Even while he was in hospital having his hip done, Tim Gibson got a request to be involved in an ice cream enterprise. What followed surprised even him.
I had been looking at an ice cream venture but the timing was wrong. Shortly afterwards, I was approached again by the people who, in the end, bought the ice cream business and we came up with a way we could work together.
For those not familiar with it, the ice cream is known as ‘Brymor’ and was set up by the Moore family, who farmed near to me at Masham. Sadly, Robert Moore passed away in autumn last year and the farm had to be sold.
At the time I looked to move the ice cream business and cows to my farm, but being on a quiet road I decided it would be unsuited to getting a lot of passing trade. A local businessman with his own tourist attractions came forward and bought the ice cream business, and he also leased back the site where the ice cream was made along with its public parlour and cafe.
This was at the eleventh hour before the farm was set to complete, and their intention was to still disperse the cows and then buy in Channel Island cream and milk to make the ice cream. This proved harder than they imagined as the processing was all set up for milk coming from the farm’s own herd every day and not in wagon loads being delivered in.
The initial brief was to move the Brymor herd from its farm in Masham by March 27 to its new location.
I was in hospital around February 18, having just had my hip replaced, and a message came through that the buyers wanted to talk to me urgently with a business proposal. The day I got out of hospital they came to see me with their issue that the milk was still needed, but in less than a month the farm was completing and the cows had to be gone by then.
I had a few days when recovering to consider how we could help and what I would need to do if it was to be viable for us both. On March 1 we agreed on a deal by which we entered into a share/contract farming agreement with Brymor Limited which leased the site, owned the plant and equipment, took over the ice cream business and bought the pedigree herd of Guernsey cows.
My part is to contract milk and house the herd on its behalf, and see the milk is delivered back to the processing site six miles from me each day. We have agreed on a sustainable milk price per litre which allows us to do this for them. The herd remains theirs and, in the same way as cow leasing works, the replacements are their own cost, as is the rearing of them.
The semen and AI is also for their account, so the calves are theirs when born and the cull cows also. I have a set number of cows to keep in milk and control the replacement rate to ensure this. The agreement has been fixed for three years to give both sides some security on the one hand of supply and the other for the investment needed. So on March 2 this year we had a huge task facing us.
The initial brief was move the Brymor herd from its farm in Masham by March 27 to its new location, keep the milking herd milking and house the young stock. In all about 200 extra mouths to house and feed in just over three weeks. Not to mention install a robot to milk them with, cubicles, and feed for them to eat.
Installing the robot...
As it happens on that day I had a digger booked to start digging foundations for the new house we are also building, but instead of foundations the digger was re-directed to my dry cow building where a slurry channel, reception tank and robot base needed to be dug out. I worked out what needed to be built, drafted some drawings and left the builder to get on with it, while we had to devise ways to work around them as my dry cows still remained in the building and needed to be fed over the top of the digging work. I then needed a robot and fortunately had one to sell for a client that fitted the bill. It came with a tank and controls so it could be set up as a separate unit on my own farm but not connected to my own system as the milk from this group has to be kept separate.
The next thing to get were portable cubicles and some feed silos, a small mixer wagon to back into a narrow passage and a milk tanker to transport the milk. All of these were found on eBay and promptly purchased. The whole team came together and delivered. My dry cows were turned out in slurry channel finished and portable cubicles for 90 were placed in where loose housing was previously.
The last pour of concrete for the robot control room was on Monday, March 23, and it was safe to walk on by the Tuesday afternoon when the robot was placed in position and the ‘installation’ could start. Milk lines, air connection and communication was all installed and finished off on the Wednesday and the cows arrived on schedule on March 26, just four days after the last of the concrete was laid. Having three weeks for doing everything meant buying all used equipment there and then as nothing we needed would be on the shelf, so to speak. The cows settled into matted cubicles and onto a TMR ration based exactly on what they had been getting previously.
Big bale silage was initially bought in to feed them in an old tub mixer wagon. I may add I was on crutches this whole time and only came off them two weeks after the move. During the summer we extended the silage pits to make room for more forage for 300 cows year round. All the silage will now be outside, enabling two indoor silage pits to be used for the winter housing for the dry cows which will run communally from both herds together in two groups. A few months on now and things are running well.
Brymor Ltd has enjoyed a busy summer and gained a lot more retail and wholesale customers. In turn it needed more milk, so we are starting to push the cows a bit more to enable this. The target is to produce more than 5% fat and the herd has exceeded this right through which is pleasing. We fear the cubicles we put in are not suited to the cows and so being portable they are coming out to make way for straw loose housing for this winter. Fortunately we have an abundance of straw and we can see how well that works.
Speed was of the essence because of the tight deadline before the Guernseys arrived on farm.
Heifer rearing of the Guernsey herd was overcome by putting them out on contract to a local former dairy farmer who has done a good job with them.
There was quite a surplus of heifers and the owner preferred to reduce some overhead cost and sell some yearlings which went exceptionally well through a sale in Exeter in September. Selling some heifers has split the remainder into a spring block for next year and some to bull for the year after. I plan to have more cows running on in summer out at grass, and culled prior to housing each year, then calving down new heifers in spring each time.