Bottom line gains from better training records

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Higher daily liveweight gains and earlier-calving replacements are just two of the benefits a Cornish farming family is seeing from a focus on training and development.

Sharon and Guy Hawken together with three of their children run the 300-strong herd of Holstein-Friesians at Penwenham Farm near Launceston in North Cornwall.

With daughter Chloe and sons Mitchell and Benjamin progressively joining the business over the past decade, the family has been investing in new skills to increase efficiency across the 170ha farm.

Sharon admits that they hadn’t always found a way to formally set aside time for personal development in the past, but with both their milk buyer Saputo and Red Tractor asking for up-to-date training records, joining Dairy Pro has helped them identify skills gaps and areas for improvement.

Sharon says: “It’s easy to overlook the importance of training in a family business because day-to-day life is so busy, but with new regulations continually coming through and requirements constantly tightening, we felt it was important to stay competitive.

“We’re interested in building the farm reputation and profile, so Dairy Pro’s business membership is perfect for us.

“We register the whole business as one member, and all the training we do is logged against it. This means we can download all the collective records in one go to show during audits.”

However Sharon says they can see that being compliant with the rules is now delivering real improvements in terms of farm profitability. She refers to daughter Chloe, who has taken on responsibility for calf rearing in the business with enthusiasm.

“Choe’s really into training. You name it, she’s done it! But it’s worth every minute and every penny,” says Sharon.

“For example, she’s completely changed how we rear our replacements. Strict health and feeding protocols are now in place, alongside comprehensive vaccination programmes. The upshot is better daily liveweight gains, with all heifers calving in at 22 to 24 months. And that’s taking waste out of the business,” says Sharon.

While Chloe is balancing her role in the business with a business course at Cornwall Marine Network in Falmouth, Mitchell has already graduated with a diploma in agriculture through Duchy College and qualified in foot trimming and AI. Benjamin is undergoing an apprenticeship in agriculture and having completed level 2, is now progressing through levels 3 and 4.

“Every module they do is captured on the Dairy Pro records, and the children have the option to register individually to help with their coursework,” explains Sharon.

“This means that when course tutors want to check progress, they can log in and see it all laid out, with graphs showing timelines of what skills were gained and when.”