IT WAS a monumental year in 2019 for one of the region’s largest dairy farms when they lifted the prestigious RABDF/NMR Gold Cup award.

For Metcalfe Farms, based on the outskirts of Leyburn, it was deserved recognition for successful farming on a huge scale, attention to detail and a determination to expand the herd while holding on to core values of putting animal welfare and husbandry at the centre of everything they do.

Thousands flocked to the open day in the summer to see for themselves how the farm was laid out, how a number of different enterprises like the haulage, anaerobic digester and contracting businesses interlinked and worked with the dairy, and the Metcalfe family was on hand to welcome them.

Metcalfe Farms are, however, no different to any other dairy farm in that they are reliant on great people to ensure stock are well looked after, with a milking herd now numbering 1,300 (with 1,100 going through the parlour), which was necessitated in part by a new parlour needed four years ago.

Further expansion in the short to medium term is unlikely; rather there is likely to be a period of consolidation and Philip Metcalfe, the youngest of the three siblings who oversees the dairying business, is happy to say that a stable staff team is now in place which benefits in many ways simply by its scale - with a total team of 35 directly involved with the dairy side of the Metcalfe Farms business.

Obviously of these 35, many are part-time. Each of the three milkings a day on farm require a work unit of five - three people milking and a further two pushers - people bringing groups of cows to the parlour and taking others away.

This number of employees therefore benefits from economies of scale - it is a job in itself handling a team of this number and needs someone responsible for human resources. Initially this was someone involved in the haulage but it was not a natural knit, and the dairy team were not familiar with that person nor the person familiar with dairying.

Since then the appointment of Christine Whalley from within the team (she also oversees the milking rotas and training milkers) has proved successful. Aaron Armstrong also joined the team four years ago from banking, starting as a milker and has progressed through the ranks - and is now one of the seven key role holders. He is responsible for rotas and alongside Christine now carries out the general staffing and disciplinary duties.

Farming on this scale has the benefit of plenty of bodies, which ensures everyone has regular time off, and for this the staff are happier and work performance is improved - something which many other farms will aspire to and be envious of.

Despite the large workforce some roles are ‘farmed out’ to specialist teams. These include Genus RMS, responsible for heat detection and serving cows and heifers, Bishopton vet techs, who carry out all vaccinations, calf dehorning and foot trimming, and a contract clipper who comes four times a year.

Odd members of staff do come into the farm, as odd ones leave - principally in the milking teams, although the triangular structure of staff is relatively stable. Philip now feels that the farm scale and structure affords him less stress at the top, than when he was previously trying to manage every facet.

Now he has time and headspace to concentrate on what concerns him, he then has seven ‘lynchpins’ who are key people in certain areas, and they in turn have their own team and individuals who are answerable to them directly and within these groups targeted training and guidance is afforded.

Philip likens the staffing at Washfold Farm to a game of chess - always in a state of flux, but only with slow moves and changes.

The key role holders include Ben Gregg and Dominic Fox, who are responsible for the milking herd and stock, Aaron Armstrong, who is responsible for staffing and rotas, Christine Whalley in HR and milking, Hannah Rogers in the calves, Navada Lofthouse in the mastitis department and Steve Allen (anaerobic digester and feeding).

Modern means of communication and technology are fundamental to managing this number of staff as well and making sure everyone is engaged within the team .

Anyone who comes to work at the farm receives an induction which lays out the core values of the farm, and explains that any mistreatment of stock will not be tolerated.

Furthermore a Facebook Messenger group is constantly in use to keep everyone up to date with on farm actions. Philip also feels that making the team aware of other ‘bad practice and scaremongering in social media particularly in large-scale farms like Washfold’ is paramount to making sure the Metcalfe Farms team never fall into such traps and nurture their respect for animals and how their actions can be perceived by others.

Interestingly, a Messenger picture of the milk filter at the end of each milking keeps the entire group up to speed on the end product as well - focusing the minds of everyone on the need for attention to detail.

Without doubt Metcalfe Farms has evolved a long way over the years. When Philip left school nearly 30 years ago the farm milked cows with no staff other than the family, and now it has grown beyond recognition.

Man management is not for everyone but Philip is confident in his role as a delegator and in delegation, and considers himself fortunate to have found a key six or seven individuals to facilitate the dairies progression and continual improvement.

Many of these staff started as milkers and have naturally progressed within the business, and this has been aided by monthly staff meetings and training flexibility which ensures what is offered is specific to requirements - such as a recent course on the correct administration of antibiotics, delivered by Phil Alcock of Bishopton Vets - a refresher for some and a new start for others.

The future-proofing of dairying at Metcalfe Farms is well under way and it is clear that Philip considers good staff at the centre of this.