Norfolk farmer and contractor Paul Gunther to retire after a 52-year career on the land
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
After a career spanning 52 years which has left a lasting imprint across the East Anglian countryside, farmer and contractor Paul Gunther is finally ready for retirement.
But the 73-year-old has conflicting feelings about stepping down from a career working with award-winning cattle, pioneering machinery and the region's best-known farm businesses.
For his livestock, there is nothing but fond memories, with two national champions among the group of pedigree Simmentals which will be scaled down to a hobby herd in the coming years.
But he has no regrets about leaving behind the contracting business which he founded in 1965, as it will give more time to travel with his wife Linda, take his beloved cattle to county shows – and keep an eye on the expansion of the family shop, PLG Farm Supplies in Felthorpe, which will continue to be run by his daughter and son-in-law, Lizzie and Sean Robertson.
'The contracting business finishes on November 30,' said Mr Gunther. 'I always told the men that I would carry on as long as I was enjoying it, but it has got to the stage where I am mot really enjoying it any more.
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'I had a triple heart bypass when I was 65, and at the age of 73 I think I have done my bit, and I would rather stop while me and Linda still have time to go travelling. I want to do more county shows as well.
'You are dominated by agriculture and by farming. I had an old boy once who asked me what I wanted to achieve in contracting, and he said I must be mad. 'Dealing with that lot is like having a live cat in your guts 24 hours a day, and they never go away', he said.
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'I feel I have achieved a lot, so I am happy. I have got lots of people who have worked for me who have gone off to start their own businesses, so I hope I have inspired people to do other things.'
Mr Gunther set up his own business in 1965 after leaving Norfolk County Council, where he worked on the sports grounds and playing fields.
'I already had a Fergie 135 tractor with a loader and I was asked by a pig farmer in Drayton whether I could spread some muck for him,' he said. 'I borrowed an old Massey muck spreader and that was the start of the contracting business.
'That led me off into many other things. We built up the muck-spreading business, and we gradually moved into doing silage. We were the first contractor in this area to do maize harvesting for a group of local farmers about 40 years ago. We went out and bought the John Deere 3130 and a Claas 60 two-row maize machine from Eastern Counties Farmers. The first job was done at Drayton Farms, with all the local farmers in attendance to see what was happening – because they didn't know any more than I did.'
The company also spent 40 years mucking out turkey sheds across Norfolk and Suffolk for Bernard Matthews, marketing the litter to farmers.
When a muck-spreading service was introduced, it prompted a request for a more refined prototype muck-spreader to be designed by Norfolk manufacturer GT Bunning, who eventually built six Highlander machines for Mr Gunther, which many years later were upgraded to eight Bunning Lowlanders.
Mr Gunther also worked on the landscaping of many of Norfolk's golf courses, including at Fakenham, Barnham Broom, Wensum Valley, Costessey, Weston Park and Dunston Hall.
But his major passion remains with his livestock. He bought three Simmental cross heifers in 1998 to start a herd which is now 700-strong, including commercial animals and a pedigree herd which he started in 2000.
'Some people will tell you I only ever talk about the cows,' said Mr Gunther. 'The livestock side is staying for at least another year as the stockman (John Wade) will be 65 in two years' time.
'Next year we will start disposing of the animals and work them down until we finish up with about 20 pedigrees which Linda and I will look after as a hobby.
'We show our pedigree cows at the Royal Norfolk Show and all over England. In 2012 we had a cow that was a national champion – Horsford Manor Wonder – and her calf Fir Covert Cecilia was national calf champion in 2012, and national champion in 2015.
'It is the silly things which I enjoy. Like every night of the week from October to April I would get out of my chair at ten o'clock and make sure there are no cows calving and that they are all healthy.
'Cecilia and Wonder won't go anywhere. We will keep a small herd and the idea is that it will be my hobby.'
The contracting business employed 11 people. 'They have all been given their redundancies, and they have nearly all got other jobs,' said Mr Gunther.
He paid special tribute to Frank Gillett, a former school friend who became his 'right hand man' for 36 years before he died six years ago.
• The company will hold a sale of its contracting equipment in February, which includes eight Bunning Lowlander spreaders, two Claas 970 forage harvesters, 11 18-tonne Bunning trailers and 15 Massey tractors.