Successful expansion requires a focus on efficiencies
Hall Farm, a 550-acre farm near Thirsk in North Yorkshire, has been in the Wise family for over 60 years, but the addition of a newly agreed share farm in 2016 has seen Brian and son, Philip, develop a new focus on business expansion and efficiencies.
“Consolidation of two units requires a new approach to the management of the business, and we need to make sure that we benefit from the economies of scale that a larger farm offers,” explains Philip.
As a stand-alone business, Hall Farm was already performing well. Comprising of sheep, beef and arable, with B&B pigs when in demand, as well as a contracting business, Brian and Philip worked together to ensure that every enterprise was monitored and performance measured. There was also a need to expand to build a robust business for future generations.
“We love what we do and aim to do it to the best of our ability, but we know that change is needed to take this business forward. Standing still isn’t an option. So, when a share farm opportunity was offered to us, just a few miles away, we did our sums and decided to take it on.”
Prior to the share farm, Hall Farm carried an 80 Simmental cross suckler herd, a 15 head Simmental pedigree herd, which goes under the ‘Swaleside’ prefix and bulls sold through Thirsk market, along with 150 Texel cross sheep which lamb in January and another 200 which lamb in March.
They switched to the Texel cross three years ago because they felt that was what the market place was demanding. “You have to be adaptable,” says Brian. “It’s no longer OK to just be good enough. You need your stock to be top quality, to stand out in the ring. Where we sell, white headed sheep were getting a £10-£15 per head premium. The Texels offer good growth rates and excellent conformation.
“At the new farm we have around 650 North of England Mules. We took it over with stock, and the Mules are suited to the hilly land at the farm. We also have 90 suckler cows, which are Hereford Holstein crosses. We are gradually changing the breeding programme there to Limousin, a breed we feel is better for the marketplace and offers efficient growth.
“Nutrition is an area we constantly review, as it accounts for a major proportion of the costs and plays such a vital role in animal performance. The farms are very different, so we have to consider how best to manage the land. Hall Farm is very sandy, and the early lambing works well as the grass has a tendency to burn off in a dry year. It is also good arable land, so we have more options. The share farm is 440 acres of permanent grassland, less productive, higher ground and, in terms of trace elements, more deficient.
“We feed depending on age, requirements and feed availability. The store cattle are creep fed from September and finished intensively. The heifers are fed silage and concentrates, lucerne and grass. Cows are fed grass, silage and concentrates with some hay.
“The early lambers are out at grass and fed concentrates. Once the lambs are 10 days old they go on the stubble turnips, creep feed and grass.
“We try to keep it simple but, when we took over the new farm, we felt the stock was just lacking lustre,” explains Brian. “We just couldn’t get the cattle to flesh up and fertility was struggling. So, we got the vet to do some testing and found the stock’s diet was deficient in iodine, selenium and copper.”
This led to the Wise family looking at ways in which to connect this. “We don’t have the man hours to be on both sites at all times, so needed a system that would give us peace of mind. A slow releasing bolus was the obvious choice as it ensures a consistent supply of the minerals over a set period of time – so it’s easy to manage. We knew we had to get on top of this problem, before it cost us a lot in reduced productivity.”
“We had the cattle in for a routine check, so applying the bolus was easy, and what a difference we saw! The animals performed better on the grass, and the shine on the coats just showed us how much better these animals were, and probably felt too. The calves were stronger as a result of the mothers being stronger animals and having more milk. This meant their condition improved, growth increased – it was so much easier.”
“We also did the lambs this year and the energy and bounce they had was incredible. We were so impressed that we have decided to use Pardevit®, a trace element and vitamin supplement for new born lambs, when we lamb in January. Getting lambs off to the best start right from birth pays dividends.”
Brian summarises, “I think it’s all too easy to ignore trace elements, but having seen the stark difference in animal performance, we are convinced that ensuring the animals’ needs are met will pay off in ease of management, reduced health costs, better growth and fertility and better farm returns.”
Animax products used
*In 2019, plans to use at birth and again six weeks old – using drench as a shorter lasting product until lambs are big enough to bolus.