Simple route pays

Harold Lukins believes dairy farming is about producing milk from feeding cows – and not allowing other jobs to distract him from that task.


He farms 121ha (300 acres) with his son Trevor as HM Lukins & Son at Pump House Farm, Draycott, on the Somerset Levels.


The farm is mostly owner-occupied, with some outlying fields rented.


But it wasn’t that many years ago the farm ran to just 12ha (30 acres).


Harold has grown his farm steadily, buying up parcels of land as they became available and always expanding his herd and its production to justify that growth.


He and his son now milk 211 Holstein Friesians in their commercial and pedigree Moorlake herd, supplying Milk Link with about 1.8m litres a year, mostly about 4% butterfat and 3.2% protein, although Trevor has ambitions to push output to 2m litres next year.


Harold admits they are not “figures people”.


His sees his job as producing milk, and so the work of monitoring the business’ performance goes to Promar consultant Paul Henman.


“It’s this attention to detail that keeps the business successful,” says Mr Henman.


“The Lukins are efficient milk producers because they have specialised, and invested wisely to keep the system simple.”


Smart use of contractors allows the Lukins to focus on their cows.


But while many farmers feel that reliance on a third party for some operations is a risk to the business, Harold manages his contractors carefully, through relationships built up over years.


“If the worry about silage making is being handled by a local contractor, we can concentrate on our cows and our milk.


Otherwise, our operations would demand two other members of staff and the machinery; we’ve tried that.


“Now, excluding our own drawings, the total labour cost is about 9000 a year.”


Scrupulous cost control is also essential to make money from milk, but Harold is prepared to spend a little extra money if that keeps the milk production system simple and streamlined.


To this end the family have moved away from feeding straights and building their own ration, to feeding a blend in pellet form.


“We’ve also moved up from 35 acres of home-grown forage to 55 acres,” says Trevor.


“Last year, we were afraid we wouldn’t have enough forage so we fed brewers’ grains for a time in June and July, but we saw a drop in butterfat.


Thinking ahead, we’re hoping to have enough maize to buffer feed through next season.”


That switch to brewers’ grains caused bulk feed costs to rise from 7 a cow to 32, but it was offset by higher yields and 0.5t less concentrate use per cow.


The herd is a young one, about 30% heifers, home-reared from calves as replacements.


Some strong bulling heifers will leave the farm for specialist rearing as necessary, returning as springing heifers.


“This is another example of how we can keep our concentration on milking cows,” says Harold.


Keeping the system simple and putting all their efforts into production has allowed the Lukins to reinvest.


A bigger, expanded parlour in 2002 allowed the family to move up from 160 cows to 211, and they installed a replacement plant room, office and cubicle shed.


The total project cost 100,000, of which about 10% is outstanding.


“The Lukins have invested consistently,” says Mr Henman.


Their business takes up debt when necessary, but they move on and clear it.


And these decisions are taken objectively, in some cases up to three years in advance.


“Spending on feed has risen by moving to the new ration, but it has helped to simplify the operation and they have seen results in terms of improved yield and milk quality.


“Harold manages his contractors very carefully – he will pay ahead of time if he sees delivery,” Mr Henman says.


The Lukins’ strengths include careful control of variable costs and managing risk to the business.


“Finance and charges are not excessive, and below the average for Promar’s top 25% of dairy farmers.”


The Lukins are committed Milk Link members and aim to keep cost of production at about 16p/litre – out of an equivalent total milk price of 24p/litre, which includes other income such as calf sales.


By focusing on meeting butterfat, protein and quality demands, they are making the most of their milk contract.


ian.ashbridge@rbi.co.uk