Reaseheath agriculture graduates launch calf rearing business

Chris Webb and Larry Anscombe with their automatic calf feeder

Chris Webb and Larry Anscombe with their automatic calf feeder

Reaseheath agricultural graduates Chris Webb and Larry Anscombe have joined forces to form a thriving calf rearing business. Along with their friend Chris Roberts, the entrepreneurial pair launched their calf unit while they were first year degree students and continued to expand it alongside their studies. They have grown quickly from an initial intake of 30 calves to rearing 130 calves on a farm at Welsh Frankton, Shropshire, and, after just a year and a half, are taking over the tenancy on a second larger unit nearby.

The core of the business is raising beef-cross calves on milk and concentrate. The animals are purchased from farms across Shropshire and Cheshire at two to three weeks of age for resale as weanlings at around three months. On the same system, dairy heifer calves are contract-reared for local dairy farmers. Already the business is attracting return custom, with the partners attributing their success to their niche specialism, to making the most of technology and to their high standards of welfare.

The calves are machine-fed in groups of 25 to 30, with electronic identification collars to allow individual monitoring, ration-control and progressive weaning to minimise stress and post-weaning check. From arrival, calves have ad lib starter, straw and water, and are fed 1kg of CMR daily. This drives early growth during the period of maximum feed efficiency and also primes their metabolism for high starter intakes as they progress onto solid feed.

Larry Anscombe tops up calf pellets

Larry Anscombe tops up calf pellets

By combining traditional good stockmanship with feeder automation and technology for monitoring health and performance, their system is able to deliver healthy calves with excellent growth rates, despite a relatively low workload. Careful monitoring of live weight gain also allows changes and protocols to be continuously tuned, compared and assessed.

Chris Webb came to Reaseheath as a mature student, having previously run technology companies following a maths degree at the University of Cambridge in the 1990s. He doesn’t have a farming background, so studying for a Foundation Degree in Agriculture with Dairy Herd Management helped him build the skills and knowledge to enable him to break into a new industry.

Larry, who comes from a farming family, studied for his Level 3 Extended Diploma in Agriculture at Walford College, Shropshire, completing this as student of the year. He then progressed on to a Foundation Degree in Agriculture at Reaseheath to enable him to aim higher in his chosen career.

Chris Roberts graduated from Harper Adams in 2007 and now works as a partner in his family dairy farm. He was instrumental in a successful conversion to robot-milking in 2011 and subsequent expansion of the herd, so he is no stranger to the benefits technology can bring to a farming business.

Both Reaseheath graduates credit the success of their partnership with the inspired teaching and balance of academic and practical learning which they received while undergraduates.

Chris Webb said: “Reaseheath provided a great learning experience which included a comprehensive, well-taught course which was directly relevant to real-life farming. I enjoyed studying with a friendly, tight-knit group from a mix of backgrounds. The specialist dairy side of the course is unique in the UK as it’s condensed into studying for two days a week, enabling many of us to hold down farming jobs at the same time. Our course manager, Dr Jane Richardson, inspired and encouraged us to pursue our start-up business.”

Larry, who is a member of Whitchurch Young Farmers Club, added: “Rearing calves to three months of age can be a hassle for some farmers as it is an additional task alongside running the mature animals. We have chosen to concentrate on this area and, so far, it has proved very successful.

“Just because we use modern technology doesn’t make us less of a stockman. It allows us to focus more on the health of the calves while having a more flexible lifestyle.”

For further details on buying or selling calves, or for a chat about this start-up business, contact Chris Webb

Plough Sunday raises awareness of farming charity

Local parishioners and members of the agricultural community came together to celebrate the new farming year at a Plough Sunday service held at Reaseheath College.

Reaseheath Principal Meredydd David, Rev Anne Lawson and Georgina Lamb celebrate Plough Sunday

Reaseheath Principal Meredydd David, Rev Anne Lawson and Georgina Lamb celebrate Plough Sunday

A packed congregation gathered in the Nantwich college’s historic Old Hall to take part in the service and afterwards enjoyed a soup and bread lunch. The event was held in support of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), a leading agricultural charity which helps farmers in financial difficulty. A total of £454 was raised for the charity, with Reaseheath donating £210 from the sale of lunch and the remainder coming from those who attended.

The service was conducted by Rev Anne Lawson, Vicar of the cross country parishes of Acton, Church Minshull, Worleston and Wettenhall, who is also Chaplain to the Cheshire Agricultural Society. Musical accompaniment was provided by the music group of St Mary’s Church, Acton.

Rev Anne Lawson explained: “The purpose of this service was to encourage communities to gather together to celebrate the traditional start of the farming year and also to raise awareness of RABI. Plough Sunday hasn’t been marked at Reaseheath College, certainly in recent times, and I was delighted that the service was such a success.”

Georgina Lamb, North West Regional Manager for RABI, who attended the service along with other representatives from agricultural institutions said: “This was a great opportunity for us to give thanks for the contribution our farming communities make by providing food for our tables and by caring for the wider landscape.

“It also allowed us to remember that farming families, who are often overlooked, have been particularly hard hit by the recent bad weather and will continue to suffer financially for some time.”

Reaseheath Food and Farming discussion embraces technology

‘Use technology to drive the agricultural industry forward, embrace science, be innovative and never stop learning’. This was the key advice given to Reaseheath College students at a ‘question time’ discussion looking at careers in agriculture and food production.

The event, sponsored by the Food, Drink & Agricultural Group of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and organised by Reaseheath’s Agricultural Development Academy (RADA) and agricultural department, highlighted the opportunities available in the industry including business start-ups, and the attributes employers are looking for when recruiting.

amie-Leigh Douglas and Emma Hancocks chat to agricultural students

amie-Leigh Douglas and Emma Hancocks chat to agricultural students

The panel, made up of Emma Hancocks (Senior Consultant, Promar International and Genus plc), Jamie-Leigh Douglas (Ruminant Technical Support Manager, AB Vista), Joanne Butterill (Agriculture Relationship Manager, NatWest), Ray Brown, (NFU Cheshire County Chairman) and Barbara Hughes (Cheshire Women in Dairy) took part in a lively Q and A session with undergraduates and Level 3 Diploma students studying agriculture at the Nantwich, Cheshire college.

A recurring theme, supported by all panel members, was that technology is vital for the future of the industry and that careers should be geared towards this constantly evolving science. Degrees were deemed to be important, particularly as they opened the door to graduate schemes in associated industries, but ‘soft’ skills such as reliability, work ethic and enthusiasm were seen as equally essential from an employer’s point of view.

The panel were also unified in their view that partnerships and co-operatives could well sustain the agricultural industry in the future, and that diversification into niche businesses could be a good route to success. Efficiency was key to profitability.

Ray Brown, himself a former Reaseheath agriculture student, advised: “Go for what you enjoy …. but you need to strive to be the best to survive”, while Joanne Butterill  emphasised: “Building rapport with the people who are going to support you is key. Your personality is as important as your CV.” She also pointed out that banks were willing to support farming businesses provided they were presented with a clear business plan and cash flow forecast.

Responding to a question from student Matt Brown as to what the NFU was doing to encourage the next generation of farmers, Ray Brown said efforts were being made to deliver more power into the hands of producers and spoke positively about local food procurement centres which would source food from local businesses and encourage knowledge transfer.

Answering a question as to how ‘Cheshire Women in Dairy’ was encouraging females into the industry, Barbara Hughes described the association’s monthly meetings when best practice and ideas were shared. The panel were in agreement that British society was dictating a shift in perception and that it was now far more acceptable for women to be in the industry.

Rhys Edwards, Henry Stanhope, Lizzy Mercer and Harry Hough talk to Ray Brown and Joanne Butterill

Rhys Edwards, Henry Stanhope, Lizzy Mercer and Harry Hough talk to Ray Brown and Joanne Butterill

Asked how she became a senior consultant, Emma Hancocks said that she had found it very beneficial to work her way up ‘from the bottom’, gaining rounded skills, but that the research which formed part of her degree had proved important to her progression.

This view was supported by Jamie-Leigh Douglas, who said that a background in science and technology could lead to excellent progression in the global animal feeds industry.

In conclusion, Ray Brown emphasised: “Although there is an oversupply at the moment, there are seven billion people in the world and this will increase to nine billion in 20 years. The demand for agriculture produce will increase and the next generation needs to look at producing food which is local, fresh and usable.

“The value of technology such as robots and sophisticated machinery isn’t negative. They help you to do your job better by freeing up time. The future of farming is in the hands of the next generation – and we need our young people to continue learning and then sharing their knowledge, best practice and experiences.”

Header image captionJamie-Leigh Douglas, Ray Brown, Joanne Butterill, and Emma Hancocks are joined by Reaseheath agriculture students Lizzy Mercer, Harry Hough and George Browne


Steven Williams BSc (Hons) Landscape Design and Management, 2011

Steven Williams onsite at WAP Lawton and Son Ltd

Steven Williams onsite at WAP Lawton and Son Ltd

Steve began his seven year Reaseheath journey as an apprentice on an NVQ Level 2 Horticulture course and progressed to his degree while holding down a full time job with WAP Lawton and Son Ltd, Landscape Contractors.

Attending college on one day a week, Steve gained qualifications at Level 3, Higher National Certificate, Foundation Degree and finally his BSc (Hons) degree. He was supported throughout by his employer, Jeremy Lawton, and was promoted Contracts Manager, a job which includes liaising with clients, managing a team of landscapers and materials, health and safety, human resources, finance and estimating.

Steve so impressed his college lecturers that he represented Reaseheath at the finals of EuroSkills, a quest to find the most talented young people, and earned a scholarship to attend the WorldSkills Olympics in Japan to support the UK team. Another highlight, for him, was helping to build our medal winning show gardens at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park. Keen to share his knowledge of the horticulture industry, he’s now returned to Reaseheath as a lecturer/course manager in Landscape Design and Construction.

Steve said: “Being a student at Reaseheath boosted my confidence as well as giving me a wide range of practical and theoretical skills. I also made useful contacts within the industry. I’m delighted to have the chance to share my knowledge and skills with the next generation and thrilled to be back at Reaseheath. ”


Twm hits the high notes

Reaseheath College trained arborist Twm-Tegid Brunton hit the high notes by singing Christmas carols from the top of a 100ft high redwood tree.

Wearing a fairy skirt over his safety harness Twm, a member of the North West Welsh Opera Choir, sang three carols in English and Welsh from his lofty perch to an audience below on the Nantwich campus.

Twm Brunton completes his singing fairy mission

Twm Brunton completes his singing fairy mission

He was supported by former fellow students Rob Hassall and George Gresty. All three completed their Level 3 Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture at Reaseheath in the summer and now work in the industry.

Twm is running his own forestry and arboriculture service while continuing to gain further engineering skills at Reaseheath. Rob is a self-employed tree climber while George works for a large tree surgery firm.

Jono Finlow, Alan Mottram, Twm Brunton, George Gresty, and Rob Hassall

Jono Finlow joined by Alan Mottram, Twm Brunton, George Gresty, and Rob Hassall

The three friends held their high-rise carol concert to raise funds for the Disaster Arborist Response Team (DART), which sends teams of qualified and experienced tree surgeons to countries that have been hit by natural disasters such as earthquakes. Working alongside other humanitarian relief, DART teams clear trees and debris to ensure emergency teams have safe access.

DART trustee Jonathan Finlow, who is an assessor at Reaseheath and also teaches on the Level 3 Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture, supported the fund raising effort alongside course manager Alan Mottram.

Jonathan said: “This was a fantastic effort by Twm and his support team, and by all the staff and students who helped and donated to our charity.

“DART is still only 18 months old but we have already achieved so much. We have minimal overheads and great sponsors for most of our kit, so all donations go directly to helping deploy a team to be of use in a disaster zone. As well as raising funds, we had the bonus of enjoying some unusually positioned festive songs.”

Twm has already raised over £500 towards his target of £1,000 for DART. You can still donate to show your support at

Christmas Fair brings festive spirit to Reaseheath

A group of events management students got into the festive spirit by hosting their first Christmas Fair at Reaseheath.

Seven first year students on our Level 3 Events Management course organised the Christmas Fair to raise money for this year’s nominated charity, British Heart Foundation.

The students held the Christmas Fair in the historic Reaseheath Hall with around 15 stalls spread across the building.  Stall holders sold various festive treats and stocking fillers including chocolate, wooden toys, cupcakes and bird boxes.  Visitors also had the opportunity to meet Santa and Mrs Claus in a Christmas Grotto and enjoyed refreshments generously donated by our food and catering departments

Andy Boyle, a professional photographer and former Reaseheath student kindly volunteered his time and provided a novelty photo booth for the day, adding to the festivities. Andy studied agriculture at Reaseheath in the 1970s and is also a full time Dairy Herd Manager alongside running his photography business ‘Andy Boyle Photography’.

Students raised over £400 for British Heart Foundation, which has increased our current RAG total to £3,200.

Student success at English Winter Fair

Our Level 3 Extended Diploma in Agriculture students proved they have a good eye for commercial livestock by selecting prize winning pigs for the English Winter Fair at Staffordshire Showground.

Twelve first year students in Practical Group D selected two pigs which were entered into different classes for the best pork carcase. They were particularly successful with a Large White Cross gilt, which came third out of 15 in a class hotly contested by professional producers.

To make their selection, the students had to choose two from around 150 pigs in our Stage 2 finishing house. Advised by Livestock Lecturer Julie Baskerville, they looked at the conformation and general condition of the pigs, then weighed them to make sure that they met the show class criteria.

One of their key missions was to select pigs which would give the best cuts of meat to suit the family table. Satisfyingly, the carcases made a great price at the post-show auction.

Said Julie: “At Reaseheath we concentrate on giving our students relevant experience which will help them in their future careers. This was a good lesson on the production of commercially viable pigs and we were delighted with our success.”

Reaseheath is one of a few land-based colleges to have a commercial pig unit. Run by Pig Unit Manager James Payne, a former Reaseheath agricultural student, our straw based, high welfare unit, which conforms to RSPCA Freedom Foods Standards, has 135 sows, each of which produce two litters annually. We sell about 50 finished pigs weekly and supply our local family butchers, Clewlows of Nantwich, along with other meat retailers.

Top caption: Julie Baskerville is pictured in our pig unit with two of her successful students, Richard Ratcliffe and Brad Walton

Accolade for RHS students

Eighty-five students who gained Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) qualifications at Reaseheath this year have celebrated their achievements.

Mirroring the national trend, around half are professional horticulturists furthering their development while the remainder are career changers and keen leisure gardeners.

Level 2 Friday practical group

Level 2 Friday practical group

Reaseheath is recognised as the leading RHS training and examination centre in the north west and students currently travel from as far as the Wirral, Manchester, Oldham and Church Stretton to attend courses. This year 90 students with a wide age range are enrolled.

Reaseheath offers separate theory and practical qualifications at both Level 2 and Level 3. Once both awards are achieved they convert into a well respected RHS Level 2 or Level 3 Diploma in the Principles and Practices of Horticulture.

Level 2 Monday practical group

Level 2 Monday practical group


Based in Reaseheath’s new £8.3 million Centre for Horticulture, the Environment and Sustainable Technology, RHS students complete a minimum of 430 learning hours to achieve the diploma. Apart from attending lectures they take part in practical activities in the college grounds and also play a key role in building our show gardens at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park. In addition they enjoy trips to outstanding local gardens and many will join a study tour to Barcelona next summer.

Congratulating the students at an awards presentation at Reaseheath Hall, RHS Course Manager Anne Harrison said: “These qualifications demand a lot of individual input and the final exams are very stringent. This is why they are so well recognised and respected in the industry. You have put in a tremendous effort, with some of you juggling jobs and home duties alongside your studies, and you should all be very proud of your achievements.”

Head of Horticulture Sarah Hopkinson and RHS Master of Horticulture Harry Delaney, who taught some the students before retiring last year, also attended the ceremony.

Reaseheath offers the RHS Level 2 and Level 3 Certificates in Horticulture (theory and practical) as weekly daytime courses and an additional RHS Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture (theory only) as an evening course.

Imogen’s on the front-line innovating on-the-go snacks and treats

After graduating with a degree in Food Industry with Management in 2014, Imogen Johnson landed her dream job in New Product Development with Street Eats, the Chester based sandwich and street-food manufacturer.

Imogen Johnson and family on her Reaseheath  graduation day in 2014

Imogen Johnson and family on her Reaseheath graduation day in 2014

As Street Eats ‘Development Technologist’, Imogen, 22, develops new recipes, helps monitor product quality and researches market trends (‘breadless sandwiches’ are very on trend at present). She’s is also responsible for sourcing new ingredients and photographing the latest tasty creations ready for launch.

Working closely with Street Eats’ Head of Innovation and Procurement, Mark Arnold, Imogen has the chance to work with a variety of different customers. Street Eats currently supplies sandwiches, hand held street food snacks and curries to a range of organisations such as, hospitals, schools and colleges, including the current range of sandwiches served in the Reaseheath College Restaurant.

Imogen believes that her BSc top-up and the Foundation Degree in Food Industry with Management which she completed beforehand gave her the skills and experience to achieve her new role. One particularly realistic challenge was set by a leading supermarket to create a tempting new deli product, which proved especially significant. Imogen and fellow students were tasked with developing their dishes in line with consumer feedback while keeping a strict eye on profit margins, costings, packaging and labour.

In her role, Imogen continues to draw on the knowledge she gained during her studies on a daily basis such as food safety, nutrition, marketing and product positioning.

Said Imogen: “I’m really enjoying the experience and challenge of my job. It’s great to be involved in the whole development process, from the initial ideas stages right through to the final product. Most recently I was involved in launching an innovative toastie concept inspired by the Korean vegetable dish, kimchee.”

94 year old Peter shares his Reaseheath story

We may have found our oldest Reaseheath alumnus (former student), 94 year old Peter Plant!

Originally from West Kirby, Peter came to Reaseheath as a ‘practical student’ in 1938, back when the college was known as the ‘Cheshire School of Agriculture’, Reaseheath.

With no prior farming background aged 17, he spent a year at the School learning the basics of farming before studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

Cheshire College of Agriculture class of 1938-39 (Peter Plant is pictured  top right, second from the end)

Cheshire College of Agriculture class of 1938-39 (Peter Plant is pictured top right, second from the end)

General teaching at Reaseheath was suspended in September 1939 to accommodate for the training of new recruits to the Women’s Land Army (WLA). The WLA was first established at the beginning of World War One and was reformed in 1939 after the outbreak of war, to supplement the agricultural labour force across Britain. Trainee ‘Land Girls’ came to the Cheshire School in cohorts of around 20 at a time to complete a one month practical course in ‘general farming’ (including arable farming, marketing gardening and diary work) to prepare them for work on farms across the UK, in aid of the war effort.

Women's Land Army Girls in the Horticulture Department at Reaseheath

Women’s Land Army Girls in the Horticulture Department at Reaseheath

Whilst the WLA training got into full swing, Peter moved on to the Midland School of Agriculture, Sutton Bonnington, in order to continue his ‘theoretical’ agricultural studies. Peter then returned to Reaseheath in 1941, however this time as a farm employee.

Said Peter: “I did all tractor work, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also had the task of driving the milk lorry, transporting the milk produced each morning to Worleston train station ready for delivery to Birkenhead, and also to Nantwich station, for distribution across the Potteries.”

“Whilst working [at Reaseheath] I lodged with a man called Tom Bailey and his wife, he lived in a cottage in the village in my day. Years later I went on to meet Brian Moore who has become a great friend of mine. Similar to me he studied and worked at Reaseheath, but that was about 10 years after I was there. Funnily enough, he lodged with the same family, quite small world I’d say!”

Peter was one of around 20 members of staff working at the Cheshire School of Agriculture in the 1940s. It was during this time Reaseheath became well known as one of the major training centres for the Women’s Land Army, and by 1943 over 1,000 ‘Land Girls’ had successfully completed their courses here.

One particularly special memory of the Land Army that Peter recalled: “I met my wife whilst working on the farm at Reaseheath. It was a bit of chance meeting really, she [Betty] was one of the Land Girls, who had come over from Yorkshire, so she was only actually on site for just over a month before she had to leave again.”

Despite the brief encounter, the late Betty Plant and Peter went on to marry towards the end of the war. Peter stayed at Reaseheath for the remainder of the war, whilst Betty went to join the ranks of the WLA on a farm back in Yorkshire. After a number of years working apart, the pair then reunited and went on to spend much of their working lives in Malpas, Cheshire region.

Header picture caption: Peter Plant joined by friend and fellow former Reaseheath student Bryan Moore (National Certificate in Agriculture 1948-49) 


Dooley J., Reaseheath Picture of a college, (Reaseheath College, 2004)

Lamberton, A., Reaseheath A Short History, (Park Press – Nantwich, 1986)


What’s your favourite memory of Reaseheath College? Cheshire School of Agriculture? Cheshire College of Agriculture?