What keeps you awake at night?
Four things. In order of priority they are: the safety of our staff; the welfare of our livestock; ensuring we do not accidentally cause an environmental spill; and the financial sustainability of the farm. These are all linked and so if one or more of the first three matters cause the farm to lose money then the danger of the farm being shut down increases.
Are you an intensive farm?
No. We are roughly double the size of the average UK farm, but we are a long way away from being a super farm, which milks many hundreds of cows. We believe that we have now roughly the right number of animals that can be sustained on our estate and be comfortable in our barns when they have to be in. We are also aiming to have our cows produce at the optimum level, which gives a balance between profitability and comfort/longevity.
Are your cows out on the land through the year?
No. In the wet months the livestock are kept in the barns so that they do not harm our clay based land and grass, which is required later for grazing. If they were kept on what can become very muddy ground, they would also risk harming their feet and having an increased incidence of lameness and disease. In the dry months, usually April to October, all but our young calves, high yielding cows and some dry cows are out on our land, grazing.
Do cows sleep?
Cows very rarely sleep as such. They lie down a lot to rest and will take naps.
What do you do with your bull calves?
We sell them to the market or farmers who wish to fatten them up.
Do you have any cloned livestock?
Do you have any other animals on the farm?
In the Winter we allow a farmer to graze his sheep on our grassland. This keeps the grass and weeds down and helps with some soil management.
Are you organic?
No, but we do return all of our natural waste to the ground where essentially it came from in the first place. This helps us to cut back on the use of some substitutes.
Is your farm ever inspected?
Yes, quite often. We are a closely monitored farm with annual M&S welfare and farm standards checks. We are given 48 hours notice for these. In addition, we have an annual plus a spot visit from th RSPCA (one week and no notice) as well as a Red Tractor visit (every 18 months plus a spot visit with no notice) and finally a Dairy Inspection made by the Food Standards Authority (every ten years without notice). We have had visits from all of the above running from February to October 2017. We achieved the highest ratings that can be given in all of these inspections.
How much milk do you produce?
We currently produce around 8,500 litres a day (3.1 million litres per annum) of high quality milk.
Why do you milk your cows three times a day?
We only started milking our cows three times a day in April 2018. before that it was two times ago. Our cows were achieveing increasingly higher yields and so going to three times a day milking allowed us to make the cows more comfortable and reduce the incidence of mastitis (which can occure by milk being leaked from the udder onto the bedding).
How much fat is in your milk?
Typically less than 4%, although we strive to achieve a butterfat content of above that figure.
Who do you sell your milk to?
M&S, one of the country's leading supermarkets.
Do you sell dairy products such as yoghurt, butter or cheese?
No. We sell just our raw milk.
Don’t you pollute the World with methane?
It is known that cows belch out some methane. As of today there is no way of capturing this. Work is being carried out by scientists to find ways of feeding cows so that the generation of methane is reduced. We follow this work closely and are prepared to change the rations we give our cows if new feed, which will have the desired result, is proven safe for the cows to consume.
What is your greatest risk?
We are focused on the safety and health of our staff and livestock at all times. Away from that the price of milk and the weather are our greatest risks. The weather has a huge impact on our yield per cow. It impacts the timing of growing and harvesting our crops, including grass. It also impacts the quality of our food and can affect access to our land together with our ability to put waste onto it.
Have you had any accidents?
We have had no significant accidents on Henden since we bought the farm in 1997. Long may we able to report this fact. We have had the rare minor incident, but happily the number has been very few. We treat the health and safety of our staff as high priority and do everything we can to ensure that we do not have any accidents. Ultimately, however, we can only do so much. Safety requires everyone on the farm to be aware of the dangers around him or her and for them to work intelligently, caring for themselves and those around them.
Why are your costs so high compared with other farms?
We are running a high quality operation under a combination of the requirements of our milk sales contract and our own high standards. These lead to our costs being higher than one might expect. It is fair to say that the costs attributed to other farms are often not complete. So, when comparing our costs with other farms there is the danger that one is not comparing like with like.
Will you invest more money on the farm?
We would like to, but the investment has to be justified given anticipated economics. The barns that we have not redeveloped still have some years of useful life in them. Hopefully economics will have improved by then.
Given your farm loses money, why do you persist in running it?
This is a long-term business, which we enjoy, challenges and all. We bought Henden in 1997 and since then have invested a considerable amount of money getting it into the shape that it is today. We have a terrific dairy manager, who has been in place since December 2010. It usually takes five to eight years to get a business under new management into the position where one wants it to be. This is particularly true in our business where we need to breed out past mistakes in our herd development programme. We have further improvements to make and hopefully these will enhance our farm’s profitability. If circumstances conspire to have Henden continuing to lose money we will have to review our options.
Are you subsidised by the European Union?
In 2018/19 we should receive some £20-25,000 from the EU under the Single Payments Scheme administered by the Rural Payments Agency. This is for our land and not the dairy farm. The payment has been declining over the years. The payment in 2017/18 was more than £30,000, but this reflected the weak pound against the Euro as it is calculated in Euros. We receive no subsidy for our dairy operation.
Do you think that you should have more subsidies?
No. We believe subsidies should be scrapped to let market forces and efficiencies prevail. Given the structure of farming on the continent, however, where small holdings still abound and given the usual democratic pressures that prevail, we do not expect it to be scrapped any time soon while we remain in the European Union.
Why don’t you use your animal waste to generate energy?
We are a balanced farm and as such are keen to put back onto the land the waste that originated from the land. In any event, we do not produce enough that would make the investment required worthwhile.
Why don’t you use solar panels on your farm to supplement energy?
They can be costly to install and maintain (the panels will constantly have food and earth dust and bird waste laid on them) and they are still not efficient in generating energy. The storage of energy is also an as yet unsolved problem. Furthermore, we are suspicious of any economics, which depend on Government subsidies. By their nature subsidies are exposed to significant political risk.
Do you have deer on your land and, if so, what do you do with them?
Yes we do and in growing numbers. We are using a person to cull them in a proportionate way so that our woodland and crops are not overly damaged. Ideally the culling is done in collaboration with neighbouring farms. As an aside, we are also concerned about ticks that deer bring with them, some of which can cause Lyme disease.
Do you have foxes on your land and, if so, what do you do with them?
Yes we do. We shoot a small number to ensure that their numbers are kept down and they don’t harm our livestock, which they have been known to do. Having a few around, though, are useful to keep rabbit numbers down and to eat carrion.
Do you have badgers on your land and, if so, what do you do with them?
Yes we do. We have a few sets. As of today we believe that they are TB free. We leave them be and they, by and large, leave us be. Occasionally they damage our maize, but not to a great level. They are fun to watch on our wildlife cameras. What we do worry about is the possibility of the badgers on our land visiting a neighbouring farm, which might ship some of its livestock out to graze on other farms further away, which in turn might have TB. For our livestock to have TB would be a tragedy.