Retiring?Still working and borrowing hard…
The West Countrys new
Management Matters farm
is set among the stunning
coastal scenery and tourist
haven of south Devon. In
his first report John Burns
concentrates on the mixed
farming enterprises of
David and Anne Rossiters
farm business, which
also includes a B&B
and a restaurant
WHEN David Rossiter bought Burton Farm from his father 18 years ago his plan was "to work hard and borrow hard" until he was 45.
"I hoped then the farm would work for me and I would retire at 60. The reality is Im past 45 now, but still working hard and borrowing hard."
Initially, the farm was 69ha (170 acres), but over the years has grown to a 336ha (830-acre) unit at Galmpton, near Kingsbridge. Some is owned, and the rest is on a variety of tenancy types. More land will be taken on if it is right to do so.
"Nothing is cast in stone. I used to plan three to five years ahead, but now we look more or less on a yearly basis, making sure that if we have to adapt quickly we can."
The land ranges from useful arable to steep thin cliff grazings located in two small dry valleys running to the sea at Hope Cove, a former fishing village now full of holiday homes. There is also a block of rented grazing four miles away.
His choice of enterprises is based on a personal belief that "you have to farm what your farm will let you".
"We have to work with Mother Nature, even though most of the public think farmers are pillaging the countryside."
Arable and livestock are closely interwoven. About 80ha (200 acres) of registered arable land is used to grow winter barley, winter wheat for whole-crop silage, and forage maize.
Barley straw is almost as valuable as grain in this region, and wheat and silage are important ingredients in the dairy herds winter rations fed through a mixer wagon.
At one time Mr Rossiter sold cereals to pay for bought-in proteins, but at todays low prices it makes more sense to feed most of the grain at home.
The target for the 120-cow Holstein dairy herd is 1m litres of milk sold from a one-person-plus-relief-workers unit. All the milk, produced from as much home-grown feed as possible, is sold to the co-op Milk Link.
Mr Rossiter rears more Holstein heifers than he needs, so he has some to sell along with yearling Limousin-cross stores.
The dairy herd is the main enterprise, but two large pedigree sheep flocks also make important contributions, not least in the way they turn autumn and winter grass into cash as early slaughter lambs. He also sells 80 breeding rams, accompanied by detailed performance figures and sire reference scheme (SRS) indexes.
The Huish flock of 380 Poll Dorset ewes is in the top three of the Centurion SRS (the Poll Dorset breeds SRS scheme). This year, his ram lamb A54 leads the 4000 lambs bred from the scheme, with an index of 382, compared with an average of 180.
But almost as pleasing for Mr Rossiter was the ram lambs first prize in his class at the Royal Show in Stoneleigh, Warks, last week.
"We are now getting to the stage where performance recorded animals also have the attributes of show animals."
His prize-winning ram lamb A54 will be used as a reference sire in the 2003 SRS breed program. As well as selling rams for breeding, Mr Rossiter also sells 120 Lleyn cross Poll Dorset females for commercial early-lambing flocks, and 150 surplus Poll Dorset females. Any slaughter lambs go to the Chitty/Waitrose Dorset lamb scheme.
The farm also has a Suffolk flock of 110 ewes using the same Huish prefix. Like the Poll Dorsets, it too is in the breeds SRS scheme, and has a performance recorded average index that ranks it in the top half of flocks.
His Suffolk sheep also had success at the Royal with a shearling ram from the flock claiming a first-prize ticket in its class.
Mr Rossiter regards showing as his "sport" as well as a chance to compare his sheep alongside others and promote and advertise his stock.
He was delighted that the Royal overturned its decision to ban sheep, and made a big effort to take stock there. His reward was four firsts, a second and a third. *
• Burton Farm at Galmpton, near Kinsbridge, Devon, is a 336ha (830-acre) mixed farm, that is partly owned and rented on a variety of tenancy agreements by David and Anne Rossiter.
• 120 Holstein cows producing over 1m litres of milk share the 265ha (654 acres) of grassland with two flocks of pedigree sheep, consisting of 380 Poll Dorset ewes and 110 Suffolks. 120 Poll Dorset cross Lleyn half-bred ewes are also bred for sale as well as early slaughter lambs.
• Crops grown include 37.6ha (93 acres) of winter barley, 25ha (62 acres) of Melody maize and 16.5ha (41 acres) of winter wheat.
• Workforce includes four full-time equivalents plus Mr Rossiter. Contractors help out during silage and cereal harvest.
• Accommodation and catering business that includes two full time and 10 part-time staff and Mrs Rossiter. There are 14 letting rooms and two self-catering cottages, and a Garden Room restaurant that caters for lunches, teas and dinners.