Farmers Weekly Awards 2019: Dairy Farmer of the Year

Will Frost is the 2019 Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year.

By investing heavily in new infrastructure and taking radical steps to improve herd performance, Will Frost has future-proofed his dairy goat business from the volatility of demand, prices and contracts in the goat milk sector.

See also: Meet the 2019 Dairy Farmer of the Year finalists 

Will Frost with cows

Will Frost © Jim Wileman

Will Frost

Forde Grange Farm, Thorncombe, Chard, Somerset 

Farm facts

  • 243ha farmed through a contract farming agreement
  • Milk supplied to Delamere Dairies
  • Females kidded in four five-week blocks
  • Closed herd
  • All forage and crimped wheat in the TMR home-grown

An important part of Will’s strategy has been the acquisition of an 80-point rotary parlour to enable three-times-a-day milking.

To stack up financially, this approach needs scale of production, which Will has with a 2,500-head herd.

By increasing output but keeping his overheads at a similar level, Will has increased his gross margin.

The parlour has a throughput of 700 goats an hour, with goats producing an average of 1.5 litres a head at each milking from a concentrate input of 100g.

This high throughput has not only been beneficial to keep costs down, but it has allowed advantages in labour management through flexibile shift patterns for his team of four part-time milkers, a herdsman and an assistant herdsman.

Will places great emphasis on motivating and training staff and this means he can retain his workforce – all his staff are from the local area and include three generations of one family.

Will regards his staff as a key part of his business and, as such, once employees have worked on the farm for more than a year, they are paid an annual bonus based on business turnover.

Their attention to detail in the parlour in combination with an aggressive replacement policy, a vaccination programme and a tight health control plan has resulted in a substantial uplift in yields and milk quality.

In the past 12 months alone, yield has increased from 1,050 litres a goat to 1,200 litres.

Due to selective culling, the replacement rate is high at 35%, but consistently removing the bottom performers is a driver for these higher yields.

At breeding, by running one billy with just 15 females, a conception rate of 85% is achieved.

The highest-risk time for losses is kidding – 60% of mortalities occur within the first two weeks of kidding – but strict hygiene protocols minimise deaths.

The herd has doubled in size since 2008 and yet mortalities have more than halved, from 12% to 5%, partly due to investment in a purpose-built kidding shed two years ago.

Weaning age reduction
Not only has it reduced cases of cryptosporidiosis, but kids are now weaned at six weeks instead of nine to 10 weeks.

Disease, the biggest threat in the kidding period, is kept at bay with strict hygiene protocols overseen by Will’s wife, Kate, who is responsible for this part of the breeding cycle.

For the first 48 hours, kids are reared in “incubators” – converted IBCs fitted with heat lamps which house six to eight kids.

Vaccination accounts for the business’ biggest veterinary cost but this proactive approach to herd health means vet callouts are rare.

On some goat milk systems, billy kids are often treated as a waste by-product offering little or no value but Will has taken a different approach by becoming a shareholder in goat meat wholesaler, Cabrito, to turn his young male goat offspring into a sustainable source of red meat. 

With the image of UK farming now as important as the food farmers produce, Will has taken an approach in all areas of his business that will bear scrutiny from the expectation of buyers and consumers.

Winning ways

  • Top 20% of females breed replacements
  • All goats individually recorded
  • Milk consistently achieving top quality band and a 2p/litre price bonus
  • An emphasis on growing marketing opportunities for meat and breeding stock

A word from our independent judge

“Will’s drive and ambition are evident throughout his business. He has built a strong and loyal team that strive to achieve the highest standards of health and welfare across their goat flock with solutions and ideas that would be well placed on any UK dairy farm.”

Andy Dodd, Farm Consultancy Group

The Farmers Weekly 2019 Dairy Farmer of the Year is sponsored by ArmaTrac

Other finalists were:

  • Gary and Jess Yeomans
    Pant Farm, Llanveitherine, Abergavenny
  • Becci Berry
    Brimstone Farm, Coleshill, Wiltshire