FW Awards 2009: Dairy Farmer of the Year finalist Anthony Gothard

Anthony Gothard is a man with a plan – and that is to continue building his family dairy business, while minimising the impact on the environment and connecting with his local community.

Anthony is the fifth generation to farm at Slough Court Farm, Stoke St Gregory, Somerset, built around a beautiful moated manor house, and he has already overseen a massive amount of development.

Six years ago the operation was split between two sites, with five miles separating a herd of 120 cows and another of 100 cows, managed by him and his father. “The equipment was showing its age and we took the decision then to amalgamate the two herds and bring the whole operation into the 21st century,” he recalls.

This involved investing in a state-of-the-art 50-point Fulwood rotary milking parlour – one of the most technically advanced in the UK at the time – and a switch to three-times-a-day milking. Yields jumped from about 7000 litres a cow to well over 10,000 litres, which is where they are today.

Other investments were made, including extra accommodation for over 200 milking cows and another building for 30 youngstock and 30 dry cows. “We do all the building work ourselves,” says Anthony. “We may get the frames put up, but everything else, including the gates, is done with our own labour to limit the cost.”

The farm runs to 520 acres (of which 120 acres is rented) and includes about 170 acres of Higher Level Stewardship land on the Somerset Levels intended to benefit wading birds. The £450/ha payment is used to rent other land for maize growing.

Cow numbers stand at 360 and the stock seen grazing in the fields near the farm buildings are a picture of health. But Anthony is keen to press on to 400 cows by the end of this year and has his sights on 450 next year.

“We have operated as a closed herd for the last two years,” he says, “but we are now looking at buying in some replacements. This always concerns me, given the constant threat of TB and bluetongue, so we will tread very carefully.”

The rate of expansion also depends on enough ground coming up for maize production. At £70/acre to rent, land in the area is an expensive commodity.

The quest for herd expansion means there is big emphasis on longevity when it comes to breeding. Anthony is a client of the Genus Reproductive Management System, which he believes has helped improve cow fertility and conception rates over the past two years.

He also aims for a low culling rate, giving even the most obstinate cows every chance to get in calf, while repeat offenders on the mastitis front will still be treated rather than culled. The average is for seven lactations per cow, though one is now into her 14th year.

Anthony is not expanding the herd on some kind of ego trip, but rather to maintain and enhance profitability. The herd already achieves a top margin over purchased feed of £2215 a cow, putting it second in the Milkmonitor league table southern region.

The milk is sold to Dairy Crest on a Sainsbury’s contract. “We were originally Sovereign suppliers to Unigate, and then followed through to Dairy Crest,” he says.

He was, therefore, somewhat aggrieved when the farm was left out of the original Dairy Crest contract with Sainsbury’s. “We got in touch with the chief milk buyer last year and got him down to the farm where, with some other local farmers, we were able to convince him to do a Sainsbury’s pick-up in our area.”

The story is typical of Anthony’s determination to get the best deal.

Achieving top hygiene scores and volume bonuses are key targets, as well as a level supply for the buyer. “We aim for one calving a day and one conception a day, 365 days a year – that’s our ideal,” he says.

Anthony acknowledges that fat and protein levels are a bit low at 3.9% and 3.1%, respectively. But with cow condition, dung consistency, fertility and yield all on target, only small changes in the ration are being tried.

As well as trying to extract the most from the liquid milk contract, Anthony and his wife, Natasha, four years ago diversified into farmhouse ice-cream. Branded as Granny Gotthard’s homemade Somerset ice cream, the business is growing steadily, with its own website, an array of exotic flavours and a number of industry awards.

The business already turns over £40,000, so generates a small, but useful income. More importantly, says Anthony, it provides a great opportunity to get out and meet customers at local shows and events.

As for the future, the aim is to increase cow numbers, but return to a closed herd as soon as possible, to invest in a water harvesting system, to improve slurry handling and so reduce fertiliser requirements and to step up the number of farm open days, while further developing the ice-cream business.

Farm facts

  • 210ha (520 acres) of owned and rented land
  • Part of the farm seasonally flooded on Somerset Levels
  • Three-times-a-day milking producing 3.7m litres
  • Homemade ice-cream business

What the judges liked

“Anthony has a coherent plan about the future which incorporates greater use of natural and farm resources.”

Three achievements

  • Taken the farm into the 21st century
  • Demanded, and been awarded, a Sainsbury’s contract
  • Launched a successful ice cream business