What’s it like being a father and son dairy team?

Father and son team Richard and Tom Calver have a combined 69 years in farming, running a dairy herd and cheesemaking business.

Based at Westcombe Dairy in east Somerset, the business is based on making traditional Cheddar and other West Country cheeses, using unpasteurised milk from our own cows.

But how do they get on in practice and what are the secrets behind their success?

See also: Video: So you want to… sell milk direct from farm?

Farm facts

  • Near Shepton Mallet, Somerset
  • Two dairy herds: 180 cows and 200 cows
  • All homebred replacements mainly Holstein with some Ayrshires
  • Cheeses include Westcombe unpasteurised Cheddar, Duckett’s aged Caerphilly and Somerset ricotta

Richard Calver

richard calver

© Kathy Horniblow

  • Age: 75
  • Years in farming: 52
  • Favourite farm job: Looking at stock and walking crops
  • Worst farm job: TB testing

What do you admire about Tom?

Tom’s ability to network with the right people has always really impressed me. In fact, it’s so good we’ve adopted it as the main marketing strategy for our business.

He is also really innovative and is always coming up with fresh ideas to progress the dairy, capitalise on current trends and look for new markets.

I cannot omit how hard working he is, as well as his ability to juggle several tasks at once.

What frustrates you about Tom?

Tom has this unfortunate idea that there are more than 60 minutes in every hour. It filters down from his unrelenting work ethic, but often means he takes too much on.

What lessons do you try and teach Tom?

I have always tried to instill a strong sense of planning in Tom. That means to ensure that any of his ideas are fully costed and make good business sense.

What lessons have you learned from Tom?

Through his training and experience as a chef, I have learned to tailor what we make to the ever-growing demands of the consumer.

Nowhere is this greater than the absolute importance of quality and flavour in our end product, and constantly driving our business to be more environmentally friendly.

I was always taught that everything revolved around production, production, production. But Tom has helped to move us away from commoditisation to develop a superior end product.

Do you trust Tom to run the business when you are away?

Yes, I am lucky that when I go away I can relax totally with him running the business in conjunction with back up from our excellent team.

Do you want Tom to take over the business?

Yes, I do and together we are working to make it as resilient as possible for the future. We have a succession plan and I am recording much of what I do, so there can be a working transition when the time comes.

How has your relationship with Tom changed over time?

When Tom first came into the business, he had a lot to learn about both cheesemaking and farming.

We have developed to a point where we are able to learn together and be constantly questioning each other and looking for new ways of taking the business forward.

What is the secret of your partnership’s success?

We have absolute mutual respect for our different areas of expertise. However, when we do differ or disagree on a subject, the ability to debate changes in a constructive way is paramount.

Tom Calver

© Kathy Horniblow

  • Age: 38
  • Years in farming: 17
  • Favourite farm job: Seeing whole product cycle from soil to customer
  • Worst farm job: Anything to do with TB testing

What do you admire about Richard? 

I admire my dad’s open mind when it comes to changes. He is extremely driven and has always had an ability to bounce back from adversity.

He is also the family’s designated understander of complicated documents and forms.

What frustrates you about Richard? 

He doesn’t switch off enough. He is constantly working 24/7. It is really important to have some time away from the business and switch off now and again.

What can you teach Richard? 

I always stress the importance of actively engaging with the latest trends and with what our customers want.

Also, the need to tailor the business to be in line with important social issues around food production, such as environmental sustainability and traceability.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from Richard? 

Dad has got a good eye for small details. He has always stressed the importance of making sure the numbers are looked at every day and that I understand the importance of cashflow when looking at ways of expanding the business.

Do you have sufficient input into business decisions? 

Yes, most of the time. The problem is that the business is quite complex and our team is relatively small.

This makes trusting each other to make our own decisions in our specialist areas, but we generally discuss them all together first.

Do you want to take over the business? 

The business currently is great and we work well as a team. I think it would be very difficult to run it without Dad as he keeps a lot of knowledge in his head.

I would like to run it in the future. I believe the business could have a different feel to it, but I am up for the challenge,

How has your relationship with Richard changed over time? 

I think working together for so long means that we have built a mutual respect for each other.

What is the secret of your partnership’s success? 

I think it is feeling secure in knowing we have each other’s unequivocal backing.


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