“We never had a minute before we started dairy, it’s the best decision we ever made and it will be a sustainable farm for our children to take on in the future too,”
Five years ago, a Devon family farm made a bold move to switch from rearing cattle and sheep to starting a dairy herd. Andrew Hammett and his wife Liz took over running Andrew’s parent’s farm in 2003. Broadmoor farm extends to 180-acres of the rolling Devon land, east of Barnstaple.
“When we took it on, I was thinking about moving to dairy, but having bought my parents out we were not in a position to make such a big investment that early on,” says Mr Hammett.
Mr Hammett began to look at how a shift to dairy could work on the farm. “We spoke to a consultant and studied some dairy farm accounts to see what the yield on 200 spring calving cows would gross. It looked promising so I decided to be bold and after we had sold enough cattle, I bought 120 weaned heifers from Ireland in November 2014,” he says. The herd increased the following spring when Mr Hammett bought a further hundred bulling heifers and nine Angus bulls to accompany them. “The following year we had 170 heifers calving in May. We wanted to calve in February, but the milk price collapsed in 2016 and we were struggling to secure a milk contract, so May it was,” he says.
The shift to dairy saw Mr Hammett’s turnover drop significantly in the first year. However, the profit margin was three times higher than when he had been selling lambs and cattle. “The price of feed was too high to realise a high enough profit margin from cattle. The new dairy system meant that we could spread our investment over a longer period with an almost constant income from the cows, rather than having to experience the feast and famine of selling livestock,” he says. By 2016 Mr Hammett was milking 244 cows, of which 184 were heifers that calved that year.
The Hammetts done their research and chose to install a DeLaval 24/48 swing over parlour. “Our consultant recommended that we bought quality but kept the parlour set up simple. There are no tricky electrics to worry about, but we did opt for the automatic cluster removers. We can milk 280 in two hours, with another half an hour to clean the clusters. We have kept to two milkings per day and average 7300 litres per cow with a peak of 33 litres per cow, per day,” he explains. “We also went for two conventional vacuum pumps rather than the variable rate single option to give us a backup but thankfully neither have failed,” he adds.
The parlour was sourced through local dealer B H Whites who also offer DeLaval robot, parallel rapid exit, and rotary parlours. “We went to see farms with robots, but we wanted to get to know the cows and feel connected. Robots also cut down the grazing options and we wanted to give the cows as much time in the field as possible. A rotary would have been too much, and we would have needed a much bigger shed, so opting for more compact swing over fitted our farm the best,” he says.
The Hammetts have a grass-based system with a little grass and maize silage when the cows are bulling. This means there is no bought in feed, but the cows are given 7 kilos of cake per day, equating to 1.5 tonnes per cow over the lactation period. “The herd is now 280 strong and we are focussing on profit rather than yield. By following a low-cost grazing system, we have a lower yield but if the milk price was to drop, we would be ok because we are not spending to constantly increase and maintain high yields,” explains Mr Hammett. “The conventional system with a simple, better quality parlour keeps our running and maintenance costs to a minimum and enables us to milk quickly and efficiently, so the cows don’t have to wait for long periods,” he adds.
Since making the shift, Andrew’s wife Liz has set up an Instagram account to chart the highs and lows of the family’s life in dairying. She has amassed over 5000 followers who follow @hammettsdairy. “We never had a minute before we started dairy, it’s the best decision we ever made and it will be a sustainable farm for our children to take on in the future too,” concludes Mr Hammett.