27 years at one job is an impressive stint by any standards. Philip Steans, Lackham’s farm manager, has been at Lackham since October of 1992, before most of the students he works with were even born.
The son of a police officer and haulage contractor, Phil doesn’t come from an agricultural background. As a child, weekend work on a farm in his home county of Leicestershire inspired Phil, and he dreamed of becoming a farm manager. Working his way through an apprenticeship and college, Phil took the route that many of our students take. He estimates that nowadays 50 to 75 per cent of the students he encounters have an agricultural background, and yet more and more often college is becoming the standard route into the farming profession.
You may question why, if you are born onto a farm that you are due to inherit, you would go to college to learn your family trade. The age-old tradition of sending young farmers away to college – a tradition Lackham has been facilitating in the South West since 1946 – still lingers. But even the students that were born on farms have plenty to learn at Lackham.
Phil tells us: “Farming is becoming more technical.
“The science and practice behind feeding animals and growing crops are more intense, and in the past 10 to 15 years, the industry has made unprecedented advances.’
Phil describes, for example, the function of the College’s Kuhn Axera, a fertiliser spreader which can be programmed to spread different amounts of fertiliser across a field, based on varying soil type and mineral content, thereby improving crop yields. Going to college remains the best way of learning about the science behind farming, and to ensure that if you have a family business, it remains modern and competitive.
So, what has kept Phil at Lackham for 27 years? As working farm that mixes students with staff Lackham is relatively unique, and this is part of the appeal for Phil.
“There’s a different challenge every year,” he tells us, with the annual influx of students meaning life at the farm is never dull.
“Happy staff make for a better student experience, and integrating staff and students is vital to this.”
Students take a hands-on role during term-time, working on all aspects of the farm. Milking, feeding calves and identifying illnesses are just a fraction of their duties. Real-world experience is vital to equipping young farmers for a life that is both routine and full of unpredictable challenges.
“Without this practical relationship with the profession”, as Phil calls it, “a disease is just another disease”.
However, Phil says that life at the farm isn’t too different when the students are away. He talks through a typical day in summer and winter. Both begin at 5am, to feed, bed, clean and milk the animals where needed. This can take between two and four hours depending on the season. The rest of the day for Phil as a manager involves office work, managing the extensive farm facilities at Lackham. Other members of staff carry out work such as cleaning out barns, field work, maintenance, checking the stock and of course, more feeding.
Dan Smith, Lackham’s herdsman, talks about how the keenly anticipated robotic dairy arriving this year as part of the £9million investment into Lackham, will be changing life on the farm.
Currently, the milking parlour requires Dan to bring Lackham’s 160 dairy cows in, feed them, sanitise their udders, attach a cluster to each cow and then sanitise again after milking. The size of the parlour means Dan turns through 20 sides of the milking parlour twice a day. The robotic parlour will allow cows to come and go as they please, keeping track of each cow with an electronic tag with features such as ‘Auto-ID’. Although the current parlour will still be in use, the new technology will mean Dan will only have to turn through 10 sides a day, making life a little easier.
Phil runs through the benefits of this new arrangement. Milking could increase from twice a day to potentially as high as five times a day and increase each cow’s yield from 10,200 to as many as 12,000 litres per year. This milk all goes to Cadbury’s – we provide them with 1.6million litres a year, and the Cadbury group produces 130 million altogether. This means roughly 1.2% of Cadbury’s chocolate is produced with Lackham milk!
We asked them what their favourite animal on the farm was; Phil couldn’t pick, although a slight preference for the cheeky boars seemed possible, while Dan said he had a soft spot for every member of his herd.
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