Theresa May visit: See behind the scenes on the Co. Down farm…

Father and son David and Stephen Jackson run their farm together in North Down, but Brexit and challenges with the border will affect them just as much as anywhere else in Northern Ireland, as a very special visitor learned yesterday.

Prime Minister Theresa May and her entourage visited the farm as part of a flying tour around all four UK home nations exactly one year before the UK is set to officially leave the EU.

After all the hubbub died down and the cows were milked and fed, the Jacksons welcomed AgriLand to show them how their farm fared during the governmental drop-in.

David and Stephen milk 300 cows on their 132ac grassland farm and supply cross-border milk processor Lakeland Dairies – so understandably the family has an interest in the direction negotiations will take.

Theresa May
The girls pictured with Theresa May

Stephen’s three children – Hannah (9), Abbie (7) and Emma (4) – are the sixth generation of the family to be involved in farming, so the future is very much on the Jacksons’ minds.

Fairview Farm

The family runs a modern intensive farm where investment is balanced with careful business management and high welfare standards.

The Jacksons bought Fairview Farm in 1995, but previously had farmed around 20 miles away in Crossgar.

The cows are managing an impressive 10,300L per year per cow under a zero-grazing system, but one of the breeding goals is to push this figure up as high as 11,000L.

The cows are milked in a 16-a-side doubled-up parlour with automatic idenification and feed-to-yield.

Typically at this time of the year, the cows would be fed grass, but due to the cold and wet spring this year they are still on silage.

Over the last year, butter fat averaged around 3.89 and protein 3.31. However, both are sitting slightly higher at the moment.

The cows are managed in two batches – highs and lows. Across both batches daily yields range between 32.5L and 33L.

Stephen also splits the close-to-calving cows into two groups for easier management.

Investing in the future is important to the family; the pair uses a breeding management service run by a local AI company that sends a rep to the farm every day. Cows are AI-ed with sexed semen three times.

Three years ago Stephen invested in a new cubicle house (pictured above) to allow him to up numbers.

The cows were registered as pedigree between six and eight months ago, with each of the girls getting their own cow families

“It’s to encourage them in their interest. It means they each have a cow and a family they can follow through life,” Stephen said.

The girls are keen to help out on the farm, with Hannah already taking charge of registering new-born calves online.

Theresa May

“I think it’s important to show [Theresa May] what life is like on the family farm and to give a voice about what concerns we have,” he added.

“The biggest concern is a soft border, free trade, minimal tariffs between North and South but also as a Northern Ireland farmer we want the chance to produce food to meet the needs of the United Kingdom.

“We always want the chance to supply to the UK on a level playing field.”

David added: “Quota has always restricted dairying to a certain extent here, so it is good to be away from that now. One point the [Ulster Farmers’] union made was that we need a stable price – to move away from these peaks and troughs.”