Preparing for the challenges ahead

Improving cow tracks and infrastructure are helping the Tucker family improve their business further as they prepare for the future at their spring calving herd in Devon.

Three years after joining as a strategic dairy farm, they wanted to streamline operations and establish a system that could be replicated on another farm if the opportunity arose.

Investments in cow tracks and mobility scoring helped reduce lameness from around 20% to less than 5% and stamp out an issue with White Line disease. As well as cost and time savings, walking speeds have increased when the cows come in for milking.

Improvements around dry cow and transition management have helped to tighten the calving block with 82% calved in the first 3 weeks an improvement on the previous year at 78%.

See Ditchetts Farm's key performance figures

Regular grass measuring was introduced by Brenda Tucker 20 years ago and helped build the business when they had limited capital. The weekly grass walk is an institution that has been passed to her daughter-in-law and allows them to plan for grass growth and respond to current conditions.

A loose housing shed constructed five years ago will be converted to cubicles this autumn in preparation for winter housing. As with previous investments, this will simplify management and save bedding costs to protect them from rising straw prices in the future.

Planning permission has also been granted for a 1,700 cubic metre gravity fed slurry store which will offer five months’ worth of storage. Making the most of slurry will reduce fertiliser costs and allow for timely application across the farm as well as future proofing the business to comply with future slurry storage and usage regulations. 

Reflecting on their time as a strategic farm, Richard Tucker said: “We've always valued working with discussion groups, so it’s great to be able to give something back to other farmers.

“Being part of the programme has helped stopped complacency, made us focus and opened us up to be really challenged on our plans in order to gear ourselves up for the future.”

Read about Ditchetts Farm's past meetings

What makes a top-performing farm?

At Ditchetts final strategic farm meeting, Andersons Consultant Tony Evans spoke about the characteristics of top performing farms and highlighted two which he believes are most important:

  • Having a very clear business vision and develop it with everybody who is involved. That’s not only those who have capital at stake, but staff and others that support the business too such as your vet, accountant, and solicitor
  • Prepare a clear business plan to ensure you can operate competitively and make sure there’s a market for your product that pays the price in your budget. Then keep an eye on delivering it and after that prepare a new plan and go again

Tony said: “Always focus on the detail, optimise not maximise because you can’t control all the variables. The loss of BPS is a concern, but it’s an opportunity to look at your business and find ways to be more efficient.

“Don’t make decisions on the back of recent issues. Look at performance across the years before investing. You wouldn’t put money into a business without getting a return so always aim high. A minimum of 10% will help shield you in a bad year.”

Tony's key factors for dairy farm performance

Explore our other strategic dairy farms

Dairy farmer standing in front of a shed for housing cows