FW Awards 2009: Dairy Farmer of the Year finalists Jane and Rob Targett

Pedigree breeding and tight cost control are two of the prime focuses of attention for Rob and Jane Targett, who run the Carymoor herd of pedigree Holsteins near Castle Cary, Somerset.

There are almost 200 cows in milk at their 500-acre Park Farm, producing an average of 10,150 litres a year. But a large contingent of followers takes the total herd to 480, with about 40 surplus milking heifers and a few young cows sold each year.

“Our marketing policy has always been to seek out the best possible returns for our products, both milk and livestock,” they say. “By keeping the heifers until they calve, we can retain their daughters to roll forward as future sales and increase the size of our youngstock enterprise.”

The breeding side of the business is Jane’s domain. She was recently chairman of Holstein South West.

“Our breeding goals continue to evolve, with a greater emphasis on health traits and longevity,” she says. “A great example of this combination is Prelude Pet Excellent 91-3E, a cow of 14 years, who has produced 10 natural calves and over 130,000kg of low-cell-count milk without any fuss or special treatment. A herd full of cows like her would be a joy to milk, and profitable.”

Jane says she usually buys in a few foundation cows each year to enhance the herd, while sires are chosen for feet and legs, udder, depth and chest width. Low cell counts and avoiding inbreeding are the next criteria.

The Targetts have also tried using sexed semen, but with mixed results. “On one occasion we got 13 bull calves out of 14 conceptions. We may give it another go, though we’re very fussy about what we breed to and can’t always get sexed semen form the bulls we want.”

The comment is typical of Jane’s attention to detail and refusal to accept second best.

But while breeding is a passion, by far the greater income is from milk sales. “We proactively sell our milk for the highest price possible, either by changing processor or adapting our production to maximise value,” she says.

After deregulation in 1996, the milk was initially sold to a local cheesemaker. But investment in a larger bulk tank then made every-other-day collection feasible and the Targett’s switched to Unigate, soon becoming a Sovereign supplier.

The business subsequently moved to a Dairy Crest “white water” contract, which suited the high input/high output system. More recently, they switched to a milk constituent-based contract, dropping milk yield in favour of more milk solids.

A shift to a more level supply schedule and high milk quality – cell counts are consistently in the 160,000-170,000 range – then led to the farm getting a Waitrose contract.

This comes with certain strings attached; for example, 10% of the farm has to be given over to wildlife habitat. But it does mean the Targett’s get a top milk price, averaging 28.79p/litre last milk year.

Cost control is also critical for success, says Rob. “Each element of our business (which also includes contracting, an arable enterprise and a farm supplies business) is separately accounted, enabling us to understand and control enterprise costs to maximise profitability.”

One example of good cost saving has been in the sinking of a borehole last summer on a “no water, no fee” basis. The farm now uses the same amount of mains water in a week that it previously used in a day.

Electricity, meanwhile, has been pre-booked for the next four years with Mole Valley Farmers, and Rob recently bought six months’ worth of red diesel for 39.5p/litre, anticipating more price rises to come.

Another example is in veterinary costs. A few years ago the Targetts got together with nine other farmers to put their business out to tender, eventually awarding the contract to the local Delaware Vet Group.

By working together they have been able to negotiate a discounted rate for afternoon visits, and are charged by the minute from when the vet actually starts working. “We did not see the point in paying for 10 minutes’ chat in the farmyard before anything gets done,” says Rob, who describes his business approach as “foot to the floor”.

Farm building work is also kept “in house” to save costs. “It’s our contracting team’s winter work.”

Having invested £115,000 on upgrading and increasing cubicle numbers in 2007, and £45,000 on youngstock housing and parlour upgrades in 2008, the business is about to embark on the next phase of expansion.

The aim is to add another 5000sq ft of cow housing, a new 28:28 de Laval parlour, dairy and collecting yard, with all investment financed out of profit. This will include another 50 sand-bedded cubicles, enabling the milking herd to grow to 300.

The Targett’s have a mission statement, which is “to achieve the highest standards of animal health, milk quality, staff satisfaction and environmental responsibility”. All these are met in full. But what really impresses is the commitment and energy they apply to all their various enterprises that underpins their entire business.

Farm facts

  • 202ha (500 acres) supporting 200 milking cows and 280 followers
  • Separate arable unit, plus contracting and supplies business
  • Almost 2m litres of milk sold to Waitrose
  • Three full-time staff

What the judges liked

“Jane and Rob run an extremely profitable and driven business. We were impressed by their knowledge, commitment and work ethic.”

Three achievements

  • Success in the show ring dovetails with a highly commercial milk business
  • All buildings and expansion financed from profit
  • Working with other farmers to set up a vet user group