Friday, October 19, 2018

Family farm returns to dairying after 15 years

May 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Profiles


A welcome return to dairy farming beckons for the Holmes family at Rodsley, Derbyshire.  Simon Wragg reports.

After 15 years out of dairying, the Holmes family are about to re-enter the market – milking an opportunity to diversify a largely arable-based business with under-utilised grassland at Parkstyle Farm, Rodsley, near Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

The driver behind the original herd’s dispersal was the combined need to reinvest in newer facilities. At the time, brothers Robert and Peter – both in their early 20s – decided that a commitment to dairying didn’t suit their aspirations.

But the business has changed considerably since then, says Robert. “Our traditional brick buildings were sold for development and some capital was reinvested in machinery when the opportunity to take on a 200ac arable and grassland unit – Rodsley Court – came up shortly afterwards.”

The business – M Holmes & Sons – includes parents Keith and Pamela, along with Mr Holmes’ mother Gwen as partners. It has also ventured into contract farming. “We tendered successfully for a 134ha (330 acres) arable venture on the outskirts of Derby. It coincided with Peter coming back to the business having spent 18 months working in engineering.”

At this point, grassland at the family-owned Parkstyle Farm and Rodsley Court was already being used to rear beef cattle for Dovecote Park – supermarket Waitrose’s dedicated processor. “We are now in a period of transition,” he explains, “and the number of beef cattle being reared to 450kg liveweight is winding down.”

Tight financial margins have influenced the decision along with the emergence of new farming opportunities.


“While my passion is for the arable side of the business, Peter is more livestock orientated. Our return to dairying has been driven by taking on Shirley Mill Farm– a former dairy farm with cubicles for a 100-cow herd and a 12/12 parlour– which is surrounded by permanent pasture.”

Talks with prospective milk buyers have proved encouraging, explains Peter. The plan is to set up an autumn calving herd (the grassland is largely heavy soil so prone to poaching in spring) benefiting from higher seasonal payments in the latter part of the calendar year.

Already, 48 Holstein X or Norwegian Reds dairy heifers have been purchased to calve from September. “We’re looking to purchase around 50 more heifers in the coming months. We’d like to focus on producing a British Friesian-sized cow using a three-way cross which should be good on its feet and have good fertility


“Dad’s always believed it’s best to keep things simple so cows will initially be fed grass silage when housed and offered cake at a flat-rate in the parlour. We’ll aim for a milk yield of 6500-7000 litres/cow with good milk constituents.”

Despite current concerns over margins, beef cattle will also feature, it’s suggested, with dairy-bred bull calves being reared as stores. Again, baled silage will feature as an interim until facilities at Shirley Mill Farm are either fully functional or updated. Local contractor Geoff Harrison is being used for both grass and straw baling.

Arable cropping will remain Robert’s core focus. “Currently, across all the acreage, we’ve 340ac of wheat (Diego and Dickens), 135ac of winter barley (Glacier), 55ac of spring barley (Planet), 90ac of oilseed rape (Vz095) and 75ac of spring beans (Fanfare and Vertigo). We grow feed wheat across all the farms except Mackworth where Crusoe has been drilled for milling.”

With little on-farm storage most grain is dried and stored at nearby Brailsford using facilities owned and managed by Philip Dalton. Much of the feed wheat supplies local broiler processor Moy Park’s contracted farms.


“We use Gleadall and Frontier for inputs and Robert Simmister for agronomic advice. At harvest a friend, Neil Sessions, drives our TX66 combine and I take on all the fertiliser and spraying work – the latter using a Kuhn Metris 3200-litre trailed unit with 24m booms,” explains Robert.

It’s clearly a passion. For example, he aims to tackle slug populations on fields to be min-tilled but left with heavy trash following oilseed rape and bean crops by lightly cultivating residues to a depth of 50mm (2in) thus disturbing slugs and damaging un-hatched eggs.

With both Robert and Peter demonstrating enthusiasm for their preferred disciplines, the family see the development in dairying as strengthening the overall farm business.

Robert explains: “Given the opportunities I see coming from Brexit, having a mixed farm business rather than specialising should stand us in good stead.

“The one thing we missed after dispersing the original herd was the positive impact dairying can have on cash flow with a regular monthly income unlike arable.”


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