Dairy farmer puts 1,000-cow herd under the hammer

Steve Graham at work in the cow shed

A dairy farmer is selling off his 1,000-strong herd to fund his retirement plans, including his beef suckler herd venture.

Steve Graham has been milking cows for 35 years, but he has decided now is the time to pursue his other passions – building up his pedigree suckler herd and collecting Ford vintage tractors.

His herd of Holstein Friesians will go under the hammer of auctioneer Kivells at Holsworthy market on 23 and 30 March, the Western Morning News reported.

See also: Farmer launches online livestock auction site without fees

Mr Graham said he was not leaving the industry because of the recent slump in milk prices, which have fallen by more than one-third since last spring.

“I’m retiring – it’s nothing to do with the state of the industry. I’m 50 and I have worked since I left school. I’m a self-made man, I’ve worked extremely hard.

“Too many people I know have died – I’ve been to too many funerals and I have decided I want to have the time to do what I want to do.”

Mr Graham took over the family farm, in Reading, Berkshire, 15 years ago from his father, and moved the herd to Thorne Farm, near Holsworthy, Devon. All current cows have been bred on the farm.

The Graham family at the breakfast table

Left to right: Rebecca Graham and her fiance Anthony Giodani, Amanda and Steve Graham

It has been a closed herd for eight years and, combined with expanding cow numbers, the herd’s average yield increased to over 10,000kg in 2010.

In recent years, a conscious decision was made to ease the yields back to 8,000kg with the animals fed on a simple system, including a single, flat-rate basic total mixed ration based only on grass silage with cereals and quality minerals.

Mr Graham said milking cows seven days a week was hard work and it was time to devote his life to his other farming hobbies – building up his pedigree Aberdeen Angus herd and collection of vintage Ford tractors.

“I’m going into farming’s slow lane with a few suckler cows,” he told the paper.

“I’ve enjoyed milking cows at Thorne for many years but now it’s time to do something different. I’m very proud of our cows and as my father told me 25 years ago if you are going to milk a cow – milk a good one.”

Thorne Farm sign

Mr Graham’s wife Amanda works as a nurse at two local hospitals and also manages the farm accounts. Their daughter Rebecca will continue to run her hairdressing business from one of the units on the farm.

Because he started dairy farming at the age of 15, Mr Graham said he felt like he had lived his life “backwards”. Now he plans to make up for lost time by travelling to other countries.

“Most people do their travelling and having fun when they are young – I was working from an early age, never went to college and never got much of an education. Now I want to travel and enjoy life,” he said.

 “There is so much of the world I want to see, including visiting the US andNew Zealand – I might even be tempted to go on a safari. Anything, really, providing it doesn’t involve playing golf!”

However, Mr Graham admitted it would be sad to see the herd being sold off. “I’ll have to be at the auction, but I don’t want to be there,” he added.

The sale of the dairy herd will be the biggest anywhere in the UK so far in 2015 and is expected to attract buyers from all parts of the UK.

Mark Bromell, director and principal dairy auctioneer at Kivells, said: “The cows represent a very youthful herd, with 88% of the milkers being first- and third-calvers.

“Steve’s policy has produced a balanced type of Holstein Friesian cow with good chest width, power and longevity traits.”

For more information on the sale, contact Kivells, Holsworthy, on 01409 253 275.

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