Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Teamwork helps farm make most of expanding dairy

June 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Profiles


Restructuring a farm business to accommodate a larger dairy herd has created welcome opportunities at Cawley Farms, near Leominster. 

As a former video maker, William Cawley’s challenge in overseeing developments at the family-run 485ha (1200ac) dairy, sheep and arable farm near Leominster could make a screenplay that deserves the word ‘epic’.

“We’re really very fortunate to have a very good team working for us,” he says of the current farm staff. “Certainly, the past year has added pressure to our work while we expanded the dairy. The fact we’ve all come through so well is really a pat on the back for our staff.”

Having sold his share of a production company he set up in Spain – his mother is Spanish by origin, William (pictured left) returned to Cawley Farms which surrounds the family’s former home of Berrington Hall, now managed by the National Trust. Both he and his father, John, are partners in the farming operation. “It was an opportunity to see how we could progress the business,” he says.

With lowland lamb production’s narrow margin and a limited opportunity to scale up the arable enterprise, focus was put on expanding the dairy unit. “We were running 180 cows on 75ha but increased to 480 in-milk occupying 138ha.

“The increase in herd size was achieved largely by buying in 300 heifers from Ireland – the majority of which are New Zealand-type animals. Our plan is to have a larger portion calving in autumn to make use of fresh grass in spring as a low cost feed.”

The business supplies First Milk and hopes to make itself more attractive to buyers by having animals out grazing for longer periods. To enable better access to the grazing platform a colossal 19,000 concrete sleepers have been laid as temporary tracks.

“We had a very good excavator operator from AR Richards based at Market Drayton come in to lay them – all five kilometres – which he’s done including the creation of turning areas for larger vehicles at several key points along the network,” he explains.

Matthew Ingram contract manages the dairy enterprise as a joint venture with the Cawleys. “It’s a good example of how staff can progress in their careers. Matthew owns the cows which we rent from him. We ensure all the monthly bills are covered and there’s a divisible surplus at the end of each financial year.”

New facilities to accommodate the larger herd include a 40/80 Wiakato swing-over parlour, bulk tank room, heat recovery and variable pump speed technologies all aimed at reducing running costs.

Keeping with the theme, grass paddocks are fenced with Australian-manufactured metal posts which carry a mains-powered electrified top wire removing the need to rely on battery-powered units to divide fields.

“Matthew is helped by Rob Brick, our young stockman, and a relief milker Natalie Johnston of Mornios Contract Herdcare. And because of expansion we have a vacancy for an assistant herdsman or woman,” explains Mr Cawley.

“Experience is not top of our wish list as training can be given,” he adds. “But we do want someone with enthusiasm, commitment, who can take on responsibility and become part of our team.”

Applicants will be working alongside other dedicated staff, he continues. “Steve Cooke runs our arable operation and is a good example of how we like staff to be flexible. When Matthew needs a hand on the dairy Steve will come over and help out if he’s not busy. Cropping follows a rotation of wheat, break crop, maize and potatoes – the latter being ground rented to a local grower. During quieter winter months Steve also does the majority of the feed round for the dairy as well as growing all our forage maize.

“Mark Hollis looks after the 900 North Country Mule x Suffolk sheep and is how we like to retain staff. He came when 17 and is now in his 40s. He runs the enterprise across parkland that surrounds Berrington Hall. Most lambs are be sold through McCartneys’ Ludlow market having been sired by a Charolais or New Zealand Suffolk tup.

“But in addition to an assistant herdsman or woman we also need to recruit a number of relief milkers even if individuals can only manage one day or one slot per week,” he adds.

The ethos is on managing a pro-active team, emphasises Mr Cawley, whose younger brother, Thomas, works full-time as an assistant herdsman within the dairy unit. “He has great energy and is a good thinker which are traits we like.

“A candidate for the assistant herdsman’s role needs to be a team player as there’s little room for one person to be slipping off having finished their work when others clearly need a hand. Our staff take responsibility for their roles but we are all here to help each other out,” he says.

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