2018

Wow! Its been nearly a year since my previous post. That means Quinlan Farming has been in operation for nearly two years, and we’re still here!

As somebody who has returned to farming, what seems like a short time ago, I was thrilled to be invited to the Oxford Farming Conference as part of the emerging leader programme. Although the title made me feel like a massive fraud.

So having fed the cows, I boarded the 8am train for Oxford. The closer I got, the more farmers I could spot. Easily identifiable at the station emblazoned in tweed. Bits of straw in the hair were also a dead giveaway….

I have been to Oxford before but I can only assume I spent that time with my eyes close. I was in awe of the architecture and it provided a spectacular location for a conference. A welcome change from the norm.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the whole event. The calibre of the speakers was excellent. Even if they did provide a reality check, at times, to the changing eating habits of the population. Something we as farmers need to be mindful of. We can’t force people to eat meat and drink milk, but we can all promote it in our own way.

Michael Gove also announced that direct payments would continue until 2022. He also raised the point that payments to young people to enter farming are necessary As a result of payments based solely on owning land. As somebody who doesn’t receive any of these payments I’d rather see them phased out sooner but I appreciate others may need time to restructure their business. Other buzz words were “natural capital and “public goods”.

We also heard from people at the cutting edge of technology. With a run through from the hands free hectare manager. A hectare of arable crop planted and harvested by automated machines completely remotely.

As well as hearing from successful farm succession/diversification projects.

James Wong was also on hand with a plethora of statistics. My favourite of which was the price of a bottle of ‘raw’ water in California. Eye watering and probably stomach upsetting too.

I was also privileged to meet Princess Anne. She spoke very passionately about educating children about food and farming and I whole heartedly agreed with her. I used this opportunity to express the negative response I’ve had from M.Ps when discussing similar issues as i imagine she carries far more clout than I.

The conference also had drama. No. Not Matt Naylor wearing his converse trainers. During a sobering talk about health and safety on farm. The speaker produced a large part of his skull, decoratively framed as a reminder of his accident… an audience member collapses.

We were also treated to a comedian. Jim Smith. Hilarious. I’d watch him again in a flash.

Of course there was also access to other farmers and other members of the emerging leader programme. People who been in my position as a new business owner, and they were more than happy to discuss ideas and dispense advice.

So to sum up, if you get the opportunity, see the Oxford Farming Conference for yourself!

We also had drama at home. Our 3 year old has recently announced he doesn’t like cows, he only likes horses.!! No. The real drama was the beast from the east. A certain brand of newspaper reporters all high fiving each other. If you predict the same thing year on year. You’re bound to be right once!

We got away much more lightly than others. It was just a case of trying to keep water flowing to the animals. We didnt have the huge snow drifts to contend with. Just bitter cold.

2018 is the year we look to grow further. Planning permission has been granted for our guest accommodation. Meaning we’re able to make use of a redundant space above our garage. Targeting people on business in the area as guests. Providing an alternative to Travelodge life. So watch this space.

My wife has also made some tentative enquiries about care farming. Giving her the opportunity to combine her on farm role and also her day job as an occupational therapist.

We have also been able to add another 35 acres of rented land. 80 dairy beef weanlings are set to arrive at the beginning of april. Similarly to what we do with the dairy heifers, we will contract rear the animals. It requires little investment and we are able to have a keen idea how much we will make from the land. The plan is to cell graze. Achieving as much growth from grass as we can. Or as much as my grassland management skills will allow…..

We’re always keeping our eyes open for other opportunities to expand the business. So do get in touch with any weird and wonderful ideas.

As always you can keep up to date at @neilquinlan on Twitter.

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Year 1 done and dusted.

As of the 1st of May this year, our first year running the farm was complete. On the whole it went well. Apart from, in April, every piece of machinery we own needing some sort of repair of varying degrees of seriousness!!

It’s been a steep learning curve and I’ve been naive to the cost of some items. The ladies in the dispensary at the vets have had to wake me with smelling salts a couple of times after announcing the price of a tiny bottle of drugs. Fortunately in the years leading up to running our own business every meeting or conference  (especially positive farmers conference) has drummed  home the message of “low cost” and control spending. Something we’ve stuck to and any capital expenditure has to be shown to pay for itself.

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Grass management at times over the last 12 months has been tricky. We’d have spells of little growth and then a massive burst. It was very wet in the run up to turn out last year and we we’re swamped with grass when the cows eventually were turned out. I tried to get round our paddocks too quickly and ended up with stemmy regrowth. Something I’ve learned from and avoided this spring. Helped by the fact turnout was nearly a month earlier. With silaging taking place 2 weeks earlier as well. That was a relatively easy affair. Good growth. Good weather. Contractor came when called which I’m grateful for as we’re small scale!

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We’re continuing to rear the dairy beef cross calves and have increased group sizes to 10. So we aim to buy a batch and sell a 15 week old batch over the course of a month. Tb is a big worry with regards to this. I’d  like to keep some of these animals and rear them on grass but the 15 week turn around helps cash flow. 20170508_131032.jpg

Heifer rearing is still the core of our business. I’m grateful to the guys we rear for as they’ve been a great help over the last 12 months. As has Phil Clarke a local advisor at times helping to see the wood from the trees!

Our biggest restrictions going forward are winter housing and NVZs. We can accommodate only a few more animals before the need for more land to meet regulations.

So what are we going to do moving forward in to 2018? It’s currently a work in progress…..

More calves, more land, grass fed beef. Something that would need a lot of research on my part.

Farm tourism.

I need to ignite an entrepreneurial spark……..

Free Range

The free range debate still seems to be rumbling on over on twitter….

I fall in to the category of free range farmer I suppose. Our heifers “went out” in April 2016 and we still had some out in January of this year! We were feeding silage outside as the grass doesn’t grow at this time of year. It was also frosty, but the cows were happy. 20170105_100755.jpg

How do I know this?

Well if they weren’t happy they would be stood at the gate mooing their heads off!

So free range milk. A value added product in the age of a volatile market. Great I thought. That was until I watched Friday night feast on channel 4 who were promoting the product.

The connotations and insinuations that were made on the programme were very misleading. Housed cows are unhealthy and unhappy was the impression I was given. Not taking anything away from Jimmy Doherty as I think he has done a great job promoting British agriculture on the whole.

I take umbridge with this because, if done correctly, housed cows have been some of the happiest I’ve seen. Also due to the grass growing season of the uk “free range” cows will have to be housed for a portion of the year. So saying cows are unhappy etc when housed is damaging to the free range brand and the industry as a whole.

It’s not the system that defines the health and wellbeing of animals. It’s the person managing it. Same applies to organic.

So as a free range farmer what authority do I have to speak about housed systems? I visited America last year. I have to say I was concerned about what I would see on arrival at the farms I was visiting bur my fears were unfounded. 20160319_143356 (1).jpg

This was typical of the farms I visited and the cows were happy, contented and in peak health!

Here is our winter housing. A light airy barn in which we get very few health problems Again if these animals weren’t happy they’d literally shout about it! They are cleaned out twice a day and get fresh straw everyday and as much silage as they can eat! What’s not to like!?20170126_083144

 

 

So my point is not to persuade you away from free range. Far from it. I want people to have a choice. I just want it to be an informed choice.

In the uk we produce quality, antibiotic and growth promoter free, sustainable and traceable products. So if you see the red tractor on something you pick up in the supermarket you know this is the case as that farm has been inspected.

 

Anyway. Back to the day job.

Proper farmer!

I now feel fully qualified to call myself a proper fully fledged farmer. Having made a loss on a group of fresian bull calves. It was a rash experiment that I won’t be repeating and have definitely learned a lesson from!!!

I won’t be blockading outside cattle dealers for not getting a “fair” price. Poor decision making on my part were to blame, coupled with a fast approaching end to a pre movement Tb test and needing space for the neighbours heifers. The one saving grace was an Angus bull in the group did ok!

 

Following on from last time, the calf shed is now finished and animals are in!20161218_163741

 

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Getting the vetilation right has been an issue. The number of doors we have open depends on weather conditions at the time! I’ve visually been pleased with them. Our most recent batch have been in there as soon as they arrived so I’ll see if growth weights please me too….

 

 

We’re still looking for another farm based expansion plan to complement what we already have. As I’ve previously discussed, we’re only able to have animals from the farm we rear heifers for. So we’re quire limited. The beef calves we rear to 15 weeks all go to one chap, so I’m giving consideration to buying a few more per batch and hanging on to them and selling as stores. Although a consultant did recently tell me that beef farming is full of broken dreams……                                      I aim to remain vigilant this time. Have a good handle on costs. Start small and see how it goes. Otherwise it’s back to the drawing board.

 

All our heifers are houses now bar 37 in calf ladies. We’re feeding silage in the field as it is unseasonably dry here and would be a shame to bring them in. I’m definitely not complaining about that!

In the meantime the off farm building work continues. Most recently helping an ex dairy farmer diversify in to all matters equine!

It’s a week away from Christmas and in true man fashion I haven’t started my festive shopping yet. Our weekend help is too busy to help out in winter so I am very much looking forward to 2 days off after Christmas, visiting my mum in Chepstow leaving my wife in charge of the farm  Hopefully everything will be in order on my return. (Probably in better order!)

So I’ll take this opportunity to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a prosperous new year!

Winters coming.

It seems to have snuck up on me!

If you’ve read previously you’ll know we’re buying dairy beef cross calves with the intention of selling at 16 weeks old. They’re housed for this period. The snag with this is we are using the barn we rear the dairy heifers in.

So as winter has snuck up on me I’ve spent the last week hastily clearing another shed, and judging by social media so have lots of others!

8 years worth of junk had to go before I could even start breaking the concrete (if I’m honest I think the thought of that has delayed the start)

So it started like this, after junk that is!

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Then looked like this20160928_185252

Hopefully have it finished by next week! Just need to consider the layout!

Today we added 10 more calves to our personal collection.20160929_105243.jpg

The idea of the dairy beef came about as an extra income stream for the farm. The heifer rearing doesn’t  pay a full time wage. Equally it doesn’t take up full time hours. I thought the idea was going to be a non starter. Having bought 20+ plus calves to showcase what we can do, I struggled to find a buyer.  I was reluctant to use a market and wanted to find an integrated system ….. turns out that’d not that easy unless you can rear large batches. We can’t as we’re restricted to only having animals from the farm we rear heifers for. Understandable

Having lost all hope I’d resigned myself to taking a gamble at market, when the phone rang and a buyer was found! Not only that, we’ve asked if we can supply 8-10 each month. Which is fantastic.

This is another reason we’re more confident to invest in calf facilities. 8-10 might not sound many, but it’s a figure that our source can provide. Also we couldn’t house anymore as in theory we’ll have 40 on the farm at any one time. It was a twitter contact that came to the rescue and if I ever meet him in the “real world” the drinks are on me!

We still need another enterprise to make the place full time but I’m drawing a blank at the moment. Some sort of share farming maybe?

We’ve started weighing the animals. How can we manage what we don’t measure. Mostly on target. Although some animals born last winter have struggled and they’ve had the best of everything. So always room for improvement.20160910_172303.jpg

Talking of measure to manage. A plate meter is on the list for next seasons grazing . That’s the huge list of things to buy. That gets longer each day.

Since we started back in May the only item I’ve bought that didn’t cause me to suck air through my teeth, whistle and shout “HOW MUCH ” were tines for the haybob  a mere snip at £2.50 each.

 

Away from farming we had a family trip to Wales. Didn’t result in a friday night trip to A+E so it was hailed a resounding success. The sun even came out.

A good friend got married. The pre wedding drinks nearly finished me off. The last of our group to tie the knot. So its 40th birthday parties to look forward to next.

So as winter draws ever nearer I’ll spend the next few months worrying if we made enough silage…..

 

 

 

4 months in

So we’re a few months in to our new business venture and it has been a challenge so far !

We have divided each of our fields up in to more manageable sized paddocksOur aim is to maximise grass growth so we can also maximise the growth of our heifers from grazed grass and reduce bought in feed. There has been an element of guess work and using ” my eye ” to gauge grass cover and animal size. Although the weigh scales are on order!

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Grass growth so far this season has been all or nothing here. We’ve taken surplus grass off paddocks as round bales and also panicked that were getting short. Fortunately a couple of horse paddocks became available and saw us through. I also overestimated the amount of ground we needed for 2nd cut silage. Again a get out of jail free card. Our neighbour was looking for some standing grass and was happy to pay for it. So its been a steep learning curve.

It’s also been the first year we’ve made silage where the result of a poor crop would affect us financially. I’ve never checked the weather forecast so much Although the forecast seemed to change every 5 minutes. The sun shone and the rain came a9s the last bale was wrapped. 20160525_184552

It’s analysed well too. But of course nothing ever really goes according to plan.20160525_192426

The farm has become a real family affair. Sarah helps out in all her spare time and Thomas absolutely loves the cows and feeding the calves!20160605_091254

Unfortunately the number of heifers we’re rearing isn’t a full time job. At least not from a financial point of view . We’ve taken a punt buying some dairy cross beef calves from a neighbour. Rearing to 16 weeks old before selling on. Our first batch will be sold in 2 weeks so we’ll know if this has been worth while. 20160720_121658Another way to subsidise the business has been to work off farm. I have been doing some building work a few days a week. I’ve been lucky that a few building jobs have fallen in to my lap. Obviously in the long term  (or preferably short term ) I’d rather not do this but we need to find a way to dilute our fixed costs. 20160729_120149We’ve done a more accurate budget for the year and now it’s just a case of keeping an eye on projected versus real expenditure .

 

Last weekend we attended countryfile live as part of the #askthefarmer team. This was an amazing experience. Interacting with the public, the end user of our produce. Our customers. Telling them about what we do. Why we do it and showing our passion for the industry. A few simple questions answered in some cases allayed fears and corrected misinterpretations. Also promoting a quality product and championing our high animal welfare standards. 20160806_111509

There has been some controversy over farmers supporting countryfile as they believe that it’s a “farmer bashing ” programme. This is all the more reason for us to attend. To fight our corner and to rebuff the spurious claims made by charities and NGOs. This was a perfect opportunity to talk to the public, not farmer to farmer as is often the case at shows. To have achieved this level of promotion elsewhere would have cost a fortune where as this was effectively free! I’m proud to have been involved in the event and hope that we can turn the public support, of which there was masses, in to financial support. The public questioning supermarkets on the sourcing policy is far more effective than protesting outside a dairy. Living in a bubble moaning about townies is effectively ” doing a Ratner ” and we know how that ended