What does it take to become a successful dairy farmer? We spoke to two experts to find out. 

To be a success in dairy farming, you have to know your stuff. That’s easier said than done, however. With the number of dairy farms falling across the UK, how can you make sure your farm carries on putting food on the table.

The answer lies in the community. The dairy farming community is stronger and closer than ever before, with opportunities for the sharing of know-how and techniques flourishing both online and offline. 

We touched on this when we spoke to dairy farmers William Maxwell and Mathew Crossman to try to pick their brains on what they thought were the most essential pieces of advice for achieving success in dairy farming. Here’s what they told us.

Know the playing field

You should always stay aware of what other farmers are doing. Make time to visit other farms, especially those that operate differently from your own – these are the ones that are the best sources of new ideas to take back.

You may think the way you do something is the best it’s going to get. That is until you spot someone doing things another way. This really could be anything: from a latch on a gate to the layout of a calf shed.

Listen to advice

Never turn your nose up at free advice. After all, what do you have to lose? On the other hand, when it comes to paying for advice, be very careful about who you choose.

Mathew Crossman tells us, “‘I have learnt so much over the years by attending ‘Grazing Groups’ and inviting farmers/professionals to look round the farm to suggest improvements. This can bring fresh ideas to the farm and help take the business forward.”

Don’t isolate yourself

A farm can never be a one-man show. Working with others inside and outside the farm is always a smart move for your business.

William Maxwell told us: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a 1,000 cow farm or a 40 cow family farm. Listen to and communicate with vets, nutritionists, advisors or even just the neighbours who drop in for a chat. Every pair of eyes sees your farm differently to you!”

Take a break

Remember: you have a life outside work. You might feel like dedicating 100% of your time to the farm is the best way to maximise your profits. But this can often do more harm than good. Burnout and stress are not profitable, and that’s why it’s vital to give yourself time to unwind.

William Maxwell advises farmers to “take time out for at least one holiday in the year, time to switch off and unwind, go out for a meal, to the cinema or a concert.

Plan often and well

Mathew Crossman pointed out that creating a plan for the farm is a great idea: “A 3-5 year business plan for all aspects of the farm can give everyone direction and goals to work towards.”  That plan should be reviewed at least once a year, ideally with a professional who can act as a neutral third party and offer advice.

Be ready to adapt

You may be out in the sticks but that doesn’t mean you have to be a stick in the mud. The best farms are those that are always adapting. The industry doesn’t stay the same for long, so why should your farm? Always be ready to respond to changes in your business and the industry.

Focus on your strengths

Farming requires so many different skills, and very few of us can be masters of all of them.

According to Mathew Crossman, “Farming requires so many different skills and I don’t know many farmers that can do it all themselves. So admitting you’re not an expert in certain fields can be a positive thing! My weakness would be nutrition so I always work closely with our nutritionist and stick to what he says.”

Beware trends and fads

Finally, you’re a farmer; you’re no sheep. Maxwell is keen to warn against being taken in by fads in farming: “Don’t be swayed by ‘trends’ and ‘fashions’! By all means consider them and if they might help you give them a try, but don’t do something just because the two farms either side of you are doing it!”  

Looking to others

Your farm doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The dairy farms that are the most successful are those that are most ready to look to others for advice and ideas. You can think of it as a time-saving exercise. You might not have the time to learn about each and every new technique in farming, but by considering others’ successes and failures, you can efficiently tweak your farm to perfection. This is how you can stay ahead of the curve and be ready for anything this industry throws at you.

Over to you!