In January my husband and I began farming in our own right, taking on my parent’s multi-coloured suckler herd of British Blue cross and Limousin cross cows. As ‘New Entrant’ farmers with a modest piggy bank, and being tight Yorkshire folk, every penny invested had to be carefully planned.

We’ve moved from short-term rented buildings to a small farm and have had to adapt a lot during the first six months of business. So what would we recommend to others who are just starting out? Here’s our top five small investments for New Entrants:

Get basic nutrition right

Historically the herd had experienced slow calvings from subclinical milk fever so we needed to see how well the forage was providing for them. We blood sampled a selection of dry cows for a metabolic profile and tested the quality of the forage. Extra magnesium and protein was required which was provided as a dry cow nut. Subsequently, the cows calved without a hitch and had plenty of good-quality colostrum.

At turnout we tested the grass for free using industry funding. It revealed surprisingly high mineral levels but also high molybdenum which was binding copper. The calves had loose faeces and light hair around their eyessigns of copper deficiency so were injected with a supplement and the cows received a bolus. Soil sampling is next on the to do list for the SFI. Like many, despite carefully strip grazing, the grass stopped growing in early June and we have been eating into our winter silage

Safe handling equipment

Both the farm and our day jobs rely on us being injury free and we often work alone with the cattle so safe handling facilities were a priority. Our calving gates were a game changer. With some food to tempt the cow in and a long side gate, we could efficiently secure a cow by ourselves. They have been particularly useful for PDing, vaccinating, checking udders, applying iodine to calf navels with the cow safely restrained and disbudding.

Measuring

We took the Goldilocks approach to feeding indoors. Too little-the cows don’t get the right nutrients. Too much waste money and risk running out of feed before the next delivery. So a £5 battery-powered holiday luggage scale was used to weigh every bucket of pellets

Similarly, for the first time, every calf was weighed at birth to kick start our growth rate records. A blue barrel was cut in half to make a cradle and two straps connected it to a small crane scale on the front to the tractor loader. A weigh tape has been used for subsequent measurements.

CCTV camera

We purchased a FarmStream CCTV camera which sent live footage of the calving sheds to an app on our phones. These have become much more affordable recently and have many farming-friendly functions. We can’t be with the cows all day and they were housed away from home so being able to check them remotely was both piece of mind and a sleep saver! We could see when one was calving and also when a couple of cheeky old girls decided to escape!

Not where they are meant to be!

Education – learn and pass it on

Being brought up farming only serves as a launch pad, there is so much more to learn and farming is always changing.
My most useful free Winter webinar was a really practical talk delivered by the SRUC on suckler cow nutrition. Remember, libraries aren’t dead – there’s lots of helpful books on agricultural business planning for those looking to tender for an FBT. In-person discussion groups are back in full swing and I really enjoyed my first Women In Dairy meeting last month listening to our own Claire Whittle discussing how ecology and farming go hand in hand.

I am a member of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire group and hope to pass on what I have learnt over the past 2 years to other young farmers through their new training course on preparing to tender for an FBT. The next big job is PDing the cows to see how well they have held to AI and embryos before putting out the Limousin sweeper bull. Fingers crossed!