Arriving at Field Barn Farm near Blandford in Dorset, it immediately becomes obvious you are entering a farm that is a cut above the average.
The large advert for Open Farm Sunday in the farm entrance sends a clear message about farm manager Scott Bagwell’s enthusiasm for good public relations, while the neatly-mown verges and spotlessly clean farmyard hint at his fondness for efficiency.
Scott has truly worked his way up the farming ladder, starting as a general farm worker at the age of 16 then relief milker, herd manager and assistant farm manager, before finally securing the “top job” at Field Barn Farm in 2007.
That was when the farm was bought by Graham Birch and Margaret Scribbens.
There are five full-time staff and a regular meeting is held each Monday so everyone has a clear idea what their responsibilities are. “I also place a strong emphasis on training; everyone has to do something at least once a year.”
Since taking over as manager, there has been a major emphasis on expansion. The herd – predominantly pedigree Holstein Friesians, but with a few Jerseys and Guernseys thrown in to boost butterfat – numbers about 300, giving 2.7m litres a year.
The aim is to push this to 325 next year, with sales of 3m litres. To this end, there has been a lot of recent investment at Field Barn Farm, including a new 1400sq m youngstock shed, an extra 100 cow cubicles, an extension to the parlour and a new 4200cu m slurry silo.
Being in an NVZ, slurry management is critical. All slurry is stirred and tested before application. It is then injected by a contractor at a rate of 50cu m/ha over all silage ground. “This has led to big savings on fertiliser costs, as we have applied no artificial fertiliser so far this year,” says Scott.
With an eye to the environmental impact, the slurry silo is being screened off with new tree plantings and an old flint barn, which used to sit beside the slurry lagoon, can now be developed as an attractive holiday let.
Another recent investment has been in water harvesting, with a 24,000-litre tank collecting rainwater off the new youngstock shed roof. This is used to fill the water troughs in the cow sheds, and supplies the high pressure hoses. With a water bill for £28,000 last year, Mr Bagwell is planning to do more water harvesting, and is upgrading a borehole.
Large amounts of concrete have also been laid around the farmyard, which assists cleanliness and has helped reduce lameness and other cow health problems.
There has also been investment in machinery, including a new forage harvester. “I firmly believe that modern machinery can play a major role in boosting operating margins, as it raises productivity by minimising downtime.”
Once the farm’s own fieldwork is done, Scott’s team is then available for contract work, to earn extra income and make better use of the equipment fleet. “We tend to be a very early farm, which gives us plenty of opportunity to use our equipment on neighbouring farms.”
The herd is producing about 9000 litres a cow of 4.2% butterfat, 3.4% protein milk. Yields have been reduced in recent times, as, when they were over 10,000 litres, the cows were suffering too many health problems.
All milk is sold to Dairy Crest under a liquid contract, picking up fat, volume and level profile bonuses. But Scott says he was aggrieved to have lost a Waitrose contract when the farm changed hands in 2007, just because the name of the owner was different. “At the time Waitrose had too much milk on its hands and pulled the plug on us.”
The lack of a premium milk price makes it all the more commendable that the herd is fifth in Kite Consulting’s south-western league table for margin over concentrate. This stood at 20.91p/litre in 2008.
High yielders are kept indoors full time, while mediums and lows get time out at grass. Cows are served anytime after 42 days post-calving, though Scott says this is driven by body condition. Conception rate last year reached 83%.
To try to improve this further, he has recently invested in Heatime, which monitors cow movement. “This helps us pick up bulling cows and sick cows and I reckon the £10,000 we have invested will be paid back within a year. It’s saved us three cows already.”
Scott has also waged a war on mastitis, getting the cell count down from 300,000 to less than 150,000 in just two years.
While the farm has been going through a period of steady expansion, Scott says he would like to double the enterprise size to 6m litres, if enough land becomes available to comply with NVZ restrictions and to grow enough forage.
He clearly believes dairying has a long-term future and he wants to be part of it.
- 325ha (800 acres) of dairy and arable
- Gently rolling Dorset chalk downland
- About 300 cows producing 2.7m litres
- Five full-time staff
What the judges liked
“The farm was immaculate, reflecting Scott’s attention to detail and meticulous planning.”