Benefit from wise investments

Buying what you need rather than what you want can be difficult, particularly when faced with rows of gleaming machinery on the dealer’s forecourt.

But when funds are limited and you want to avoid borrowing it is essential to ensure investment is directed at areas which need it.

So convinced is Wootton Bassett-based Peter Shaw of this philosophy that when investing in recent farm improvements, machinery was near the bottom of the list, with a new parlour and silage clamps topping his requirements.

This has left Mr Shaw in what many would see as the unenviable option of relying on contractors to do all major field work.

Having taken on Bishops Farm, Bushton, as a 30ha (75 acre) county council holding in 1989, Mr Shaw believed his money was better invested in other areas of the farm, a policy which continues today.

Recent consolidation of county council holdings in Wilts has seen Mr Shaw’s unit double in size, with the intention to double cow numbers from 75 to 150.

“But there was no way we could milk that many cows through the old parlour which was installed in 1966 and was partly of wooden construction.

A new parlour was essential, as were improved silage clamps and cattle housing.”

With at least 17 years left to run on his tenancy Mr Shaw believed he could earn a suitable return on any investment made, but even so found it difficult to justify spending large sums of money on a list of wishes, rather than simply investing in what he needed, says Promar consultant Paul Henman.

“Don’t spend money which won’t earn a return.

Concentrating on what is essential to the day-to-day running of the herd is the main priority.”

With this in mind Mr Shaw has invested about 45,000 in milking facilities, including in-parlour feeders.

“The main guts of the set-up were sourced second-hand from a farm which was going out of milk, with extras bought where necessary.”

The parlour, which was installed on the original farm as a 14:14, has been converted to a 14:28 which Mr Shaw believes is the best option for his enlarged herd, particularly as he does most of the milking himself.

Once the silage clamps have been completed and new housing, provided by the county council as landlords, has been fitted out the total cost will come to about 80,000, reckons Mr Shaw.

All improvements have been funded without borrowing.

And with the aim being to reduce time spent on non-cow tasks he has also invested in an improved slurry handling system.

Installing a Muck Master slurry conveying system has reduced the time spent clearing slurry from housing and yards significantly.

“Previously much time was spent scraping slurry, mainly because it had to be pushed up a ramp into the weeping wall store.

“All I have to do now is scrape slurry into a pit in the yard and switch the machine on and it pushes it into the store via 18m of pipe.

It’s also improved storage, as slurry is now pushed out into the middle of the store, rather than being dropped into the store at the end of the ramp.”

But while Mr Shaw openly admits to detesting machinery he has recently replaced the farm’s principle tractors.

The farm had been reliant on two Fordson Majors for its machinery input.

But these have been replaced by a four wheel drive compact tractor which is dedicated to scraping duties and a second-hand two wheel drive machine which is attached to the feeder wagon.

“We could have spent more on the tractors, but as they’re only used for yard work, I didn’t see a need to spend too much.

The machines we’ve bought are perfectly adequate for what we need.”

However, there is one key to managing a farm with minimal machinery; reliable contractors.

“Overall, we’ve been fairly lucky with the team we’ve built up.

They are all reliable and, so long as we stay in touch with them, they do the job as we want it done when we want it done.

It’s all about communication.”

Mr Shaw readily admits this hasn’t come about purely through luck though, having gained his current team through a matter of trial and error.

“We did use a few people when we first moved here who weren’t reliable enough for us, so we switched to others,” he adds.

And having reliable contractors to call on means he can spend more time doing what he loves, working with cows.

“It’s the cows I enjoy, not tractor work, so it’s far better to pay someone else to do that.

After all, they’re the specialists, so should make a better job than I ever will.”

This reluctance to undertake field tasks has also enabled Mr Shaw to keep costs low and allowed him to invest in improving his herd’s genetic potential.

“We started with relatively cheap cows, but over the years have invested in the best sire genetics we could afford to ensure replacement heifers were always improving the quality of the herd,” he adds.

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