Ban IAB (It’s Always Been) syndrome

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Visiting farms in Scotland gives new perspective. On one farm, these crossbred calves are group housed with an igloo. (Dianne Shoemaker photo)

Jock Rome’s family has farmed the same farmstead in southern Scotland for more than 300 years. While they still milk cows and raise Galloway beef cattle, pigs, and black face sheep, Jock has taken a different approach to marketing than his parents and grandparents.

The original stone and brick farm buildings no longer house live cattle but have been renovated into a beautiful complex including a butcher shop, deli, and restaurant featuring their meats and vegetables, and a gift shop featuring local craftsmen.

An older gentleman with high energy, Jock met us at the butcher shop and treated us to tea, coffee and cakes along with the history and future plans for their farm.

People the key

With more than 1,000 acres and multiple production and retail enterprises, good managers and staff are key contributors to the Kilnford Barns Farm Shop and Ingleston farm success.

Historically, the farm milked 450 Holstein cows, but when faced with the prospect of building a new barn to accommodate the increasing size of their Holsteins, they made a unique decision. The Holsteins were sold, and they switched to “460 Danish Jersey cows in a flying herd.”

English is our common language, but they lost me with “flying herd”!

Translation: Only mature milking and dry cows make up their herd today — a flying herd.

Milked twice a day, the Jerseys average 51 pounds of 5.8 percent fat and 3.9 percent protein milk, which is marketed to Graham’s (Scotland’s largest independent dairy) on a Jersey Gold Top contract. Current milk price was 35 pence per liter or about $20.44 per cwt.

Jock indicated that some processors are starting to penalize for milk with less than 3.8 percent butterfat.

Danish Jerseys

The original Jerseys were sourced from Denmark and they go back regularly for replacement heifers. Why? The Danes are producing the type of animals that they desire, and with IBR in their area, they are able to breed the imported heifers and bring them into production without the health and reproductive issues associated with the disease.

The cows are all bred AI to Belgian Blue or Limousin sires. Current calving interval is 370 days. Both male and female crossbreds are raised and sold as finished cattle.

Currently, their butcher shop features Galloway beef, but they are considering offering some of the Jersey crosses along with some additional marketing.

Average size

The Ingleston herd is mid-size in the Scottish industry. Scotland currently has roughly 980 dairy farms with an average herd size of 180 head. Herd size ranges from 60 to 1,000 cows with few herds outside of that range.

Biggest challenge

One of the biggest challenges for dairy and livestock farmers in Scotland is winter stored feed. Tons (literally!) of grass and small grains are harvested as pasture, dry hay (limited due to weather) and haylage. Corn silage is highly desired, but a challenge to grow.

Ingleston Farm feels the additional $130 per acre cost to start corn under plastic is a sound investment and “our insurance policy.” In only one year out of seven would they be comfortable growing corn without plastic.

This is a special plastic that the corn actually grows through in about six weeks after danger of frost is over.

The farm has a small herd of 20 registered Galloway cattle, and purchases an additional 1,000 head of Galloway steers to finish each year. More than a third of these animals are marketed through their butcher shop.

The first group of this year’s steers had just been brought into a large, well-bedded pen two days before we visited the farm. They were not happy to see us as they had been grazing extensively. They are quite hairy and have to be clipped before they are sent to slaughter.

This was the only group of livestock we saw on many farm visits that did not like strangers. It is a testament to Scottish stockmanship that on all the other farms, even groups of finishing cattle that had been purchased from multiple sources and grouped together in the past several months were extremely calm, curious, and friendly.

Jock also explained that they purchase and finish around 1,000 blackface lambs each fall, finishing them on grass.

Six lambs a week are marketed through the farm’s butcher shop. The rest of the lambs are marketed to Sainsbury’s, a large United Kingdom grocer, for their “Taste the Difference” brand.

Willingness to change

Most farms that we visited had close relationships to these grocers and are very aware of changing consumer preferences.

Three hundred years of a family farming the same land. This farm could have fallen victim to what International Farm Management Congress speaker Charles Dudgeon of Savillo Real Estate Sales, referred to as “IAB”, or “It’s Always Been.”

The butcher shop and restaurant had always been a barn for housing live cattle. The dairy barn had always been for Holsteins. The farm had always sold their products to the wholesale market.

Look at the farm’s website at https://www.kilnford.co.uk/. See some of the ways that Jock Rome and his team of managers chose not to be limited by IAB thinking.

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