Thirty-seven years ago a then admittedly much younger, fresher-faced farmer took the decision, with his lovely wife Valerie, to ‘have a go’ with pedigree sheep. Six prime ministers later and with the country on the verge of leaving the EU their decision to take on a European breed has been vindicated many times over as the Charollais is widely recognised as one of the most popular terminal sires and sheep breeds in the UK.
Charles Marwood farms 230 acres at Foulrice near Whenby just a handful of miles from Sheriff Hutton, where he and his son Stephen’s main enterprise is their flock of 500 pedigree Charollais.
Last week Charles was awarded his certificate as an honorary life member of the Charollais Society at the multibreed ram sale in Skipton from regional breed chairman David Norman who farms near Cockermouth in Cumbria. It is an honour that Charles was delighted to receive and is an acknowledgement of the work he has put into the breed for all fellow breeders as much as for his own flock.
‘Valerie and I took on the Charollais breed within a year or so of when we started farming on our own. The breed had been in the UK for around five years. We wanted something that would fit in with an early lambing scenario and would give us a carcase that would allow us to achieve a premium in the marketplace.’
‘Primarily we chose Charollais for the purpose of breeding commercial butchers lambs, started with a small pedigree flock and the breed grew on us. I purchased a life membership for the princely sum of £100 in 1982 and it is probably some of the best money I have invested.’
‘Yes, we have always wanted success ourselves, but my desire has always been that the society would flourish so that every member on the ground would have a good trade and a good market for their sheep. It’s not good enough in any breed just for one or two breeders to be riding high.’
Competition in the marketplace is a driving factor for those who have their own breed at heart and Charles is passionate about the Charollais, that’s why he has been awarded his honorary status. It’s not something he’s going to cherish simply for the honour, he is committed to adding his voice for the breed’s future.
‘I’ve always said, even in our flock, there are no prizes for coming second. It’s a highly competitive marketplace. The Texel is the predominant breed in the country and the Beltex has come up. We need the Charollais to step up to the mark and we need to gear up our promotion, because we have a breed which has a very important place in the terminal sire market due to its fast early growth and easy lambing qualities.’
‘There is a lot of stress on farmers at the moment and we all have to look at what makes us money. That’s where we need to get the message across that Charollais really can make you money and put that money in your pocket. The Charollais will cross with pretty well any breed and produce a good butchers lamb. I think we need to be promoting ourselves better. We currently have a promotions officer who is doing some excellent work in Wales alerting farmers to the value of Charollais on Welsh mountain sheep.’
‘We have a lot of customers who sell their lambs deadweight. The live market tends to drive things, but our deadweight customers come back for Charollais again and again because they can get their lambs away to market early and get a premium price for that as well as reaching the right weight.’
An honorary membership doesn’t give Charles a seat on the council, as he has had previously in roles such as regional and national chairman and chairman of the finance and general purposes committee over many years, but it does offer him the opportunity to attend council meetings and pass on the benefit of his experience.
‘Principally, and probably in common with most, I’ve learned through making errors and so perhaps I can try to encourage others and help them avoid making the same I have made.’
Charles has had tremendous success in the show rings over the past four decades, twice having achieved the momentous feat of having Interbreed Supreme champion at the Great Yorkshire Show, firstly in the Millennium year with a homebred gimmer and again in 2015 with a purchased ram, as well as several Interbreed titles at Ryedale and Kilnsey, but far from following on from his father, he started from scratch.
‘We’d never done any showing before we had Charollais. My father thought it was a complete waste of time. We very tentatively felt our way and we were very fortunate and extremely grateful for the encouragement we received principally from Suffolk breeders, specifically the Bulmers and a chap called Alan Upton who was Raymond Twiddle’s shepherd. They gave us the confidence that we had sheep good enough to show and set us on our way.’
One of the Marwoods’ first shows was Ryedale where they have shown every year since they started apart from foot and mouth year in 2001.
‘It’s the same story with the Great Yorkshire Show,’ says Charles, although I had to miss this year as I was having a knee replacement, which has thankfully turned out all right.’
Charles and Valerie’s twin daughters Anna and Deborah and their son Stephen have all been part of the Charollais success story and today’s farming operation at Foulrice also includes a small flock of 25 pedigree Teeswaters and a herd of 50-60 Dexter cattle.
‘Stephen and I now farm in partnership. He lives in the house where my brother David lived nearby as David has retired. Stephen is now the main man. I’m learning to do as I’m told. We do mostly what he wants to do. His heart and soul is in the job.’
The Marwoods AI their main flock for December lambing. It has become a crucially important part of their sheep farming enterprise – and has made Charles’ personal and farming life a little easier.
‘We’ve been using AI for about 20 years and it is a highly successful management aide. It means we can get 350 ewes lambed in just 10 days. It means no lambing over Christmas and that keeps relationships right,’ Charles says with a smile at Valerie as he will never forget (or be allowed to) when they had 25 ewes lamb on Christmas Day. ‘That was one lesson well and truly learned,’ he says. ‘We lamb in December and March.’
Charles and Stephen breed tups to sell and have recently purchased two new rams – one from Worcester and the other from Builth Wells.
Chris Berry, Yorkshire Post