New direction secures family business
Changing from a beef and sheep enterprise to dairy production has secured the future for one Cornish family farm. We spoke to Philip Kent of Carruan Farm to find out more.
Plans to radically change the farming enterprise at Carruan Farm near Polzeath began in 2019, explains Philip, who farms in partnership with his aunt and uncle Claire and Mike Parnell.
“We’d started to think about long term plans for the business as I have three children who at the moment all seem interested in farming. We wanted to ensure we had a long-term viable business and give the kids something to come back to.
“We’d considered buying another farm, but after careful research decided we would be better off investing in the farm we had. While a change in system is a significant investment, we believed the result would be a business which is profitable well into the future.”
Advice and forward-planning paid dividends
After making the decision to move into dairy production, they took advice from a farm business consultancy firm. “Taking external advice was a really important step. It helped us scrutinise our plans and establish what sort of system would suit us.”
During this stage, they also took advice from neighbours and members of their discussion group and looked at other new set-ups.
This led them to designing a grass-based, low input system which could run with minimal staff. “We had already become more interested in grassland management and reducing our reliance on bought-in feed, so it made sense to go for a grass-based dairy system.”
With plans firmly in place, the last sheep were sold in autumn 2019. Initially the aim was to begin milking in August 2020, but Covid delayed the start date. Instead, they started in January 2021, by which time they had just under 300 cows.
“We selected the cows based on their ability to cope with the farm’s conditions. Some of our furthest fields are nearly a mile from the dairy, so we wanted animals that can cope with this.”
Grassland management was also stepped up, with grass now measured weekly and regularly reseeded using a dryland mix containing chicory and plantain. During winter, silage is provided via a self-feed silage system. “This means using an electric fence and allowing cows to feed directly from the silage clamp. Not having to run machinery over winter to feed them helps to keep costs down”, says Philip.
Looking ahead with confidence
Over the next few years, Philip plans to continue refining the system. “While I grew up on a dairy farm, the last 18 months have definitely been a steep learning curve. But we feel confident we now have a system which will continue to be a viable business for years to come.
“Going forward, we plan to keep looking for opportunities for the next generation to get involved in the farm if they would like to. Making a substantial change to our system has been a big step, but it’s given us the ability to look at the future of the farm with confidence.”
Carruan Farm Facts
- 300 cows
- Average yields of 7,000 litres per cow
- 420 acres with 240 acres of grazing
- Grass-based system
- Autumn block calving
- Supplying Saputo on a solid manufacturing contract
- 2 full-time employees
Farmers are currently seeing the biggest changes in agriculture for more than 50 years. As a mutual insurer, we’ve stood by South West farmers since 1903 and through our Future Farming Programme, we are helping our Members and the wider farming community navigate the changes ahead in this transformative time.Future Farming Programme