Meet the young farmer experimenting with New Zealand-style dairy management near Doncaster

Twelve thousand miles and one thousand dairy cows formed the basis of how one young South Yorkshireman’s farming career was to develop, but only after coming back to the UK and experiencing other sectors including work with sheep, pigs and arable.

Jon Kirby, in his mid 20s, is now fully committed to his future in dairy farming. He is currently at Misson Farm in Bawtry where he is assistant dairy farm manager for a herd of 550 milkers when at peak production and recently received a bursary from the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Future Farmers of Yorkshire to pay for his Entrepreneurs in Dairying course.

Jon said he feels he still has a lot to learn about dairy farming before taking on managing a farm in his own right but that the course he attended through Zoom gave him further useful information.

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“The course looked at milk contracts and budgets. It gave me an insight into the business and financial considerations of dairy farming. It was my farm manager who put me forward. I’m eager to improve and progress when the time is right.

Jon Kirby at Misson Farm

“It was whilst I was at Askham Bryan College when I realised that I enjoyed working with cows more than anything else and we had a guy talk to us about working in New Zealand which really interested me.”

Jon applied for a position on a dairy farm on the south island of New Zealand in the most southernly area, near the town of Invercargill. Jon said it was a great experience.

“I went out there one month after finishing college and stayed for two years. I really enjoyed it. The guy I was working for had two dairy farms. One had 450 cows on one side of the road and the other had 550 cows and had a rotary milking parlour.

“The cows were kept outside all year as the climate is reasonably warm and the countryside similar to the west coast of Scotland. I could have stayed out longer but I found it was limited for socialising and that’s what really brought me back.”

Jon spent two years working in New Zealand

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When Jon returned to Yorkshire he decided to take up a job milking sheep for farmer Chris Heslop at Crosper Farm near Spofforth rather than another he had been offered on what he terms a New Zealand-style dairy farm in Stokesley.

Jon said he made the decision for variety. “It was another learning curve. I’ve always enjoyed learning new things and this was milking sheep. I just fancied it as something different and I learned loads there.

“It was a mixed farm where I was involved with the milking of 400-500 sheep and there were another 300 commercial ewes producing lamb, a smallish herd of suckler cows and they contract farmed 1,500 acres of arable land. I undertook a lot of tractor driving and sheep work and was there two years.”

Prior to taking on his role at Misson Farm, Jon said he had just under a year on a pig farm at Povey Farm with Stephen and Karen Thompson.

“They’re in north east Derbyshire and operate as Moss Valley Farm Meats. They had 200 sows and were fattening all their own stock. It was another part of my farming education, another sector, but it was while I was with them that I decided a New Zealand-style dairy farm was where I wanted to be.

“I’d always preferred cows to sheep or pigs when I had first gone to the council-run Graves Farm in Sheffield after I’d left school. They had grown on me during college and having made my decision to look for a dairy farming position I applied here at Misson.

“The dairy farm is based within a big, organic farming estate that grows vegetables such as broccoli, parsnips and beetroot and cereals. Misson Farm is rented from it and runs to around 1,000 acres.

“It is still a relatively new dairy farming operation that started from scratch and I’ve been here two and a half years. The owner also has other dairy farms.”

Jon said that the dairy herd is largely made up of British Friesian-cross cows with some Norwegian Reds and some Jersey crosses. Where it fits with his New Zealand dairying experience is that the cows graze outside throughout the year.

“Misson is a very dry farm with quite sandy soils that are forgiving in the winter, although there are some that are heavier in winter. So long as we are careful where we send them they will stay out except for calving and milking.

“We are trying to find exactly the right cow that suits our system and the farm. We need them fairly hardy and with good food conversion. Before I started we had Holstein in the herd but we have been gradually selling those as they weren’t working.

“Our grazing herd is at 340 milking at the moment as we are starting to dry off for spring calving that starts at the end of February. We AI for six to nine weeks using a mix of British Friesian, Norwegian Red and Aberdeen Angus.”