Farming is as much about planning for the future as coping with day-to-day management – and there is plenty of change in the pipeline at Bowditch Family Farms.
After years of loyalty, James Bowditch decided to hand in his notice to Milk Link on 31 December, and has now found a new buyer in Arla. “It was all about price.
We will be getting at least 1.8p/litre more with Arla.
That’s about £85,000 a year across the three farms,” he says.
“We were also paying £3000 a month in capital payments.
I’ve got 101 projects which I want to put capital into, and they will yield much better returns than paying Milk Link.”
The farms will start to supply Arla from 1 April, as Mr Bowditch wanted to beat any Westbury suppliers, whose contracts will be coming up for renewal in the autumn, to the market.
“We didn’t want to wait until the market was flooded with farmers looking for new buyers.
Arla is transparent and that’s what I want – we need to be able to forward budget and we just couldn’t do that with Milk Link.”
Another big change is to divest management of the farms from the older generation to James and his cousin Edward.
“We will effectively be contract farming the land and putting things on a more professional basis, so we can make our own decisions about how to take each enterprise forward.”
And the main thrust will be to simplify operations.
“Dairying is our prime business, and we’re trying to add value to the offspring by selling them to Blade Farming.
We are also cutting the extensive beef to add value to our own cereals.”
The last of the non-contracted black-and-white steers sold at Yeovil last week, averaging a poor £250 a head at 14 months old.
“It shows that we’ve done the right thing in moving to the Blade contract.”
A group of 16-month-old Hereford steers levelled at £400 a head.
The first 25 Poll Dorset lambs went this week to SJ Norman & Sons, Bridport, and averaged 320p/kg at deadweights of 20kg.
The dairy cows are still indoors due to the cold spring, making this the latest turnout since Mr Bowditch returned to the farm from college in 1999.
He spread 190kg/ha (150 units/acre) of nitrogen two weeks later than normal, but hopes he will now get away with one fewer application.
Although there is enough silage to see the dairy cows through, Mr Bowditch is having to buy in an extra 40t of barley to feed the beef bulls until harvest.
“I’ve been quoted £79/t delivered but I think we’ll collect it instead at £71/t.”
Feed rations are at the forefront of his mind, as the dairy cows are not performing as well as he’d hoped.
“The total mixed ration should be the way to go, but I just haven’t got it right this winter.
“I’m going to get some impartial advice on rations this summer.
Every feed is bought at a cost so you have got to be sure it’s right.”
Following contamination of the rear of Laverstock’s silage pit with water, Mr Bowditch has started feeding sodium bicarbonate to combat the acidity and boost milk butterfat contents.
“Butterfat had fallen to 3.3%, and I can’t believe the marked reaction there has been.
It has already risen to 3.7% in just over two weeks.
I am also feeding C16 supplement to keep butterfats up at turnout.”
But yields have been good at Laverstock, reaching 10,000 litres for the first time.
“That is incredible on a self-feed system.
And cows are lasting longer as we are looking after them well, which is a joy to see.”
Alongside all this planning has been another, more personal project – Mr Bowditch’s marriage to fiance Emma in five months’ time.
“And we’ve just started work on extending our cottage, which I hope will be done by the end of summer.
At least I’ve planned to get out of milking for our big day.”