A DAIRY farmer who went from a farmhand to one of the country’s top cattle breeders has died.

John Gray (95) was renowned for producing cows with some of the highest milk yields in Britain and was twice awarded the National Holstein Breeders’ Club trophy for his herd’s unrivalled progeny.

The son of a farmer from Bedlington, John started off as a cowman, earning just £4 a week at a farm in Wooler, before going to work for the Johnson family of Milburn Grange.

After seven years of saving money, John and his wife Betty were ready to take on the rent of their first smallholding at East Heddon.

Following success in milking and breeding cows, the couple moved to a bigger farm near Stamfordham and, in 1968, took on the tenancy of a 330-acre holding at Stocksfield Hall.

Four years later, John and fellow dairy farmer Tom Carrick, from Cumbria, bought and imported a Holstein bull from Canada.

The bull, named Telstar, was part of the first importation of Holstein cattle into Britain from Canada.

Such was the success of Telstar, John and Tom returned to Canada for a second. This bull, from the Roybrook line of Holstein cattle, was to prove the most influential purchase of John’s career.

When the bull stood at stud his semen was sold worldwide to countries as far afield as New Zealand, Australia and North America.

The bull’s young stock would regularly be on display at the Royal Agricultural Show at Stoneleigh and John would often judge Holstein cattle at shows across the country.

In 1981, John bought New House Farm, at Kiln Pit Hill, to rear dairy young stock before it became a farm for beef cattle and sheep.

When John and Betty retired and sold their 220-strong herd of black and white cows in 1991, the herd was the largest in the county and dairy farmers travelled the length and breadth of the country, to see them sold and make a purchase.

The couple retired to Benlow House, Ovington, where they lived for just over 20 years, before moving to the family farm at Kiln Pit Hill on the Northumberland and Durham border, where his family still farm.

John is survived by his wife Betty, daughter Christine, five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.