Rotary milking parlour

Starting a farming business close to the family farm

Cornish Mutual Member, Heydon Dark, took the opportunity to start his own dairy herd when a 100-acre farm came up for sale within 3-4 miles of his family farm in Cornwall.

His father runs an all-year-round calving herd of 200 high-yielding Holstein on a robotic system with Heydon’s uncle. The business is well staffed, involving one of Heydon’s brothers, so Heydon recognised it was unable to support another family member and found his own place.

Originally, Heydon had about 20 cows integrated with his neighbour’s herd on a ‘rental’ basis, with Heydon owning the resulting calves. Since then, he’s built the herd up over the last four years, importing 76 Holstein Irish Friesian cross cows from Ireland.

He now milks 100 cows on his own farm, aiming for a production level of 7,000 litres/cow. Using a similar, more conventional system to his neighbour, Heydon’s herd calves in the autumn and is pasture-based. It’s also a flying herd so all cows are served to beef with calves sold locally at Truro market for others to bring on.

His future plans include filling his cubicle shed to its maximum of 160 but is restricted by the amount of land he has available. His 100 acres are split evenly between a 50-acre grazing platform and 50 acres for silage and Heydon is looking to rent additional land as and when the time is right.

As a young farmer running his own business, he values the proximity of family for advice and support. As well as the high-yielding herd run by his father and uncle, another uncle runs a contrasting New Zealand-style spring-calving herd on herbal leys. “My family makes a good sounding board and I like sitting between the two types of system,” remarks Heydon.

“I’ve really enjoyed putting my own ideas in practice but the cost of setting up has been hard,” he says. “The many things you take for granted as simply being there on another farm, aren’t when you start from scratch. But I encourage others to be brave and back themselves. Start with a strong business plan. My confidence and deep knowledge of the figures I put together went down well with the bank manager. He could see I had the ability and has been nothing but supportive.”