Saturday, October 20, 2018

Desirable Traytes

October 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Profiles


New entrants Mike and Laura Trayte are bringing a fresh approach to milk production. Simon Wragg reports.

Wanted: Opportunity for experienced young dairy farmers with proven track record in cow welfare and forage-based milk production generating over 10% return on capital invested to progress to 200 plus-cow unit – willing to relocate for right opportunity.

Mike and Laura Trayte don’t intend to stand still. Since winning the British Farming Awards’ New Entrant category in 2016 – nominated by their landlord – the couple who run a 100-cow dairy unit at Lynwood Farm, near Stafford – part of the county council’s property portfolio – have actively been seeking their next move on farming’s ladder.

Laura explains: “It would be easy to think now we have a council tenancy we can sit here for the 10 years (of the FBT). But we have a clear idea of where we’d like our careers to take us.”

With two three year old twins, Henry and Oscar, the couple aim to have a 350 plus-cow unit by the time the boys leave school. This, they hope, will allow them an opportunity to join the business if they want a career in farming.

The couple’s development in dairying is all the more engaging as neither come from farming families. Both have studied at university – Mike at Aberystwyth and Laura at Harper Adams – and met when working on a 300-cow unit operated by NFU dairy board vice chairman Tom Rawson near Dewsbury.


Mike says: “We’ve been very fortunate with the people we worked for having been trained to do routine tasks such as AI and foot-trimming. But rather than have extra wages we wanted to have our own cows, the first were purchased in 2011.”

M&L Dairying was formed. It was a strategic move, explains Laura, allowing them to build a trading record to show prospective business partners and help secure finance. This was enhanced greatly when asked to enter a share-farming agreement at Bleasby Grange, a 350-cow unit in Lincolnshire (part of Evolution Farming).

The grass-based system used cows ‘rented’ from other producers but, importantly, allowed the Traytes to take their own Montbeliarde x British Friesians to join the herd. Laura explains: “We treated it as if it was our own business.”

It was a huge learning curve. For a 18.33% of the monthly milk cheque, Mike and Laura provided all the labour – including hired-in help such as foot-trimming –   and got actively involved in the business management under the wing of Evolution’s Tom Rawson and Ollie Hall.

Trading record

The experience helped Mike & Laura secure Lynwood Farm on a 10-year FBT. By this point they had 83 cows and a trading record.

But don’t think their progress has been a smooth ride. It hasn’t, they suggest. Mike explains: “Coming from Lincolnshire where (bovine) TB isn’t a big issue to Staffordshire has been an eye-opener.

“We lost a total of 21 in-calf heifers recently to TB. Taking into account statutory compensation of £530/head it’s cost the business around £12,000 (due to a disparity between book value and actual replacement cost).”

A pragmatic approach has been taken to mitigate future risk. This includes only feeding young-stock concentrates in the morning, using boluses instead of in-field mineral licks, and raising all feed and water troughs off the floor to deter badgers.

Other strategic thinking has been applied to wider, more encompassing issues. For example, a switch to milk buyer Arla has been made with the co-operative’s manufacturing contract suiting the herd’s milk profile (4.6% butterfat and 3.6% protein).

“As Arla has a nationwide presence it also means that should an opportunity come up to move to a larger tenancy (Lynwood is 83 acres) or share farming agreement there’s a milk buyer in place,” explains Mike.

Farming ladder

The next step on the farming ladder to a 200+ cow unit will allow the couple to employ labour – they are currently seeking a placement student to join the business to share their knowledge and, possibly, create an opportunity they’ve benefited from in the past – and are not afraid to suggest it will also help with their work/life balance.

Laura says: “We don’t want our sons to grow up resenting the farm business. We are committed to dairying but don’t want it to impact on their enjoyment and fun while they grow up.”

With energy and vision, the Traytes have achieved much to date. Milk production runs at 6,600 litres/cow off 1.2t of cake (effectively 4,400 litres from forage) for the autumn calving herd run on the rotational grazing system. Agrinet software is used to monitor and plan grass utilisation.

Production cost – including use of contractors for fertiliser, spraying, muck spreading and reseeding – comes in at just over 20ppl. For the business minded M&L Dairying is generating a 13% return on capital invested at the current milk price, it’s suggested.

Laura adds: “We’ve been fortunate to have had help from the people we’ve worked for and from those around us – whether family, neighbours or friends. People and businesses have put their trust in us and we’re now ready to take that next step.”

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