Dairy success but where are the cycle tourists?

Heath Haigh (left) and David Haigh (right) at Heath Lea Farm at Barkisland (GL100340d)
Heath Haigh (left) and David Haigh (right) at Heath Lea Farm at Barkisland (GL100340d)
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Just over a year ago the little village of Barkisland wouldn’t have been at the top of holiday makers’ lists, yet the small matter of the Grand Départ coming through has led one farming family to believe that they could finally derive a benefit from the road that has always caused problems for their dairy farm.

The Haigh brothers of Heath Lea Farm; David, Peter and John, are also currently in shock, as their 140-plus milking herd has just seen them become national semi-finalists in the National Milk Records/Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers’ Gold Cup 2014. It’s a fantastic achievement for a herd that was riddled with neospora just two years ago resulting in the loss of 30 dairy cows and their calves. What’s more they didn’t even know they had been entered into the reckoning.

That doesn’t mean that everything in the Haigh garden is necessarily coming up roses just at the moment. Contrary to the incessant hype that hundreds of thousands will be descending on Yorkshire their Barkisland camping field ideally situated next to the King of the Mountain stage at Ripponden Bank is not yet proving a winner. There are of course a matter of five weeks to go for things to improve but in this corner of the region the event doesn’t yet seem to have captured all of the hearts and imaginations that Welcome to Yorkshire is perhaps anticipating.

Heath Haigh, son of Peter, is in charge of the camping field and handling the bookings.

“We have set 26 acres aside and we’re looking at splitting it into three areas for camping, caravanning and parking. We are also hoping to attract some traders to set up a street market selling locally produced food.

“The estimates from the council are that we can expect around 20,000 visitors in the area on the day. We can accommodate 1,000 but bookings have been slow and we have hardly any. And it’s not just us. Maybe it’s going to be a last minute thing. We certainly hope so. We’re in a great spot here and the race comes right by the field.”

Peter feels that talk of gridlock with road closures and turning West Yorkshire into a virtual car park is contributing to the bookings apathy.

“People are certainly getting put off by what they feel might happen. There is a park and ride service being set up in Halifax but that runs to Mytholmroyd and not here.”

The farm was originally run by William Moore, grandfather on their mother Dorothy’s side to the three Haigh brothers. Dorothy married John Haigh who was from a farming and pub background. His family had the Brown Cow Inn in Scammonden. When the council tenancy for Heath Lea Farm came up for sale it was John who bought it. At that time the farm ran to 35 acres with a herd of just 20 milking cows.

John’s youngest son, also John, tells of their growth.

“Dad passed away four years ago but we’ve been taking over for the past 20 years. We now own 220 acres and rent another 60. It’s all in the Barkisland and Greetland area and we have around 250 livestock on at any one time. We have a mix of Friesian and Holstein. Our herd average is just under 8,000 litres per cow and rising and for where we are that’s good.”

Like many other Pennine dairy farmers used to be, the Haighs are producer/processors bottling their own milk and having milk rounds as well as selling wholesale. The brothers share out the duties but everyone helps everyone else where needed.

“David looks after the milk rounds. He delivers both to doorstep and to shops. We have another four milkmen and our patch is Halifax, Greetland and Elland. Doorstep delivery has seen a slight rise in recent years after decades of being on the slide, but it’s still hard work. Peter works on the land and feeds the cows up and I handle the milking and paperwork. We use an 8/16 Westfalia parlour that we updated around 10 years ago and we have the capacity in the buildings to get up to 200 milkers.

“We keep the milking herd and the dairy processing sides as two separate businesses which allows us to see more clearly how each is performing. The dairy pays the farm for its milk. We sell around 50-60 per cent of our milk from the farm to Buckley Farm Dairy in Denby Dale since Dairy Farmers of Britain went bust.”

Grass is their only crop. It is cut three or four times a year to provide silage for the cows. They also feed a blend that is bought from Drake’s feed mill.

Half of the Haighs’ herd is now kept inside all year round with the rest generally out in April and back housed in by October dependent on the weather. The rationale behind the Haighs’ tendency for keeping their cows inside may well be down to what happened to their herd through neospora.

“We haven’t a piece of land without a public footpath and that means our land is a dog walker’s paradise. Neospora is spread from a parasite in dog faeces. What happens is that when grass is being harvested for feed the faeces that hasn’t been picked up by dog owners gets into the grass and the cows eat it. This commonly leads to abortions in pregnant dairy cows, but we didn’t just lose their calves we also lost 30 cows too.”

The Haighs don’t bemoan what has sometimes befallen them. They roll with whatever the punches whether it is their milk buyer going bust, cows being infected due to dog faeces or a camping field that isn’t as yet reaching the heights that the hype led them to believe. They are however extremely proud of their certificate for being national semi-finalists out of thousands of dairy farmers.

Peter has a simple philosophy on dairy farming. “I don’t subscribe to the opinion that you’ve got to be somewhere like Cheshire to produce the best milk. If you do your job right it doesn’t matter where you farm. Milk from the Pennines is just as good as anywhere else.”