May 2016 - Time to Sheikh it up!

It’s not till you decide to leave somewhere that you look back and think ‘that has gone by bloomin' quick’!  You also inevitably question whether it’s the correct thing to do, especially if you live in an area which is ludicrously beautiful, with super-friendly locals and, a pub so good that even the ninety second walk back home is downhill! As for the job, it has been a fantastic opportunity to have worked with one of the largest dairy herds in the UK, a biogas plant and many (oh, so many) sheep!  So what I have learnt in the past three years?   

 

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I am completely driven by cow performance; I want to be in the top UK 10% for mastitis, fertility, lameness, calf rearing and profitability with zero Johne's, BVD and any other disease that insists on making life difficult for everyone. Fantastically, not only do I not like drinking milk but I also don’t like milking cows regularly!  Hence my lean towards large herd management.  I am well aware that getting into the top 10% of anything is truly difficult but the fun is always in the chase. 

As a trainee manager I therefore started excitedly with a suitcase full of ideas and most of them didn’t involve too much cost.  Coming from a history of small dairy farms, spending big wasn’t an option.  I think it took approximately 30 days for me to realise that trying to get a team of people to implement new ideas was a whole new skill set that I did not possess!   "Cows are easy, people on the other hand… sometimes I get home at night and I just want to eat my own fist".  This is what my boss had to say during my Interview and is something I won’t forget.  Three years on, after going through the company Trainee Management Scheme, visiting a variety of farms and regularly getting to talk to other farm managers, not forgetting the majority of time spent on farm, I have finally learnt to become more patient.  I know I have progressed a wee bit when I read CVs from people who claim they have the ability to identify problems and have the skills to get people to implement solutions which will have a direct positive impact on profit.  Excellent, let’s look at their previous experience…  Oh - there isn’t any.  Good luck!  This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given a chance I hasten to say.  

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Alongside the Training Scheme, I have also had the opportunity to gain professional qualifications across both agriculture and renewable energy, as well as receiving ongoing training for the usual suspects such as First Aid, Telehandler and RTV operations.  Ultimately experience is 'key' and the more involved you get with something, the better you will hopefully be.  As already well documented, I love dairy cows, I love growing forage, I love the veterinary side, I love the science behind it all and I never thought I would say this but, I love the challenge of trying to manage people.

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 It is impossible to write down everything that goes on, some of the funniest and most far-fetched stories simply cannot be told not least due the various repercussions that would inevitably follow!  I have learnt not to summon engineers to drive three hours and inspect a failure that didn’t exist.  I have learnt to stop the contractor mowing when getting 48 hours ahead of the forager in 30oC weather and, I have learnt that I cannot tell an employee what I really think of them!  Some of the highlights for me include operating on a broken front leg of a first lactation cow over two years ago.  Six weeks later she popped out a heifer calf and the cow is still going strong, now having completed three lactations and in calf to a fourth.  We have implemented Johne's, colostrum and, fresh cow treatment protocols which have resulted in a levelling out of Johne's incidence, improved calf health and, improved fresh cow health with, particular improvements in fresh calved heifers.  It is now the norm 'to graze cows on a rotational paddock system with weekly pasture walks, and all the herdsmen having an understanding of the system which has resulted in improved utilisation of our paddocks whether through grazing or silaging.  Our latest development involves a focus on transition and fresh cow health, using the data we collect on farm to track changes in health traits and having it all in one place, allowing a hunch to be backed up by reliable data e.g. an increase in milk fevers or reduced rumen scores.  

So finally, and as ever, I blame women for my life decisions!  I’m a fan of Meatloaf because my Mum made us listen to him endlessly in the car as a child, I can never go back to Canada for fear of bumping into a crazy ex, and my inability to hold down a girlfriend means I put all my energy into trying to construct a career I can be happy with.  Therefore the next logical step is bigger, more cows, more people, more experience.  Did you know there is a dairy herd totalling 94,000 milking cows in the middle of the Arabian Desert?  Well……I suppose it would be rude to not go and discover some new stories.