The Howie family from Morwick Farm, Northumberland, have continued to develop their core farming business through a combination of breeding excellence and modern diversification projects.

The Scottish Farmer: Michael Howie past president of the Ayrshire Cattle Society and the third member of the family to be presidentMichael Howie past president of the Ayrshire Cattle Society and the third member of the family to be president

Morwick Farm nestles just outside the ancient village of Warkworth with its imposing Norman castle, renowned as the ancestral home of Harry Hotspur, the English knight immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1.

Modern economic battles are now taking place in the fields and in the farmyards according to Michael Howie.

The Scottish Farmer: Son Peter Howie attends to most of the arable work alongside milking cowsSon Peter Howie attends to most of the arable work alongside milking cows

“Farmgate milk prices have risen but costs in production are rising even faster,” he says. “There will still be farmers losing 4-5ppl or more on every litre produced and 40ppl will not cover the expected further increases in production costs such as animal feed; fertiliser and energy costs.

“Dairy farmers cannot continue to absorb these exceptional rising costs and 45-50ppl is required just to keep businesses solvent and allow for some investment. There are also the ‘hidden’ costs carried by farmers such as rearing replacement heifers for two years before an animal starts to produce milk and pay her way.

The Scottish Farmer: Cows are out at grass for six months of the year at MorwickCows are out at grass for six months of the year at Morwick

“Animal feed has risen by more than £100 per tonne in recent months and is likely to go higher later this year. Energy prices will increase further in October with some already paying a 100% increase. More farmers will leave the industry unless milk prices better reflect market conditions.”

Morwick Dairies ice cream parlour has provided the Howie family with an additional income stream from their award-winning dairy herd. Michael and his wife, Angie, produce 200 Italian-based ice cream flavours albeit offer 18 varieties at any one time, using full-cream fresh milk from the Morwick herd. The ice cream parlour and coffee shop have two car-parks; a designated child-play area and customers can be seated indoors or outdoors.

The Scottish Farmer: Ice-cream parlour was converted from an old farm buildingIce-cream parlour was converted from an old farm building

This modern diversification project saw more than 30,000 visitors to Morwick Dairies last summer alone, despite the adversity of Covid lockdown.

Now 20 years of age, the ice-cream parlour and coffee shop was established following foot-and-mouth in 2001, when Michael and Angie decided to diversify their core-business by converting an old stone farm building.

“Tourism is Northumberland’s second biggest industry and we wanted to capitalise on an untapped market that literally drives past the farmyard gate on the way to Warkworth. We have built immense local customer loyalty over the years and our ice-cream parlour location is only 50 yards from the main-road,” Michael says.

The Scottish Farmer: Farm signFarm sign

Besides Angie, and son Ben Howie, one additional part-time staff member is employed and during the peak summer holiday period, four part-time staff are enlisted explained Angie.

“The ice-cream parlour closes down for seven weeks after Christmas to give everyone a break. During the run-up to Christmas, we create a more festive range such as Christmas Pudding flavoured varieties as well as a selection of our traditional-range.”

During 2019, son Peter Howie, realised an opportunity to further expand Morwick Dairies customer base by offering fresh daily raw milk through an automated vending machine. An additional section of the original building was converted to facilitate the equipment.

The Scottish Farmer: Housing facilities at MorwickHousing facilities at Morwick

In February 2020, the Howie family’s latest enterprise opened for business with enormous success offering fresh raw milk.

Peter joined the family business in 2013 after completing a degree in agriculture at Harper Adams University, Shropshire. He was awarded the 2017 North East Rural Business 'Farmer of The Year Award' and is involved in all aspects of the farming enterprise including nutrition, harvest, working the arable land, preparing and showing cattle at major shows and milkings.

A further diversification within the building occurred in 2013 resulting in the establishment of an 'education room.' This facility can be used to host conference meetings; provide a classroom for visiting local school-children to learn about farming and act as a host-room. The facility is fully equipped with wi-fi and projector screen facilities.

The Scottish Farmer: Cows are out at grass six months of the yearCows are out at grass six months of the year

The farming partnership of Michael; wife Angie and son Peter, has since created a niche market with a blend of Ayrshires, and Red and White and Black and White Holsteins. The Howie family has strong Scottish roots with Michael’s grandfather, Allan, having moved to neighbouring Eshott Brocks from Kilmarnock in 1926, bringing six Ayrshire cows.

Allan subsequently moved to Morwick Farm in 1945 with his son, David, Michael’s father. Michael, who was last years’ past president of the Ayrshire Society, is the third member of the Howie family to be president, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

David, now 93 years old, and renowned as one of the country’s finest stockmen, remains active and involved by visiting the farm each day.

The family started to blend Ayrshire cattle with Holstein bloodlines in the 1990s and the pedigree Red and White Holstein section was established in the mid-1990s. Today, the herd comprises pedigree Ayrshire, Ayrshire hybrids and pedigree Holsteins. Twelve Jersey cows are included as part of the Morwick Dairies Ice cream business.

The 200-cow herd is NMR milk recorded and currently averages 8750kgs milk at 4.44%BF and 3.42%P. The herd is grazed for six months during the summer, and fed on a Keenan TMR diet using the award-winning PACE technology.

The advantages of using PACE technology are the consistency of diets according to Michael. “The herd is fed the same TMR ratio across all sections, although it can change, it is important to feed the exact same diet on a daily-basis," he said.

“We are producing high milk yields allied to high levels of fat and protein and we do not have fluctuations in the diet due to the mixing process. This year, the TMR diet consisted of grass and maize silage, rape meal, beet-pulp and home-crushed barley, home crushed beans and minerals. We also purchase caustic wheat from North East Grains as part of the diet.”

Among the numerous top show cows in the past is the iconic home-bred Morwick Sand Queen Ex96 which achieved a 'Royal double' in 2002 in landing the coveted inter-breed at the Royal Highland Show, and three weeks later, The Royal Show, at Stoneleigh.

The family pay particular attention to the herd breeding programme.

“We’ve always aimed to breed the right type of cow that will make a significant contribution to the herd. The cost of rearing replacements continues to increase and we’re looking to breed cows that have longevity and will last five, six or seven lactations," Michael said.

The Scottish Farmer: Morwick has also diversified into selling raw milk via an on-farm vending machineMorwick has also diversified into selling raw milk via an on-farm vending machine

“It’s more essential today to have a cow capable of sustaining consistent milk production over numerous lactations in order to pay for her own replacement due to rising costs. We select top sires, and use some home-bred bulls and target functional traits such as dairyness with strength, correct feet and legs and mammary traits and focus on type, production and longevity.

“Our breeding programme also focuses on high milk components, and that’s possibly a result of our Ayrshire heritage. Having gone down the Ayrshire and Red and White Holstein route, through consistent feeding and selective breeding, we’ve maintained high milk quality.”

Besides Michael and Peter, the family employ three additional farm staff and one part-time staff member. Silage making normally consists of three cuts, with the aid of a local contractor, with first-cut usually taking place in mid-May and second-cut eight weeks later and third in late August to September.

The farm extends to 950 acres with 600 plus acres designated to arable crops. The family grow approximately 300 acres of barley; 200 acres being winter barley and 200 acres of winter wheat. A further 50 acres of maize are grown for whole-crop silage; 50 acres of oilseed rape as well as, 10 acres of home-grown beans for home-mixing.

The farm aims to be as self sufficient and sustainable as possible, Peter said.

“We aim to produce as much home grown feed as possible from our own resources and that includes straw bedding. The herd and youngstock are housed on straw and we make over 2000 round bales per year. Animal health and welfare; cow comfort and rearing youngstock are important aspects to the business. The future success of the Morwick breeding programme starts when a calf is born on day one," Peter concluded.