Friday, December 6, 2019

Expansion beckons for family dairy farm

May 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Profiles

Edward and Emma Hemming are looking to expand their dairy enterprise at Obelisk Farm. Simon Wragg reports.

Edward and Emma Hemming are looking for land and buildings to set up a share farming agreement for a 120-cow unit as they look to develop their tenanted dairy business at Obelisk Farm, Hockley Heath, near Solihull.

Trading as E F Hemming & Son, the couple’s long-established family farming enterprise is focused on a 250-cow herd of Montbeliarde cattle. The home farm extends to 95ha although other agreements with local landlords take the total area farmed to 243ha.

“We are at about capacity here currently with up to 220 youngstock in addition to the milking herd,” explains Mr Hemming. “The one thing we do have is a good number of heifers coming through and that gives us an opportunity to expand.”

The Hemmings are looking to set up a share farming agreement with their relief milker Tom Forshaw who currently works as an analyst with the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board at nearby Stoneleigh, Warwickshire.

Mr Hemming says: “Tom’s very bright, very capable and very keen to get on the farming ladder. So we are looking for a dairy farmer who is looking to step back from production or a landlord with a dairy holding to let.

“Ideally, we’d like it to be around no more than 20 miles from here as we could then look after most of the tractor work ourselves. We use contractors to spread muck, spray and bale straw but other than that it’s all handled in house.”

Grass-based system

The system is largely grass based with 40ha of maize, 13ha of winter wheat and 8ha of fodder beet to help feed the dairy herd. “We’re averaging around 8000 litres/cow milk yield at 4.05% butterfat and 3.46% protein. Around half of that comes from forage. Milk is sold to Freshways.”

The business – like so many others – suffered during the recent run of low milk prices. Determined to secure a sustainable future, the Hemmings set up an on-farm dispenser selling pasteurised milk to the public.

Mrs Hemming says: “We have ‘Farmer Ted’s Shed’ on the edge of the farmyard which houses a vending machine for our milk and another for empty bottles although the public can bring their own. It’s less food miles and more like food metres.”

Sold direct from the farm, milk commands £1.50 for one litre or £2.50 for two litres. Mrs Hemming also delivers to several local delicatessens, butchers and stores twice weekly, hoping to steadily increase the local market.

“It has been a real lift for us both to see our milk on other people’s shelves. And the messages left in a comments book in Farmer Ted’s Shed show the public really like the product. We are looking to expand into cream next.”

Milk and beef

Around 300 litres/week is retailed by the family and is helping repay an initial investment of £20,000 in equipment and facilities at Obelisk Farm.

Samples of pasteurised milk are sent off monthly to be tested for food safely at National Milk Labs and – as with all food outlets – the venture is monitored by the local council Environmental Health officials.

Other farm produce is also attracting positive feedback, adds Mr Hemming. Beef calves from the Montbeliarde herd – largely sired to British Blue or Limousin bulls using artificial insemination –  are always in demand from a list of regular finishers across the Midlands area.

“A customer recently sent a video via social media of a batch of bulls just before they went off to the abattoir saying how well they had performed. It’s good to get feedback like that; we didn’t expect it, but it’s good to know other people value what you produce.”

As with almost all dairy farms in the region, bovine TB is a concern. A recent case in December 2018 saw a handful of cows sent off for slaughter. The only compensation was a healthy cull cow price and a small reduction in the demand for feed over winter, it’s suggested.

Monitoring costs

The march of macro costs for livestock farms –  feed and fertiliser costs seeming rise year -on-year –  has been met by introducing home-grown fodder beet to the dairy herd’s daily total mixed ration buffer feed.

“Aside from mildew is no more challenging to grow than maize,” reflects Mr Hemming. “Sheep come in on tack over winter to eat off the tops and we bought an old two-row harvester to lift the crop as it’s needed.”

Despite being at near capacity due to physical constraints such as slurry storage at Obelisk Farm, the Hemmings are looking to the future. “We see a share farming agreement with Tom and a second dairy farm being the next step.

“In the meantime, we can only focus on improving efficiencies here. We’ve recently received a LEADER grant of 40% which has been used to purchase neck collars for cows.

“These monitor rumination and bulling activity which helps with the timing of AI. And we’d like to reduce labour if possible as we’re currently running at 3.5 full-time staff (equivalent) and aim for to that down to 3.0 if possible.”

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