Supplying feed to dairy units which feed into the Hewitt family’s milk brand adds extra traceability and should, hopefully, provide a premium market in future.
With 90% of suppliers to a family-run dairy in Lanarkshire also buying concentrates from the family’s feed mill, Geoff Hewitt is assessing the milk’s marketing potential.
But he is clear such a selling point – local traceability from trough to tank – will only work if it generates a return for the producer. “Too many schemes involve extra work just to get the price you were already getting. We have something unique for supermarkets concerned about creating an image and we want to see whether they will give a few pence a litre more for milk,” says Mr Hewitt.
But small corner shops tend to be just interested in sourcing their daily supply cheaper than the next man, he adds.
He runs the family’s 500-cow dairy herd and feed mill at Roadhead Farm, at Quothquan near Biggar, while brother Mark runs the processing side, under the Quothquan Farms label. Sitting between Edinburgh and Glasgow, the retail business is ideally placed to reach most of Scotland’s population. Both cities are within half an hour’s drive.
Sales have grown steadily over the past decade, with 20 local farms now supplying the dairy, which, in turn, sells to more than 600 customers throughout central and southern Scotland. Herd expansion and diversification started when the neighbouring farm came up for sale. It offered a chance to increase cow numbers from 250, as well as take more of a margin by processing their own milk, says Mr Hewitt.
“We went into the liquid market, because we wanted to use all our milk from day one, selling it every day. It takes a lot of ice-cream sales to shift milk from 500 cows. We haven’t aimed for a specific niche, but taken on business where it can be found. So we supply shops, hotels and some supermarkets, schools, restaurants and nursing homes.”
As cow numbers increased to keep pace with milk sales, Mr Hewitt found he was buying in more and more feed. Eventually, to cut costs, the farm set up its own mill-and-mix facility. It also began to source and mix feed for neighbours. Four years ago, when the feed store had to be moved, the next logical step was to establish a feed business.
“We either had to get full accreditation or get out of supplying feed. So we went ahead and installed a fully-automated mill. No feed touches the ground. We have nine 40t bins and all raw materials are moved, mixed and rationed by computer six days a week. This cost money, but the accuracy is there to within 5kg,” he says.
“We mix blends fresh, to match a farm’s silage and work with top specification raw materials to produce quality. We don’t use cheap fillers, such as palm kernel, which means we are not the cheapest on price, but neither are we the dearest. A top quality 20% protein dairy blend would be about £153/t.”
The farm’s own 121ha (300 acres) of wheat and barley are put through the mill, together with cereals sourced from Scotland, dark grains, beet pulp, Hipro soya, rapeseed and various butterfat booster and yeast products.
“Our own cows are fed a TMR year round and this winter will be eating a blend of wheat, barley, soya, rapemeal, sugar beet pulp, soya hulls, protected fat and probably yeast. We feed this with first-cut grass silage and whole-crop wheat in a ratio of 75:25. The herd averages 7500kg a cow.
“A lot of our supplying farms would have bought feed from us originally. It isn’t compulsory for them to buy our feed. We just ask for the chance to quote and obviously have to compete on price, just like everyone else. We also offer independent nutritional advice as part of the service.”
As well as developing the next step in marketing their milk, Mr Hewitt says the family has plans to further expand the farm. “We came here in 1982 from Northern Ireland, where we milked 80 cows on 150 acres. It’s in our nature to keep moving on. There is still plenty of potential in Scotland for our milk and we now have the facility to offer traceability depending on positive feedback from the end user.”