Farmer Focus: Toby Ansdell - Farmers Weekly

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Farmer Focus: Toby Ansdell

I WRITE THIS after I have been racing for the day. Going racing is a bit like dairy farming.

You enjoy it, but you know, like the supermarkets, the bookmakers will not let you make any real money. Yet just occasionally they let you win so you keep coming back. I must be a real sucker for punishment because after lining the bookies” pockets and queuing to get out of the car park, I drove home to start milking at 8.15pm.

Since I started calving, cows have been spending all day out at grass or kale, which has had tremendous benefit on herd health. The biggest drawback this year is – because of the warm, dry nights – large numbers of my cows have decided they would rather lie in my loafing area than use cubicles. I am open to ideas on how I coax them back in.

 This time of year we have to think about our next breeding season. I think we will carry on with our policy of if a cow looks like a breed, cross it. Our Swedish red crosses, calved this spring, look the ticket for me with good legs and feet, good udders and sensible amounts of milk.

 Calving has been quiet for a week, as when we swap from AI to our Charolais sweeper bull his longer gestation period gives us a natural break. This does not do our calving pattern much good, but gives us a chance to clear our calf pens.

Cows should kick off just as our second bunch of ewes start lambing, so I can look forward to a few more nights on the sofa.

We have found a replacement butcher, who we have given licence to take our direct sales on to the next level. The only trouble is we could have done without the turmoil of a change in staff at Easter.

My mother is looking for anyone who remembers her as a student, Arabella Burton, at Moulton College, Northants, in 1950. Please contact her by e-mail at woodpeckers@

Farmer Focus: Toby Ansdell

NO SOONER had I written last month’s article than the weather dried up and the cows were back on grass and have remained there. With D-Day – dry-off day – fast approaching they are ticking along at 12 litres a day.

We have received our first milk cheque from Torridge Vale. With 19.9p/litre paid into my bank, my choice to see out my notice period with Glanbia seems to be right when I see what else is happening to other milk prices in this area.

I write this in the middle of a TB test. The current trend in this area is to go six months clear before having more reactors. Let’s hope I buck that trend, but I am not holding out much hope because my stock have been out on badger-infested pastures all summer. At least a summer out of restriction has enabled me to destock in readiness for winter.

The beauty of running cows the way I do is that during December we can concentrate all our efforts on our retail business. This is at its busiest in the run-up to turkey season.

Anyone who thinks running a dairy herd is stressful should try making sure the right size joint or turkey turns up at the right house for Christmas dinner. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t enjoy it, and the whole buzz of the Christmas season makes the hard work worthwhile.

Drier weather came just right for tupping our second bunch of ewes, so here’s hoping for a compact lambing. After a busy two weeks, ram activity seems to have tailed off.

This year, we have gone back to putting our ewe lambs to the ram. With no subsidy to collect, I feel they have justify their keep. Also, with our ability to purchase better rams every year, I felt by not lambing them they got too big as two-tooths. Something I have learned from keeping cows is that having bigger breeding stock can decrease profit rather than increase it. Merry Christmas.

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