Andrew Rees always wanted to farm. He grew up on his father’s small, tenanted farm in the village of Kings Norton, milking 30 cows. When he was 16, the family moved to a 64ha arable beef and sheep unit on the same estate. With the landlord’s help, they put in a dairy parlour and started milking 32 cows in 1994.
Sixteen years on Andrew is now a full partner at Gaulby Lodge Farm just outside Kings Norton in Leicestershire, farming 150ha, 200 sheep and milking 125 cows. Milk yield has gone up from 5,000 to 8,800 litres per cow and the milk sales volume is five times what it was when he started.
He’s making the best use of his land to fit the farm’s capability to grow grass, wheat and maize for feed to the right number of milking cows, low-input heifer rearing and sheep.
The dairy cows are Holstein Friesians, with some of the more “extreme” cows crossed with a few Swedish Reds: “I only buy in bulls and the last one was a Simmental from my neighbour, because I knew where it came from,” says Andrew.
When the dairy he was supplying wanted him to move to a cheese contract, he approached Arla: “I felt liquid milk would better suit my system and asked my neighbour, who has a bigger dairy herd, to join me in discussions. It was the best thing I could have done. We went to Arla and, soon after, Tesco approached me to join its local choice group which guarantees me a milk price over my production costs.”
He has since invested in the farm including building 25,000 sq ft of sheds and a new £80,000 12:24 parlour out of the farm’s profits. In addition, he introduced a Heatime detection system, which has reduced involuntarily culls and helped to considerably tighten the calving interval.
He is a big user of straw: “I believe housing my cows in winter on straw makes a huge contribution to their health and happiness. A Bristol University study conducted here for the past three years shows that our lameness levels are among the lowest recorded.”
Walking through the farm, you get a clear picture of how much Andrew enjoys the farm and the animals in his care. And he wants to share it: “A neighbour’s daughter helps out every weekend in the parlour and is a whizz on the heat detection monitor,” he says. When we visited he had finished hosting Open Farming Sunday: “This was our second OFS. We were really lucky with the weather and must have had about 400 visitors,” he says. Visitors could see live milking, baling and wrapping, sheep shearing as well as young calves and lambs.
“As an industry we have a great story to tell, particularly a mixed family farm like this, and I am very keen on telling it,” he says.
Andrew’s passion for farming and encouraging people to share that enjoyment has not clouded his focus on profit. He wasn’t able to share the luxuries that many of his school friends had, which gave him the determination and drive that he has today to build a successful, but sustainable, business.
He’s proud to admit: “There’s no family money – all borrowings are paid back and all the profits come from the farm.”
• 31 years old
• Runs a 150ha mixed tenant farm
• Milks 125 cows with father, Ken
• Manages 200 ewes
• Chairman of NFU Market Harborough
• Elected for Next Generation Dairy Board
• Hosts LEAF Open Farm Sunday
• ELS and applying for HLS
THE JUDGES LIKED
• Created a profitable, and sustainable, business
• Shares his knowledge with others
• Engages with the general public
• Innovative and inspiring