John Aynsley

Low House Farm,

Skelton Farming Ltd,

North Yorkshire

Sponsored by: ABP Food Group

PRODUCING commercial cattle that are sustainable and efficient is the aim for farm manager John Aynsley, who heads up Skelton Farming. A breeder unit for the Stabiliser cattle company, the mixed farming estate is situated on the edge of the North York Moors, comprising 1,416 hectares (3,500 acres), of which 650ha (1,600 acres) are arable growing arable crops.

In 2021, John dramatically changed their breeding policy from fattening cattle to breeding the cattle themselves with their suckler herd. He says: “Stabiliser bulls were bought to put over the mixed cross-type cows to improve performance and profitability. “This has increased the herd’s calving ease and docility, producing a milky and maternal cow that utilises grass well.” John now records a lot of data across the whole herd, not just the pure-bred animals, implementing DNA and genotype testing on all calves to ensure he captures the best genetics produced. “We also artificially inseminate about 200 of the younger cows each year with new bloodlines so we can breed our own bulls and remain a closed herd.”

All the data is recorded with the Agricultural Business Research Institute which gives him the estimated breeding values as well as a maternal and finishing index for each animal, which follows through into a profit index. Running 500 Stabiliser cows and in-calf heifers, John operates a spring calving system. All stock are paddock-grazed in summer to achieve maximum efficiency with the minimum amount of nitrogen being used during spring and summer. In winter, the herd is housed inside to reduce the impact on wet soils, which John is working to sustain. The arable side is based on a five year rotation of winter barley, oilseed rape, winter wheat, winter beans and winter wheat. The farm uses min-till and direct drilling crops and soil improvement is said to be key to both arable and livestock sides of the farm.

Heading up a workforce including a herdsman, shepherd and farm workers, John pays close attention to career development, actively encouraging involvement in courses and industry groups.

Achieving net zero

  • Moving less soil by moving from min-till to direct drilling
  • Reducing fertiliser and pesticide use as soils improve
  • Closer attention to measuring livestock emissions

What the judges said:

“John impressed the judges with his level headedness and desire to move the farm forward, paying close attention to improving efficiency, soil health and staff education. A stand out winner and the type of farmer and enterprise we wanted to work for.”

On winning, John said: 

“It has been a very steep learning curve and I am very proud to get a product onto the shelf at the end of the day that is going to feed people. We do a lot through genetic and DNA improvement but it takes time to see the positive results. I want to say a big thank you to all our staff and we go through the hard yards but actually this shows we are not doing such a bad job.”