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Young Farmer Focus: Richard Downes, 21 - 'I knew from an early age agriculture was the career for me'

Richard Downes, 21, farms with his parents at Cilcert Uchaf, a 85-hectare (210-acre) holding rising from 650 to 1,000ft.

 

They moved to dairy farming from beef and sheep two years ago and produce organic milk from a herd of 90 pedigree dairy Shorthorns and New Zealand Friesian crossbreds.

Career: I grew up on a mixed livestock farm with pedigree Limousin and Limousin-cross suckler cows and pedigree flocks of Poll Dorsets and Lleyns. I knew from an early age agriculture was the career for me.

 

I would have come straight back to the farm after leaving school, but mum and dad wanted me to have the university experience.

 

I enrolled for a degree in agriculture, but the enjoyment lasted precisely one month as I quickly realised it was the practical side of farming I enjoyed and the course did not have enough of that for me.

 

That month was an expensive one, but leaving was the right decision.

 

Dairy: I was 19 when I joined my parents in the business and it was clear the beef and sheep system we had was not generating enough financially. We knew things needed to change to sustain stability and to provide the resources to invest in modern agriculture for the future.

 

I had spent three months working on a spring calving dairy farm and I knew this experience I could put into practice at home.

 

It was then I realised there would be a better future for us in dairying. I also saw it as an opportunity to improve our land, because with dairying comes the pressure to manage and improve the grassland more efficiently. We were starting with a blank canvas and decided autumn block calving was the best fit for the farm.

 

Sheep: To make room for the dairy enterprise, the beef herd had to go, and, to the sadness of my sister, a large number of the sheep too.

 

We lamb a smaller flock of 260 Poll Dorsets which we have winter sheared for the last two years, a practice that has worked well.

 

Ewes are housed from Christmas until lambing in mid-March. We sell our finished wether lambs on the Waitrose organic scheme through Dalehead Foods. Most of the ewe lambs are sold as registered ewes for breeding.

 

The farm has been an organic system since 2004, so we are now well used to relying on slurry and manure for grass growth along with regular reseeding and the use of nitrogen fixing clovers.

 

It has been a steep learning curve, but it has been a help to have had support of another dairy farmer, Eurig Jenkins, who farms nearby and is a mentor with the Farming Connect mentoring programme. He has given me great advice.

 

 

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