YOUNG Tom Nicholas has turned around the fortunes of his family farm despite being forced to take over when he was just 12 years old.

After inheriting just 25 cattle and a pile of debt, the farm is now in profit and is home to a 200-head beef herd.

Five years on, he is proud of his achievements – but he is bitter at the lack of help given to him by banks and grant bodies.

Even now the 17-year-old doesn’t have a business account and cannot borrow the money he needs to replace his ancient International 533 tractor.

This means many jobs on his 90-acre Gallantry Bank Farm, Bickerton, must be done manually.

“It’s like farming back in the 1920s,” said Tom.

He is the fourth generation of his family to run Gallantry Bank Farm – a name corrupted from the original, Gallows Tree, a 17th century execution site.

The farm ran a dairy unit until Tom’s dad, also called Tom, slipped and broke his hip in the parlour.

The milking cows were sold off and, when his dad developed Parkinson’s Disease, the holding slipped into debt.

Tom’s mum, Audrey, tried to keep it going while raising two small children, keeping pigs as well as sheep and a handful of beef cattle.

Now aged 54, she said farm work had become too physical for her. At one point, she was worried the holding would have to be sold.

“We had letters through the door, people wanting to buy the place to develop it,” she said. “The vultures were beginning to circle.”

Tom junior had always wanted to farm. By the age of 10, he had a thriving poultry business. “I once made £2,000 in just two days,” he said.

By the age of 12, he was unofficially in charge of the farm. Audrey would collect him from school and take him to the mill to buy feed for his animals.

As his father’s illness deepened, the farm was put in trust in Tom’s name and that of younger brother William, now aged 13. They officially take over when they reach 18 – only then can they open a business account and operate as commercial farmers.

“There must be plenty of mothers in my position,” said Audrey.

“They are left to run the family farm, then have to rely on their boys to do men’s work. Yet they are still treated like children by the banks.”

To run the business Tom must rely on his mum to write cheques and bank takings. The arrangement is further complicated by the payment of EU farm subsidies into his dad’s bank account.

Audrey said: “His dad must approve transfers to my account but it’s difficult – he’s now in a respite home and doesn’t really know who we are any more.”

Tom approached all the high street banks looking for help. Applications for grant funding also fell on deaf ears.

He said: “Because of the farm’s previous debts, it has a low credit rating, which has now transferred to me. So it seems I’m old enough to have debt, but not old enough to have an account. Even the bank managers think it’s funny.”