Improvements and innovations are and have always been on the go at Morwick Farm, near Morpeth, now run by Michael Howie.

His grand-father, Allan and father, David, moved to Morwick from nearby Eshott Brocks in 1945 and Michael and his twin brother, Neil, were born in 1956. After leaving school they farmed together at Morwick until Neil was offered a farm 29 miles away, and the family’s Border Leicesters and the Vendeens moved with him.

This allowed him to fully focus on the dairy enterprise and today the farming operation has doubled in size to 1000 acres – 600 arable and 400 grass – now running 240 milking cows, mainly Ayrshires, red and white Holsteins and a few Jerseys.

In the early days, the 100-plus cows were housed in byers until 1974 when modernisation to a milking parlour and cubicle house was made. This pushed cow numbers up to 170.

“I knew I was always going to come home to work. Producing and bringing out high performing livestock has always been my way of life,” said Michael, who studied general agriculture and farm management at Kirkley Hall Agricultural College.

Still a very much family run business, with Michael’s wife, Angie, managing the ice-cream business that started in 2003, with their three sons Will (31), Peter (28) and Ben (25) all involved in some way. Peter is a partner in the farm, whilst Ben is involved in the ice-cream enterprise, and although Will is a full-time commercial controller elsewhere, he can still turn his hand if need be.

On top of the family, they require one full-time employee in the ice-cream parlour and three on the farm to keep the workflow going.

What are you looking for in a dairy animal?

An animal that catches the eye with correct conformation, ample strength, good feet, and legs with an excellent udder displaying longevity.

Struggles within the dairy industry?

A decent milk price is required to make the job viable, margins in the dairy industry can be very volatile. In the past, low milk prices and quotas made life a struggle and today the milk buyer is of upmost importance.

We have been quite fortunate over the years as the farm is a member of the Arla UK 360 programme supported by Aldi, a programme that is focussed on sustainable production.

However, finding qualified staff is a problem nationwide, the long unsociable hours are not appealing.

How is the family business diversifying?

We are fortunate to be on a tourist route near the Northumberland coastline, quite near Alnwick Castle and Alnwick Gardens.

In 2003, we diversified and opened an ice-cream parlour, and more recently a raw milk vending machine has been installed.

The idea just now is to move to robot milking in the next couple of years.

Not only will the robots create more flexibility to run the dairy enterprise, the construction of a purpose-built shed will also incorporate a designated viewing area and education space where customers and visitor groups can safely watch the cows being milked in the robots.

Another avenue we’re exploring, but which is in a very early stages, is artisan cheese production.

The face behind the company, Morwick Sand Queen, who lifted inter-breed at both the Royal Show and the Royal Highland Show in 2002

The face behind the company, Morwick Sand Queen, who lifted inter-breed at both the Royal Show and the Royal Highland Show in 2002

Best animal you have ever shown?

Without a doubt it would have to be Morwick Sand Queen after her showing success in 2002 – firstly winning the dairy inter-breed and The Queens Cup at the Royal Highland Show, then repeating her success 10 days later at the Royal Show.

She still sits pride of place on our logo and on all of our ice cream pots.

Thanks must go to Willie Templeton for his valued contribution in those shows, but she was a superb animal that nearly showed herself –she knew she was good!

Although she did cause a bit of an uproar at the Highland as she was only 88% Holstein – but as one of the crowd pointed out, the breeder was only 75% English!

But what’s the best animal you’ve seen?

Blaise Tomlinson’s Sandyford Clover cow. She was a big powerful dairy cow with great conformation. She had an unrivalled showing career.

What got you involved in showing?

Neil and I used to go to local shows with father and help prepare the cows at home. Once we could drive, we went further afield.

The Great Yorkshire Show would often be the family summer holiday, with Angie, three boys, five cows and a caravan, we could only see the caravan trailing behind the cattle wagon when we went round a roundabout …!

Winning the Great Yorkshire twice, two years running with Morwick Ruth, made it all worthwhile.

Showing has always been a part of Michael’s life – here hes holding onto the halter with his dad, David, in the early 1960s at the Northumberland County Show at Alnwick

Showing has always been a part of Michael’s life – here he's holding onto the halter with his dad, David, in the early 1960s at the Northumberland County Show at Alnwick

Could you imagine your life without showing?

Simply no!

It is something I have done all my life, it is a great break away from the farm and you can ALWAYS learn something new to bring home to enhance your own herd.

Abiding memory?

Winning the Royal shows’ double in 2002 – The Royal Highland and Royal Show.

It was made even better when it is a home-bred animal and the Queen family has been in our herd from around 1945.

Biggest disappointments?

We try not to do disappointments here, we have to always look forward.

However, the year after Morwick Sand Queen had her limelight, she went down with e-coli mastitis, which prematurely ended her showing career. It really showed us you must take the chances when they appear, you can’t keep everything for a rainy day.

Most influential person in your career?

Father, he taught me everything I know from getting a beast ready for shows and the tricks of the trade in the show ring.

Best stockmen?

There are many good stockmen about, and there is a fair chance their background goes back to Ayrshire somewhere! The county seems to have bred the best in show business!

Best kist parties?

In the cattle lines, Cuthill Towers have a reputation of having a good kist party. If someone is lying next to a cow the next morning you know it has been a bloody good party.

At the Royal Highland Show, the Ayrshire Cattle Society have a strawberry tea after the judging, and it is a great social circle with extended members. There is a great gathering of Ayrshire breeders and friends and the drink flows freely ... or the tea!

Favourite quote?

‘You have to be in it to win it’ – people have a lot of good cows at home but they are no good at home.

Best advice for someone starting off?

Work hard first, but play hard second. You are never too old to learn new tricks.

Best investment?

Buying five embryos in Canada in the late 1990s. There are some fantastic genetics out there to be explored, and one of the embryos we brought back was Morwick Sand Ranger, the sire of Morwick Sand Queen – and look how that turned out for us!

Overseas adventures through showing?

Last January we were lucky enough to attend the World Conference in Australia, where we saw a lot of Ayrshire cows, and a totally different lifestyle. International Dairy Week was thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the other side of the fence.

Are you involved in any committees?

I am currently in my second year of being president of the Ayrshire Cattle Society and I’m the third generation of the family to take on this role. However, my time has been very different ... we don’t even know if the Ayrshire conference will go ahead for the second consecutive year.

The future of the showing circuit?

Once Covid-19 is a thing of a past, it will regain its popularity, both from a social and competitive angle. They are great social events and a fantastic shop window for your herd.

What is the way forward for the dairy industry?

Don’t stand still. If an opportunity or challenge arises, go for it.