We speak with James Ludlam, farmer and owner of Cattows Farm in Heather, about the farms history and their continued to diversification.
James, who grew up at Cattows Farm, is the 5th generation farmer in his family. James now lives with his wife Caroline and their two boys (12 and 9) in the original farmhouse that his family first moved into in 1899.
“On returning from completing a non-farming related degree at university, I started working on the farm that same summer and have done so ever since!”
Away from farming, James is an avid football fan and has held a season ticket at Leicester City for over 25 years.
“I’m a FA Level 1 qualified coach and currently coach Heather Juniors U13’s team.”
James’ love for sport goes further than football, also enjoying cricket, golf and skiing.
“I play the odd game of cricket at Ashby Hastings where my boys also play, I am a member of Willesley Park Golf Club when I get the chance to play and I am also a very keen skier.”
The Ludlam family have been farming in the village of Heather since 1899.
“Alfred Ludlam moved to White House Farm with his daughter Ada and son Allen from Glenfield Mill in Leicester, where he was a miller and farmer of 15 acres.”
By the age of 14, Alfred’s son Allen was an orphan and was sent to boarding school.
Over the years the acreage surrounding White House Farm grew and after initially training as a butcher, Allen returned and farmed the land.
“He hand milked his cows and established a milk round in the surrounding villages, selling the milk by measuring ladles from the churn.”
In 1972, Cattows Farm was purchased by the family, increasing their acreage from 69 to 310. At this point the farm then had a herd of 120 friesian cows, 80 beef cattle and 150 acres of wheat and barley.
“In 1981 we decided to stop milking, but we increased the beef herd to 300 head of both finished beef cows and calves.”
1986 saw the biggest change in the farming policy at Cattows Farm, with the start of the farms diversification enterprise.
“We ploughed up two acres of barley and planted strawberries in its place.”
This led to James and his family only harvesting a light crop that year, selling their strawberries at the roadside.
“It was 1987 when we opened the strawberry field to the public, and Heather Pick Your Own was born.”
“Raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries soon followed and after originally using a 15ft x 12ft garden shed as a sales area, we built a new bigger strawberry shed in 1992 which later became the tea room.”
In 2004 Cattows Farm planted 100 acres of woodland as part of The National Forest tender scheme round 10, which is open to the public and surrounds Cattows Farm and the village of Heather.
“It is a haven for wildlife and along with our 80 acres of grassland and wind turbine, we are hugely efficient in neutralising our carbon emissions.”
September 2005 saw the opening of The Cattows Farm Shop & Tea Room. Having realised just how often they were opening to the public, they filled the seasonal gaps and remained open 7 days a week, 12 months of the year.
The Cattows Tea Room is renowned for its excellent array of cakes and desserts.
“Every single one of our cakes and deserts is produced in our kitchen by our expert chefs, with there usually being around 25 delicious options on offer.”
Cattows Farm are very proud of the amount of produce that they grow and stock in their farm shop.
“We grow a whole host of fruits, vegetables and have a popular pumpkin picking season which is one of the largest in the UK!”
“We also have a herd of suckler cows and Herdwick sheep.”
“We have a beekeeper on the farm who offers experience days and the honey produced from the hives will be for sale very soon.”
James and his team cannot of course grow everything, so when selecting products to stock in the farm shop, locally sourced produce is a priority, evident in the shop selling Burleigh’s Gin and Charwood Beers.
“Other products have to pass our quality standards test to ensure they are made with passion and are worthy of stocking.”
Marketing and branding can perhaps be overlooked in the farming industry, however Cattows Farm were keen not to follow this trend.
“We originally launched The Cattows Farm Shop 15 years ago, this then changed to The Cattows Farm Shop & Tea Room, and then around 8 years ago we decided to market ourselves simply as Cattows Farm.”
James says that the idea behind the most recent change is to make the name synonymous with all of the farm’s activities, whether it be the venue of the Ashby Show or simply the ‘Pick Your Own’.
“We regularly use social media to analyse and follow similar, aspirational farms from across the world.”
James began using social media around 10 years ago and sees it as a great way to interact with customers.
“It is one of the best marketing and analytical tools we have.”
“We see first hand the experience that our customers are having and we also love to portray the story of the farm and what we do here from day to day.”
Showing what goes on day to day at the farm allows James and his team to promote what they have on offer and showcase what to look out for in the future.
“This could range from a beautiful sunset over the pumpkin patch to the birth of a calf, from delicious cakes in the tea room to produce we’re harvesting.”
Cattows Farm has over 23,000 page likes on Facebook alone, but they also gather inspiration through other social media platforms such as Instagram.
“It’s a healthy, interactive following and we get regular feedback and questions from our customers.”
The farm has attracted a number of well known and even Royal visitors over the years.
“We’ve had Princess Anne land by helicopter on the farm, Bear Grylls, and also Adam Henson and Julia Bradbury from Countryfile.
Rebekah Vardy and Actor Stephen Graham are also regular customers.
“Farming can be tough. There never seems to be a ‘normal’ year or even a ‘normal’ season.”
When speaking on the challenges of farming, James mentioned that sometimes success or failure is out of your control.
“We work our hardest to minimise the chances of failure occurring, but at the end of the day, Mother Nature is in control.”
In terms of the future, Cattows Farm are currently embarking on their biggest building project to date.
“The Cattows Farm Shop & Tea Room will undergo a huge transformation as we extend the premises and further enhance customer experience.”
James is hopeful that they can move into their new extension relatively soon and continue to develop their range of products and services.
“We are on a continuous journey of improvements and want to keep moving forward to stay current and in touch with our customers.”