Metcalfe Farms, Leyburn, opened its gates for the NMR RABDF Gold Cup open day after lifting the award earlier this year. Hannah Park reports.
For 2018 Gold Cup winners Philip Metcalfe and family, an all-encompassing approach to cow health and welfare, as well as staff training and management, has paid off.
Owned and run by brothers David, Brian and Philip Metcalfe, Philip manages the dairy enterprise which is run over 525 hectares (1,297 acres) of the farm’s total 1,300ha (3,212 acres).
Alongside the 1,300-head pedigree Holstein herd and 850 youngstock, Metcalfe Farms also runs sheep and arable enterprises, as well as haulage and contracting firms among other ventures.
Herd numbers at Washfold have doubled in the last nine years, but crucial to the success of this process is the respective improvements which have been made to herd health and associated cow performance.
More cows also presented the need for Philip to delegate some of his day-to-day herd management responsibility, which led to significant focus put on staff training and management. This has allowed him to take on a more managerial role within the dairy enterprise.
A well-structured routine has now been established when it comes to recruiting new staff members, as well as providing a secure and comfortable working environment to retain the right members of staff once they are on board.
RABDF chairman and dairy farmer Mike King was one of the judges in last year’s competition and outlined some of the stand-out points which set the dairy operation at Washfold apart.
Speaking at the event, he said: “It was clear to see Philip, his family and the team at Metcalfe farms had a clear vision for the business and how they were going to deliver what they wanted to achieve.
“There was a great deal of attention to detail when it came to animal health and welfare, which in turn led to profits which have allowed the business to develop.
“A clear succession plan is also in place, with a large number of family members involved in the dairy and wider businesses.”
Expansion has been a key focus at Washfold for several years, but despite the associated complexities that go with this, herd health has kept pace.
Having worked with Philip and the team at Washfold on various aspects of the herd health programme, Phil Alcock, of Bishopton Vets, outlined some of the protocol now in place.
Central to success, he said, was getting the right people in the right roles as well as getting clear processes in place which the whole team were on board with.
One example he gave was around labour efficiency and consistency. In pursuit of achieving this, the farm took the decision when upping numbers to contract out some of its routine work rather than take on additional in-house herdsmen.
Speaking specifically on the vet tech services which Bishopton has taken on, Mr Alcock said: “Vet tech support services at Washfold have been in place for five years and sees genomic sampling, calf dehorning and weekly vaccinations carried out by our team.
“This system ensures consistency around these tasks, but crucially to Philip and his team, has meant we have freed up time for herdsman to focus on other, important areas of their work.”
Lameness management and the processes he and his team have worked with Philip to put in place was another example Mr Alcock discussed.
This sees Philip mobility score all the cows himself weekly, with a view to pulling any out which need attention to put forward for the foot trimmer, while also serving as a useful management exercise for him to view the whole herd.
KPIs around this have been put in place, including the target of having 98 per cent of heifers complete their first lactation with no lameness events and no lesions found on their feet. The figure currently stands at 95 per cent.
A TEAM of 35 are employed in the dairy at Washfold, the majority on a part-time basis, which sees a team of three in the parlour, alongside an additional two herding cows during each milking shift, done three times daily in the boumatic 72-point rotary parlour.
When the decision was taken to up cow numbers from 900 to 1,300, Philip, who was solely managing the herd himself at this time, decided to look at sharing some of his day today herd management responsibility among the existing dairy team and created ‘senior team’ roles in various areas.
Staff management procedures and protocols were put into place, with further vacancies created after the herd growth.
During the past 18 months, the farm has built up its current team of employees with the attitude and work ethic it is looking for.
Philip said: “After receiving a lot of enquiries about milking from people in the local area who were unconnected to agriculture, we took the decision to start recruiting from this avenue.
“It worked well, and our workforce now is made up of local workers, the majority of whom are from non-agricultural backgrounds.
“We are well-known in the area. We pay well, provide good equipment and facilities and a pleasant environment to work in.
“If someone approaches us, we will stay in touch, even if we do not have a current vacancy. This has led us to run a waiting list of local people who want to work for us.”
New starters receive an induction which covers the farm’s expectations when it comes to care of livestock and attitude, which Philip says has proved to be a useful tool to reference to in a disciplinary situation.
Progression for the right people is also something the farm is keen to provide, with staff manager, Aaron Armstrong, an example of this having worked his way up from working nights moving cows to his current role of overseeing the day-to-day running of the dairy.