Milking it - a dairy farmer’s diary by Pete Dutton
PUBLISHED: 12:52 14 July 2014
Most of the farming community will have heard of me because of my role within the National Farmers Union, but my main interest, hobby, life is dairy farming – and yes, on occasions it can rather take over!
We’re family, tenant dairy farmers in Balcombe, and would now consider ourselves to be an endangered species. This is because when I was a kid back in the Sixties there were 13 dairy farms in the village and now we’re the only ones left. When my father started just after the war he had 20 cows, which was about average for the time, and he then slowly started expanding the herd until by the time I took over we had 180 – now my son Guy runs it and has 360, producing more milk than the 13 original farms put together.
Our herd is run on a high forage system, which means we graze the pastures in the summer months then keep them in housing in winter when the fields are saturated, and feed them on silage which has been cut and preserved in the summer. We calve all our cows in the autumn, which means we produce the majority of our milk in the winter when payment for it is at its highest, a price mechanism which is put in place by the dairy companies to ensure an even milk supply throughout the year. Winter milk is much more expensive to produce because we have to supplement the silage with expensive concentrates.
In the coming months I will try to give you an indication of what’s happening down on the farm. The cows were turned out into the paddocks last month, and there’s no more heartening sight than watching the cows go out for the first time. They all act like spring lambs, kicking their heels, rubbing their heads on any old convenient tree or earth bank – even the old girls are running about, their udders swinging from side to side, milk squirting all over the place. It’s enough to bring a smile to the face of even the most grumpy old farmer (which I’m often accused of being). Case in point: I was lying under an old tractor the other day trying to knock out a rusty pin with a hammer when I managed to hit my thumb. After accusing the tractor of having no known father and one or two other expletives, my daughter pronounced me a “grumpy old sausage.” She then continued: “I bet Matt Baker or Adam Henson wouldn’t have sworn.”
“I bet they do when the cameras switched off,” came my response. “And anyway, real farmers don’t do ballroom dancing!”