To secure his first farm tenancy, Will McFarland suggests he would happily have travelled to the moon.

But, as good fortune would have it, he was spared that journey through space to milk cows in a lunar landscape when he was offered that opportunity in Pembrokeshire.

The 220ha coastal farm and a grazing agreement for 809ha on a nearby military firing range have been his passport to farming in his own right.

His wife, Sophie, a clinical psychologist, shares his passion for a county renowned and envied for its grass-based farming systems. “I will live and die in Pembrokeshire,’’ she declares.

Will came to farming with but a distant link to the industry – his ancestors had farmed in Northern Ireland but his grandfather left the family farm at the onset of the Second World War, thereby severing that immediate link to agriculture.

He grew up in an urban environment in Stourbridge but that innate desire to farm had filtered down through the generations with Will studying agriculture at Harper Adams University before starting his career in the industry.

He worked in multiple places across the UK and New Zealand. “I picked up several fantastic mentors in previous bosses along the way,’’ he says.

Will was involved in a contract dairy farming enterprise in Powys when the tenancy at Court Farm, Castlemartin, became available.

Having previously being involved in short term agreements, the opportunity to acquire a 20-year tenancy provided the stability he needed to invest and build up his own business.

“It was quite a big change, especially the financing of it, but I would have moved to the moon if I had needed to, to be in the position we are in today,’’ he says.

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The 220ha grassland farm came with a 24-unit swingover parlour but with little in the way of housing.

What it is blessed with is mostly free-draining and fertile soil so establishing a fully outdoor spring-calving system with the herd and the yearling heifers grazing on the Castlemartin Firing Range during the dry period is the route Will and Sophie have taken.

A grazing crop of kale is also grown as feed for the yearling heifers and fodder beet for the dairy cows – a herd of 420 Friesian-crosses.

Cow numbers have increased since the move to Court Farm in 2019, by inseminating with dairy sires and sweeping up with Friesian bulls.

“It was dairy all the way, building up numbers was a priority,’’ Will explains.

In 2022, with the herd size at the target he had set, it was time for a change of policy and a switch to a beef breed.

At the top of his list of desirable traits was temperament and calving ease.

“Stock bulls are the biggest risk on a dairy farm and, coming to it after having Friesian bulls, above all I wanted an animal with a good temperament,’’ says Will.

Calving ease is an important requirement for many reason too, he adds. “I aim to keep everything as simple as possible and calving ease feeds into that, especially so for the calves that are being produced at the tail end of the calving season because the cow must be able to recover as quickly as possible before we start breeding again.

“You have got to have easy calving animals on small dairy cows.’’

Foot health in the bulls is another priority as the furthest paddock from the milking parlour is two kilometres.

He has used the Hereford for the last few years and will switch to the Aberdeen Angus in the 2024 breeding season.

The grazing system is run to traditional extensive grazing principles.

The primary aim is to produce as much milk as possible from grass in the grazing season and to outwinter on deferred grazing or forage crops.

Since Will took on the tenancy he has invested significantly in three main areas – in cow tracks and an automatic footbath to promote foot health, in fencing and soil fertility for grazing management, and in gaining labour efficiencies through automatic cluster removal and geofence collars.

During the grazing season he aims for entry grazing covers of 2,700kgDM/ha, grazing down to a residual of 1,500kg.

Three cuts of clamp silage are made – there are no dedicated silage fields, surpluses in the paddocks are cut; baled silage is also made to provide fibre to balance energy and protein in the winter grazing crops.

Will shares the farm workload with three employees, Aaron, Anthony and Stephen, and Sophie is also on hand to help at weekends and when she has time off from work.

Every beef calf is kept for eight weeks and then sold to private buyers to be reared on.

Calves receive four litres of colostrum as soon as possible after birth and are then fed transition milk for the first four days before being reared on whole milk until they are weaned and sold.

Heifers are served at 15 months to calve at two years old.

With no infrastructure to produce winter milk and with easy access to the military range, there are limited benefits to investing in housing; this results in a very defined milking season.

Fertility and a tight calving block are therefore Will’s key performance indicators. “They just drive the whole system,’’ he says. “A tight calving pattern ensures we achieve high days in milk while maximising grass utilisation.’’