We had always had the ambition to farm in our own right, but were finding it almost impossible to get the start we needed. In 2010, we heard through a family friend that Max and Jenny Burrow may be looking for someone to go into some kind of share farming agreement with them. We didn’t know Max and Jenny at all, but one day knocked on their door and introduced ourselves….
Towards the end of 2011, we received a phone call from Max at around 9 o’clock at night…at this point Tom was milking for a farmer who started milking at 3am so was fairly sleepy! Max told Tom that his current farm worker was leaving and that he would be advertising for another, with a view to share farming in the future, in the following day’s Farmers Guardian.
The next day we talked about whether this would be an option for us. We were desperately trying to make a start for ourselves in farming but with little capital behind us and a young family it was looking increasingly like it would never happen. Tom going to work for Max and Jenny would mean moving nearer to the farm so would have a big effect on all of us. We had all but talked ourselves out of it but then both decided that we should perhaps go and see Max and Jenny again.
Another trip up the steep hill to Whin Yeats for a cup of tea and a look round the farm. Tom was impressed with the cows and felt he shared the same values of Max and Jenny – that the welfare of the cows was vital in any farming business. Max and Jenny were equally happy with Tom and so it was agreed that Tom would come and work at Whin Yeats.
In December 2011 Tom started, travelling each day from Garstang. In January 2012, we all moved from Garstang to Kelker Well, a barn conversion that Max and Jenny had previously had as a holiday let, just up the road from the farm.
At around the same time, we had applied through the Cumbria Famer Network to be part of a training programme from The Prince’s Trust. This was aimed at people who were trying to make a start in farming, and consisted of a short course in business set up and management and access to an advisor to develop a business plan which could then be use to access funding in the form of a low interest loan from The Prince’s Trust. This was then followed by ongoing support from a business mentor.
The funding we received allowed us to start to buy heifer calves from Max and Jenny. We bought two to four calves each month, and paid for their keep. The calves remained on the farm, as part of the Burwhin herd, but the idea was that these calves would enable us to gradually build up our own portion of the milking herd, eventually leading to share farming.
In 2013, Max and Jenny decided that they would like to take Tom into the partnership and so a Farm Business Tenancy was set up, with the partnership of Max, Jenny and Tom renting the farm land and buildings from Max and Jenny personally and the heifer calves previously bought by us transferred back into the farm partnership as our capital investment.
We had always hoped that at some point we would look at processing our own milk, and had started to look at cheese making as an option in 2013/14. Falling milk prices in late 2014 began to make this more of a need.
Our main aim was to produce something from our own milk on farm, and cheese seemed to be the most suitable. There are only a handful of cheesemakers in Cumbria, and even fewer that make their cheese on farm, from their own milk. The first stage was to talk to our local Environmental Health officers about whether this would even be a possibility. We had two rooms between the milking parlour, dairy and cow building that we felt would be suitable, and luckily, Environmental Health agreed! Clare completed a food safety course and also a course on small scale commercial cheese production with Iona Hill of Ribblesdale Cheese, Hawes which proved vital in costing out the dairy and working out how to set it out
After much deliberation, we decided that these two rooms could be made into a dairy, but that some kind of platform would need to be constructed from the side of these rooms (5 foot up from the ground, as Whin Yeats is on the side of a hill!), to house the cold store, maturing rooms and packing area. In late June 2015 we started work, clearing out the rooms, knocking a doorway into the wall, re-concreting the existing floor and building the platform.