies in his ‘attention to detail and good eye for sheep’.
It’s almost easy to forget that despite his sale success, winning stock and increasingly active role on the farm, Tom is still only 19 years old.
When asked the secrets to his own success, Tom’s answer is typically more modest to that of his fathers.
‘I was very lucky that I started out with some good stock and have built on that and I enjoy what I do.”