Laund Farm, Chipping, Preston
Simon Stott is no ordinary sheep farmer. For a start, he follows a long family line of extraordinary sheep producers who have achieved great things in the sector.
This young entrepreneur is at the centre of a vibrant family farming business, where he is injecting new life into a vital part of the industry that certainly needs fresh ideas and drive.
Simon is managing director of Sheep Milk UK and a partner in Laund Farm at Chipping in Lancashire, which is led by his father John. Together they are breeding pure blue-faced Leicesters and using their own progeny on a Swaledale flock to produce the mule lamb. They specialise in selling 400 mule lambs a year and 30 blue-faced Leicester rams.
In addition, Simon has spent the past 11 years building an impressive sheep milk enterprise. Six days a week he milks 400 Friesland ewes; and he sells all males via the meat market and the females to other milking farmers or for replacement stock.
John Stott and his ambitious son make an excellent team, combining experience in stockmanship with the energy and enterprise of youth. They are certainly making the most of their lifetime tenancy, 187ha, 1,000 commercial sheep and 400 milking sheep. The sheep milk sector is growing fast, particularly for cheese and yogurt production as lactose intolerant consumers look for healthy alternatives to cow and goat’s milk.
Simon spotted the opportunity and set up his own farmer co-operative selling the milk from seven neighbouring sheep farms on contracts to 12 dairies across the north of England. He sells more than 600,000 litres of sheep milk a year and achieves a price of £1/litre with the cost of production at 86p/litre. The product is largely processed into cheese and sold through dairies, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, although the biggest proportion is sold to the US market.
Quality of the product is essential to his success and this is entirely dependent on the diet of the sheep, enormous attention to detail and intensive monitoring of the milk. Good grassland management enables the dairy flock to get more from grazed grass, which cuts feed costs in half. Early lambing of the Frieslands is important to guarantee early milk and early production of spring lambs. They have a weekly contract from April to September to provide 30 spring lambs to Dunbia – the main buyer for Sainsbury’s. Lambs born to high yielding sheep are tagged and kept as replacements. The family has trialled different feeds to find the best flavour for spring lamb and is currently experimenting with linseed.
Simon is adamant that the co-operative must be farmer led. Most of those involved are young men like him who are starting out with new tenancies. “I represent all the farmers in the co-operative on a regular basis and have their business interests at the forefront of all decisions made for the group,” he said.
Laund Farm is situated in a beautiful landscape of rolling hills and Lancashire stone villages. The family’s pride in the place is apparent from their prolific planting of trees, establishment of seven miles of hedgerow, building of three new ponds and restoration of an ancient lime kiln. The presentation of the farm is of a parkland quality.
A £65,000 classroom with a stunning view has just been built alongside the farmhouse. Rachel, Simon’s wife, is an environmental health officer and she is getting CEVAS accredited to take in more school visits, and a trailer bus has also been bought for farm tours. Natural England pays £150 a visit and the family have handled 19 groups in just three months. Simon believes education is fundamental to growing his business. “I have three young children and I have to look to the future optimistically. It’s up to us to spread the word. Everyone in the family is behind the education side.”
Simon has also embarked on continuous education of his own. He recently travelled to Spain to investigate hi-tech parlours and automated systems. Ideas for the future include extending the size of the flock, introducing a new parlour, installing solar panels on the roof and maybe setting up a processing plant.
He has invested in new sheds, bought another 150 acres of land nearby and even has his eye on buying another neighbouring farm.
Laund Farm hosted the NSA’s North Sheep Event in 2009. John Stott has been a former chairman of the Blue-faced Leicester Sheep Society, while Simon is active in his local Young Farmers’ Club and is vice-chairman elect of the British Sheep Dairy Association. John’s father, the late John Stott, pioneered the Blue-faced Leicester in Lancashire more than 50 years ago and started breeding what later became the mule. With that kind of heritage, it is no wonder that Simon has a positive eye on the future.
* Family-run commercial sheep enterprise and sheep milk business
* CM & J Stott & Son: Turnover £444,935 Profit £79,900
* Sheep Milk UK: Turnover £1m* Profit £30,000
The judges liked
* Excellent standards of stockmanship
* Huge ambition to grow
* Environmental and educational focus
2011 Farmers Weekly Awards