Victoria and William Newsham took responsibility for their father’s Lancashire dairy herd after he died in September 2019. Since then they have made impressive changes to management, improving productivity and efficiency to secure the farm’s future.
When Victoria Newsham and her younger brother William took over the running of their father’s Lancashire farm they were forced to ‘grow up quickly’.
They were just 24 and 21 years old at the time.
Both were employed on local farms, while also helping with the evening milking at home, but neither had experience of managing a farm.
Ribbleside Farm in Walton-le-dale, near Preston, includes 40.5 hectares (100 acres) of grass, plus other rented fields for extra grazing for the Holstein herd when needed.
Their father Christopher had lived there nearly all his life until he died in September 2019.
He was an intuitive, instinctive farmer, says Victoria.
Not one for collecting data, his decisions were based on experience and an in-depth knowledge of the herd.
The siblings reduced their hours with their other jobs when their father became ill, enabling them to spend more time on the home farm.
The siblings can both be stubborn, she says, and this proved useful with getting the business on an even keel including switching feed supplier.
It became clear they needed more information on what the cows were costing and producing and milk recording was the first step they decided to take.
With the support of ForFarmers adviser and account manager Marie Stephenson, Victoria started her own manual records of milk yields using a spreadsheet.
This enabled her to categorise the herd according to yield and stage of lactation, identifying the different groups of cows physically with coloured tape.
Their diets were then adjusted accordingly.
Victoria says: “Our parlour is still very old-fashioned, so we had to put in how much cake they get manually.” They started scrutinising their costings too.
With Marie’s help they collated past bills and milk receipts to compare outgoings with income.
Another early challenge was that their calving pattern had fallen out of line and the push was for an all-year-round calving herd.
Victoria says: “When we started out we had a gap in the calving pattern and it took a while for those cows to come back around.
“We put our dairy bull back in and started scanning to see what was in-calf and when they would calve.” With improvements to their feeding regime, it also meant heifers were ready at a younger age.
Victoria says: “We have worked hard to bring the age of heifers calving down to two-and-a-half years or slightly less if they are big enough.” The Newshams also started using artificial insemination (AI) and sexed semen with heifers.
This has been a success and they plan to increase use of AI over winter.
They also fine-tuned the existing herd, culling any problem cows.
Victoria says: “Like any farm, we had some repeat offenders for mastitis or foot problems which have now gone.” William’s main focus has been on grassland management, optimising the grazing for the herd.
Using soil sampling, nutrient management is really paying off.
Improving milk solids was another target and last year the Newshams decided to add some Jerseys to the herd, buying nine in-calf heifers.
Victoria says: “They have helped us increase our butterfat, but so have the feed changes made by Marie.” In particular, Marie introduced Optima Cream to the diet.
This contains a formulation to help restore the natural biohydration process which is involved in the synthesis of butterfat in the udder.
It typically boosts milk fat by 0.25% and the Newshams are pleased that their milk solids now average 4.09% butterfat and 3.23% protein.
Marie also encouraged the Newshams to have their silage analysed more regularly which meant a dramatic decrease in the amount of concentrates fed and increase in the amount of milk from forage.
Marie says: “Their forage is excellent, but they did not realise that.” The changes to feeding and management have all contributed to an uplift in yield and a better price for their milk.
Victoria says: “Dad was only getting 22 litres and we pushed it up to 30 litres last winter.
It has fallen a bit now they are out at grass, but we have a lot of dry cows at the moment, so once they calve it will pick up again.” Marie credits Victoria’s commitment to collecting data for their success so far.
She says: “Even though it is not by conventional means, it has really made a difference.
“It has taken a lot of time, but we could not have achieved so much so quickly without it.
“It is just wonderful to see young people investing in an agricultural business.
They do not have parents to guide them with it, but they are doing exceptionally well.” While seeing the figures improve is positive, Victoria says her biggest reward is seeing the cows thrive.
She says: “When I look around at my cows and see how well they look, for me that is a big thing.” In the future Victoria and William are keen to grow the herd.
Victoria says: “At the end of the day we are brother and sister and do bicker a bit at home, but with the business we make decisions together and work together really well.”