Whoever heard of the last cut of grass for silage being in mid-November? After 20-plus years of writing about farms it’s the first time I’ve come across it, but it just goes to prove how crazy this year’s weather has been.
Dairy farmer Ian Collins of Church Farm, Whitley, near Dewsbury isn’t unduly concerned about how late in the year it is, he’s just happy to have managed it.
“I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone how wet it has been, but we finally found a time just a fortnight ago when we could get what is the third cut on some of the land and fourth cut elsewhere.
“We have mainly a grass-based feeding system for our dairy herd. During the winter we feed a mixture of grass silage and brewers’ grains so it’s important for us to cut as much as we can.”
Ian and his mum, Mary, are partners in the farm that Ian has run since he was 20 years old.
His dad, Richard, died eight years ago but Ian was in charge for a while before that time and pays tribute to his father’s fore- sight.
“It hasn’t done me any harm. My own feeling is that the problem in a lot of farming families is that the children don’t take the reins early enough.
“Dad let me do it and we worked alongside each other for a number of years with me running the farm.”
Church Farm runs to 120 acres that is owned, with another 80 acres rented and they have a herd of 130 cows and 90 young stock.
Whilst the cows are predominantly pedigree Dairy Shorthorn there are also around 20 Holsteins, a couple of Jerseys and an Ayrshire or two. All their cows are pedigree whatever their breed.
“We’ve expanded fast over the past decade having only had 40 milking cows previously.
“I’m now the fourth generation to farm here and we’ve been a dairy farm all my life. My mum and dad started grading up the Dairy Shorthorn herd in 1976.
“The cows that work best here are hardy and with a bit of strength in them. We don’t want huge cows.
“We like them to have plenty of body, openness of rib, really good udders and great legs and feet that can walk well on our land. Although we enjoy showing our stock my first rule is that they are not here to be looked at. Our herd average is just under 8000 litres.”
Some of the land at Church Farm can be quite heavy and there is plenty of undulation, but despite this year’s crazy weather the cows have still been out from the end of February to November. It seems that nothing fazes Ian or his cows.
Ian also has two sisters, Wendy and Jill, who are both involved with the farm. Jill looks after the book-keeping side of the business whilst Wendy, with her husband James Young live at Springfield Farm, Kirby Underdale where they have 100 acres of which 70 is down to grass. They contract-rear solely for replacements to Ian’s herd.
Wendy has her own cattle clipping business Clippaholics that takes her right across the UK. She conducts winter clipping for around 30 herds, usually between October to February and also clips for show cattle through the main agricultural show calendar.
She was also county chairman of the Yorkshire Federation of Young Farmers and clearly her talents at heading up organisations are still to the fore.
She recently completed a two-year stint as one of the youngest ever presidents of the Dairy Shorthorn Society.
“It was a wonderful experience. One of my roles was to judge the North West area competition for the breed. I went around 14 herds from Stranraer to Kendal. I’ve also been to Australia where Dairy Shorthorns are known as Illawaras. I don’t go anywhere that doesn’t involve cows.
“The Dairy Shorthorns are on the up at the moment with more farmers realising their benefits of hardiness and the ability they have to convert grass into milk. They are also easier to get in calf than other breeds.”
James is a welder and fabricator and deals with everything from farm buildings to byres, gates and ploughs.
He designed a cattle crush that Wendy uses for her business.
The Collins’ have developed a considerable reputation for the quality of their Dairy Shorthorns over many years and are regular show winners both in Yorkshire and further afield.
This year has proved no exception as their cow Churchroyd Bronte Wild Eyes 29 scooped the title of Dairy Shorthorn Champion at the Great Yorkshire Show; and then followed it up with Reserve Interbreed Champion. She was also champion at the South West Dairy Show in Shepton Mallett; and then took the Dairy Shorthorn championship at the National Dairy Event.
Locally, the Collins’ also completed another memorable feat in winning the Dairy Shorthorn, Holstein and Jersey titles at both Emley Show and Halifax Show.
Whilst Ian has upped cow numbers considerably since taking over from his father he’s now in a position where expanding any more is difficult.
There isn’t the amount of land available, which is why he has moved into the sale of pedigree stock including young bulls.
“There’s not a lot of room for any more growth around here so it looks like we’ll be staying the way we are.
“We’re selling quite a few young stock privately to regular, repeat custo- mers.
“ In the recent past we’ve sold a number of them into both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Once again it is the hardiness and milking ability from grass that attracts them to the breed.”
Ian’s milk goes to local processor Buckley Dairies and he has been supplying them for the past four and a half years.
Whilst he’s unfazed by much of what he has to cope with day-to-day on the farm his ire is well and truly on show over the demise of Dairy Farmers of Britain.
Like many other dairy farmers he lost a considerable amount of money when they went bust even though he had left two years prior.
Having been handed the reins to the farm early on in his life Ian still finds time to be with his son Harry, eight, and daughter Molly, five.
He’s not one of those who believes that life totally revolves around dairy cows, even though he spends enough time with them.
His philosophy on dairy farming and how he manages his time is straightforward.
“I have a lad who helps me with milking most afternoons and Wendy also covers for me.
“Anyone who wants to be with cows 24 hours a day wants their head testing.”