A little over a year ago I had another long, hard look at switching from a suckler/beef to a dairying enterprise. At the time, farmers who were milking cows were making a lot of money and it certainly looked very tempting.

My father used to milk cows on this farm, but having lost all his cows in 1976 following a herd test, there was never a return to milking cows.

When I came home from Greenmount in 1985, I had a desire to start again, but my father said a definite “no”.

He had been out of dairying for almost 10 years and had no desire to go back into the daily drudgery of milking cows twice a day, every day of the year.

At that stage he was buying stores and finishing them, which was a simpler system.

As I became more involved in the business, we started to keep suckler cows and finishing the calves as beef.

I also started keeping sheep and we enjoyed what we were doing.


A few years ago, there was a mass exodus from sucklers to dairying and there was a lot of peer pressure on me to make the switch. I did a financial assessment of what was required.

Most of my farm is in the one block, with very little road disturbance, so it would probably look like the ideal farm for dairying, but that wasn’t the full story.

My cattle accommodation was not suitable for milking cows and we would have to change all the housing. There was also a decision to be made on a robot versus parlour. It was going to be a massive investment – at the time I worked out it would cost me £500,000 to make the switch.

When I looked at the payback for a 10-year loan, the dairy cows were going to have to make me an extra £1,000/ha/year to achieve the same income I had from sucklers.

In 2022, dairying would probably have far exceeded that and it would have paid off financially. But it looks pretty different now. With the rise in interest rates any loan would have become very difficult to finance, before even thinking about how the milk price has collapsed this year.

Final decision

When I look back now, I think that I made the right decision to stay with the suckler cows, even though I have no doubt that the price of milk will recover and dairying will become profitable again. But if I’m completely honest, my decision not to go into dairying had nothing to do with the financial side of things. Ultimately, it had to be made by my three sons.

The response I received from them was very clear: “If there were dairy cows here, then I would be milking them on my own.”

My eldest son is very happy sheep farming, and my two younger sons like rearing Blade calves. At my time in life I had no interest in starting to milk cows and the change in lifestyle it would bring.


I also really enjoy keeping suckler cows. I get a massive amount of job satisfaction from these animals.

Of course in wet weather they can be hard work and there always seem to be lots of opportunities for things to go wrong. But there is nothing nicer than looking at a field of suckler cows and their calves lying out in the sun. Farming is certainly not all about money. You have to enjoy what you are doing as well.

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