THE BLOG

A Newcomer to Dairy Farming

26/04/2013 17:47 BST | Updated 26/06/2013 10:12 BST

I'm already half-awake when the soft ping of my alarm nudges me to get out of bed. It's four o'clock and there's a ninety minute drive to the farm, so I need to get going. I quickly pull on some old clothes and head out into the dark, frosty morning.

For me, it all started four years ago when I offered to help out a friend on his dairy farm for the afternoon.

My background is in the high-tech sector where I'm a software developer and technical director of the hosting company I co-founded - hardly natural farmer material! With no family farming connection, on that first day I knew next to nothing about cows, but despite the steep learning curve I was surprised how much I loved working with them, and how much I enjoyed the job in general.

My mentor showed admirable patience with the antics of his new apprentice, and I was hooked right from the start. Days off were soon synchronised to the dairy farming timetable, leaving home at the crack of dawn to be there in time for morning milking, and rolling back late at night, grubby, knackered but brimming with enthusiasm for the new world I'd discovered.

Each milestone was a proud moment, from mastering simple jobs like putting out straw with the loader tractor or filling the feeder wagon, to big firsts like calving a cow or milking on my own. As time went on, I started going to local talks, events and courses, got trained-up in foot-trimming and breeding, and last year I was excited to take part in the inaugural Fresh Start Dairy Academy aimed at mentoring new entrants like me.

Most of my non-farming friends are amused and baffled by my change of direction, but as a newcomer I've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of support and encouragement from friends and others within the industry.

It's a highly skilled job and I still have a daunting amount to learn, but I'm really enjoying working to build that experience. As I do that, I'm becoming ever keener to build a farming future and milk my own herd one day.

Arriving at the farm, I pull on my overalls and boots, and head to the calf barn to say hello. The farmer has been up since five o'clock feeding the heifers and older calves, and is now bucket-feeding milk to the youngest calves. I meet, feed and enthuse about our newest arrival, a beautiful black and white heifer calf born late the previous night.

It's time for milking - a job for me this morning. I get the parlour ready and together we fetch the first cows so I can make a start. The girls are always good company and as they amble in, they carefully examine me to check if my clothes have become edible before competing to steal my hat.

I like milking. It's a precise, familiar routine at the heart of every dairy farm, and also a twice-a-day opportunity to spend time with the cows. Farmers and herdsmen inevitably get to know their charges well. Being aware of each animal's character and normal behaviour, watching them is a great opportunity to check they're happy and healthy, spot cows who are ready to breed or close to calving, and catch any problems early.

Despite its length, somehow the working day never has enough hours in it. After milking, the morning flies by in blur of parlour washing, scraping out, feeding and bedding down cows, cleaning the milk tank, and preparing and bagging-up calf food.

When we've finished our lunch, the afternoon is just as busy and fleeting, and we hardly seem to have started before we're back in the parlour for evening milking. As eight o'clock arrives, we finish up washing down the parlour, clean off our boots and head in for tea.

If you want to find out more, why not take a look at the virtual farm on http://www.thisisdairyfarming.com/ - a site all about dairy farming in Britain?