The location of the Workman dairy farm near Carlisle has helped it to engage with the community says Sarah Liddle.

THE Workman family's Beeches herd is located close to the city of Carlisle, which in part has been the reason behind Matthew and his family’s investment in selling direct to the public with an on-farm vending machine.

However, this brings challenges, as the main farm – Beeches Farm – is located just south of Carlisle, while the longer-term plan is to relocate the milking herd to the new farm, which is four miles further south of this. Both farms have similar soil types being loam and sand based.

After foot-and-mouth in 2001, the family lost their herd of Holstein Friesians. When restocking, they purchased 36 Montbeliarde in-calf heifers from France through David Clarke Livestock, as well as a herd of Friesians from Scotland.

It has been a closed herd, except for the odd stock bull, and the policy has been to AI with Montbeliarde ever since. Matthew took over the farm in 2018 after his father Richard Workman passed away following a battle with cancer.

It was Richard’s foresight in 2001 that steered the change to the Montbeliarde breed. He was an avid supporter of Montbeliardes in the UK, attending open days, providing heifers for the society to show at the Dairy Expo at Carlisle and going on a couple of the Coopex trips to France.

The hope is that all cows can be moved to the new farm in two years having established a new dairy, on a greenfield site. The new farm runs to 200 acres and is ring-fenced and Matthew is confident “it is ideal for a grazing herd of Montbeliardes”.

The herd is calved all year round and surplus stock is sold through Harrison and Hetherington’s Borderway Mart at Carlisle, these being any black-and white coloured fresh heifers.

Annual milk production is 1.6m litres, which is from 181 in the milking herd. While cow numbers had remained static over the past 30 years, it is two years since Matthew made the decision to reduce cow numbers. He has found that going from 220 cows to the current number of 181 has improved lameness, fertility, yield, cull rates and feed conversion.

Alongside the milkers, there are 192 followers, with 109 bulls last year sold at 15-month direct deadweight to abp and 35 beef heifers are sold at 15 months old also through H&H, Carlisle. Calves are reared at The Beeches on an automatic feeder, before then moving at eight months to the new farm to be reared to 15 months.

Beef crosses and bulls are then sold while the heifers are brought back home and Matthew starts ai-ing heifers at 15 months, to calve on average at 24 and a half months of age. A Limousin stock bull is used to sweep up with heifers, while British Blue semen is used on the bottom 30 per cent and cows that are a struggle to get in calf.

The herd is now averaging 8732kg at 4.38 per cent butterfat and 3.47 per cent protein with a somatic cell count of 149, and milk is sold to Nestle through First Milk on a solids contract. Selling stock is enhanced by the herd's emphasis on health status, with the herd vaccinated for IBR and BVD, as well as being Johne's monitored under the guidance of Coomara vets.

The herd has a calving index of 370 days with a voluntary waiting period at 60 days, while conception rate to first service is 67 per cent. With the emphasis on improving performance driven by less pressure from overstocking numbers, the herd runs at 97 per cent with a mobility score of 0-1. The herd's highest yielding cow is currently Number 20, a Socrate-sired cow out of a Laval, who is 9 ½ years old and yielded 13,315kg in 382 days of milk in her last lactation.

With the farm acreage extending to 630 acres in total, just over 200 acres of this are used to grow all the barley and straw needed for the farm. Cows are generally turned out in April and are fed a TMR ration incorporating 2.9kg/hd protein blend, 2.6 kg/hd home grown and dried barley, 7.5kg/hd wholecrop barley, 28kg/hd first cut silage alongside 18 per cent parlour cake fed to yield.

Feed and nutritional advice is supplied by Carrs Billington, with Simon Nelson of Agrovista providing agronomy consultancy. Alongside Matthew, who runs the farm and is responsible for the vending machine, there are three employees, Raymond Maxwell, who does most of the milking and foot trimming, Tom Wright, who is tractor man and cow feeder, and Norman Downie, who is calf and young stock rearer.

When it comes to choosing bulls, Matthew looks for a positive beef value in most cases with a high ISU (a French index similar to PLI, which weights for production, health and fitness, type and muscularity), alongside good strong udder traits, good type and positives in milk, protein and butterfat, which means his current sires of choice are Owings, Noelcerneu and Nolimit.

Latterly, Matthew has used the farm's location and both his and his wife’s ability to engage with the public and children to promote the value of milk and dairy farming importance to the wider community. Admitting to having little time for hobbies, with four sons, Jamie, ten, Seth, eight, Rhys, six, and Ted, two, to keep him busy.

The farm also offers farm tours for school children and phonic lessons for infants, which are run by his wife Sarah. In the past 12 months trying to keep things ‘normal’ has been a challenge but Matthew has adapted and is now running farm tours virtually. A recent attendee made the following observation on a Facebook post: “I thought this was fantastic. You were both great with the kids and made sure that the whole event was interactive. Well done for finding a way to adapt your business so easily! Best of luck with everything.”

The farm has been selling fresh pasteurised milk to locals through the vending machine since early 2020 and, despite launching in a pandemic, The Beeches is on course in its first year to sell 105,000 litres of milk and milkshakes through the vending machine, as milkshakes were added towards the end of last year.

With more than 3,500 followers on the farm's Facebook page and a dedicated website created the farm is very visual and customer interacting as required in the current techno-driven era.