It is the farming equivalent of empty nest syndrome and Tony Archer
had a bad bout. Every time he walks past his deserted cow sheds he feels a pang. Now he's done something about it.
Last year, the family at Bridge Farm decided to get out of dairy farming. It was a logical and rational decision. Tony hadn't got back to full strength after his heart attack and wasn't up to the relentless routine of milking cows every day of the year. Neither Pat
had time (or in Tom's case inclination) to take it on.
Even with hired help, milking 90-odd cows twice a day was a chore the farm could do without – especially as Pat could carry on making her yoghurt and ice-cream using organic milk from a neighbouring farm.
Tom is frustrated by his parents' reluctance to sell off the Bridge Farm dairy herd.
For Tom, selling the cows was a no-brainer. Pat and Tony eventually saw the logic and agreed. The sale was emotional but they got through it. But, for Tony in particular, Bridge Farm with only pigs in the fields just doesn't feel right.
He knows he can't turn the clock back. And he knows – or at least he's been told – that Tom has plans to expand his pig herd and use the rest of the land to grow their feed. That will be grass for silage and legumes for protein. Tom's even got plans to finish pigs in the empty barns.
Either oblivious or not caring, Tony hatched a plan of his own. He's determined to bring cattle back to the farm. And if he can't have milkers, he'll have beef.
His first thought was to keep it simple: buy some organic stores. These are cattle usually between 7 and 10 months old which have been weaned and are ready to be fattened up for slaughter. He would graze them over the summer, bring them inside during the worst of the winter, turn them out in the spring and sell them in the autumn next year. Grass-fed organic beef – should be a nice little earner. But most importantly the fields and barns of Bridge Farm would be home to cattle once more. And think of the manure! Stores or sucklers?
As it happened, Tony couldn't find organic stores at the right price when he went to market. He did hear of an organic farmer who was selling up his suckler herd though, so he decided to go for a more long-term solution. He bought some in-calf (pregnant) heifers and some with calves at foot (first-time mothers with their young calves).
A suckler beef operation involves a herd of mothers from which to breed animals for slaughter. The calves will be suckled for six months or so. Once weaned, they will be largely grass-fed (except in winter) until slaughter at 26-30 months.
So now Tony has his own beef-rearing enterprise, much to Tom's dismay. All he needs now is a bull… Steve Peacock is the agriculture adviser to The ArchersLearn more about Tony, Pat and Tom in our Who’s Who