Mentoring support guides young entrant through potential pitfalls of new dairy enterprise

A young farmer has avoided potential pitfalls and costly mistakes since the family beef and sheep farm converted to dairy with guidance from a Farming Connect mentor.

Richard Downes was just 19 when he joined his parents, Terry and Jane, in their organic farming business at Cilcert Uchaf, near Tregaron.

To provide more regular income, they established a dairy herd and have now been producing milk from a herd of 90 pedigree Dairy Shorthorns and New Zealand Friesian crossbreds for 18 months.

Richard had some experience of dairying after spending three months working on a dairy farm but, as a new entrant, he was keen to take advantage of the support available through the Farming Connect Mentoring Programme.

The scheme allows farmers and foresters to receive guidance and advice from their peers on a wide range of topics.

Richard’s mentor was to be Eurig Jenkins, an established dairy farmer who farms less than four miles from Cilcert Uchaf.

Eurig has spent many hours with Richard at Cilcert Uchaf and has given guidance on everything from the siting of cow tracks and disease prevention to vaccination protocols and herd expansion.

“Eurig’s input has without doubt saved us time and money,’’ says 21-year-old Richard.

Both men run block calving systems and, while Richard’s is an autumn calving herd and Eurig is a spring milk producer, the principles are similar.

Richard says this has been beneficial. “We had our own ideas but Eurig had previously tried some of these in his own system and they hadn’t worked for him so thanks to his advice we didn’t have to make the same mistakes,’’ he says.

The whole family was involved in some of the discussion and this level of communication was beneficial, says Eurig. 

“In a mentoring situation, if you communicate ideas to other members of the family it helps to bounce ideas and, for Richard, it meant he didn’t have to relay what we had discussed.’’

For Richard, it helped that he already knew his mentor. “I was more comfortable discussing the business with someone I knew, it was important for me to have that connection, but others might find that they can discuss things more openly with somebody they don’t already know.’’

His message to others considering applying to the Farming Connect Mentoring Programme is: “Give it a go, there is always something you can learn from someone else.

“It would definitely have been more of a struggle without Eurig’s input. Although the information is out there, I didn’t have to go and look for it, I could get the information I needed first hand and immediately.’’

Eurig, a former Farming Connect Demonstration Farmer who is mentoring three new entrants, says he is also gaining from the programme. “Over the years I have benefited from unofficial mentoring and I have enjoyed giving something back through the Farming Connect Mentoring Programme by helping younger farmers to develop.’’

Eurig is one of 50 farmers and foresters enrolled as Mentors for Farming Connect. The programme offers up to 3 days of fully funded mentoring for individuals looking for a second opinion​, a sounding board or simply support with day to day business.

To select your mentor visit the Farming Connect website.

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About The Author

Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.