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Stackyard News Apr 09

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Over a Century of Adding Value to Milk

A Cumbrian farming family has been adding value to its milk long before recent drives to improve farm gate prices.

Roger Sedgwick

Roger Sedgwick

In fact, the Sedgwicks first began a milk round in 1897 at Lockbank Farm on the outskirts of Sedbergh and now well over a century later Roger Sedgwick and his wife Suzan along with Roger’s parents Geoff and Brenda supply businesses and homes in the area with 500 pints of milk a day at peak times.

The Sedgwicks can trace their roots back to 1140 in the Howgill area north of Sedbergh and it was in 1894 that Roger’s great grandfather started farming at Lockbank and subsequently started the milk round.

Then the milk was delivered twice a day in churns which proved difficult at hay times in particular and there were 11 different farms delivering milk – now there is only one.

Likewise the number of dairy farms in the area has decreased dramatically. The Sedgwicks’s veterinary practice at one time had 92 dairy farming clients – now there are 17.

Sedbergh Dairy milk

Sedbergh Dairy milk

The majority of the milk is sold to retail outlets which has included Sedbergh School since 1927.

The Sedgwicks run a traditional farm, milking 40 principally Friesian type cows and running a total of 85 head of cattle and 300 Rough Fell and some Swaledale sheep on 56.9 acres of in-bye land and with common grazing rights on Winder fell, part of the Howgill range, and 15ha on Frost Row.

Maintaining the milk round has helped keep the farm viable. “The herd averages 6,000 litres a cow and milk price averages for 2008 are over 36p per litre from direct sales and from Dairy Farmers of Britain which buys the rest,” said Roger.

“In September the average milk price will rise considerably because of demand through the milk round.

“Unfortunately, DFB collects our milk every other day and if it falls below 91,500 litres we are penalised by 4p per litre currently, we stand to lose around £6,000 a year because of this system. We would like to build on direct sales and I have considered other options, being less labour intensive,” added Roger.

Increased competition led the Sedgwicks to pasteurise their milk on farm in 1991 – a job which usually Suzan helps Roger with although she currently has her work set with the couple’s baby Lewis, who was born in August as well as their four year old son, John.

“The milk round has brought in money to what I wouldn’t call an ideal dairy farm and while direct sales have decreased over the years, now they have bottomed out and, in fact, we have some new retail customers,” said Roger. “I think there is more interest in buying local products.”

Full milk, semi-skimmed and skimmed milk are sold as well as cream. The milk is simply pasteurised – not homogenised – and customers comment on the quality.

The herd calves all the year round. It is 91 per cent Friesian as Roger believes the farm doesn’t grow enough grass to maintain Holstein types and the Sedgwicks breed their own replacements using Genus sires.

Cows with a history of foot trouble or which have lost a quarter are crossed with the beef bull.

The herd is fed big bale silage and concentrate in the parlour. Sugar beet straight out of the ground was being fed until the price escalated.

The cows this year were housed at night from early September because of inclement weather conditions. Usually this is from the end of September.

Friesian bullocks and cross-breds were finished on the farm but now they are sold store at 16 to 20 months old through Lancaster and Kendal markets. They are fed silage, concentrates and sugar beet.

Rough Fell shearling rams

Rough Fell shearling rams

The Sedgwicks have also stuck with the area’s traditional sheep breed, the Rough Fell. Their flock of 300 ewes comprises mostly registered Rough Fells with a few Swaledales.

About 60 of the Rough Fells are crossed with the Texel which are finished as early as possible, from June onwards, after lambing in mid March.

This year lambs weighing an average 36kg made up to £54 a head at Kendal Mart.

The ewes which are bred pure lamb from March 24 with lambing well under way by the second week in April.

Pure bred wether lambs are sold from November onwards, generally through Hawes mart.

This year there was a record number of triplets – 17 sets, 16 of which were pure-bred – and a set of Texel cross quads which Roger attributes possibly to the ewes coming down to the fell gate up to three weeks earlier than usual last autumn.

Roger has been actively involved with the Rough Fell Sheep Breeders’ Association, selecting sheep for trade stands at sheep events as well as judging at shows. He also featured in a video/DVD made by the society promoting the breed.

Rough Fells from Lockbank were shown until 2006 when once again the family won the hill breed championship at the Westmorland Show, an award they had collected several times over the years, and Roger felt it was a good time to quit.

The Sedgwicks also diversify into holiday accommodation in this popular area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Their four-bedroomed house adjoining the farm, The Mount, sleeps eight is open all year round and welcomes visitors to the farm.

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jennifer mackenzie
Article by
Jennifer MacKenzie