The first cows of a new dairy herd have arrived heralding a new era for the 500 residents of Sark in the Channel Islands.

A new barn kitted out with milking parlour and milk pasteuriser has been erected in time for the cows' arrival from the neighbouring Guernsey Island.

Just two years ago, the island initiated a global hunt for a new dairy farmer to set up on Sark as the previous one had retired forcing residents to import their dairy produce from outside the island. In the end, Jason Salisbury and his wife, Katharine, who run a herd of pedigree Guernsey cows on Whitegate Farm, near Suffolk, were picked for the Sark challenge.

The couple and their two children have a wealth of experience in producing dairy products as they already make their own award winning Suffolk cheeses from their own top quality Guernsey cow milk.

Jason was in high spirits about the arrival of the cows and the new barn, but recognised there will be a few challenges ahead before milk produced on Sark can be sold for human consumption.

“These are exciting times for sure,” Jason said. “The dairy, which is designed to hold 20 to 25 cows, has been completed and the first shipment of cows are here. We sourced a herd of 14 Guernseys and a number of youngstock from a lady on Guernsey Island who had recently retired from milking.

“The cows and heifers have to be shipped over a few at a time weather permitting. We simply load them into a modified cattle trailer in Guernsey which is then driven to the dock and loaded onto the boat by crane. The same process, only in reverse, is repeated on Sark and the cows will be unloaded in our fields.”

 

The cows are unloaded at the Sark Island port off the boat from Guernsey

The cows are unloaded at the Sark Island port off the boat from Guernsey

Sark measures only 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, relying on tourism and agriculture to support its economy. It has no cars, no paved roads, no street lighting and almost no pollution, but does attract over 50,000 visitors each year which are catered for by a number of eateries that need milk.

Jason has to pasteurise the milk before it can be sold to the island’s residents and tourists via a vending machine at the dairy.

“There are a lot of hurdles we have to jump over, before the milk can be sold,” Jason said.

“We have installed a new DeLaval four-point milking parlour, which is actually half a parlour as it is only one side. The bulk tank is installed, the pasteuriser is ready, as is the vending machine.

“Before the milk can be sold we have to give the entire dairy a deep clean and obtain the proper hygiene certificates. I’m expecting a few snags along the way as this is a brand new set-up which will need some tweaking before operating properly. I do hope the first milk can be sold in late August, or early September,” Jason said.

The Salisburys were selected out of around 80 applicants from across the world. Jason and Katharine know the Guernsey breed well, having been using the breed on their own farm for over 35 years.

“The cows will be grazed outdoors for as long as possible and we already have a good stock of winter forage produced on other farms already here,” said Jason. “In the parlour, the cows will receive a scoop of concentrates manually as they come in to be milked.

“Being on an island, there are a number of challenges to face. My parlour is basically a vacuum pump and a pulsator. The reason being is that I can’t just nip down to the local dealer for parts as everything needs to be ordered and shipped to the island. With this is mind, all the equipment has been kept simple and I carry 25% of parts already in my store.

“Other challenges include the price of electricity, which on the island is currently 58p per kW, which is very high. We have solar panels on the dairy roof to help run the pasteuriser and reduce costs. I intend batch pasteurising every three days,” added Jason.

“Importing concentrates for the herd is another huge cost, probably around £600 per tonne for an 18% ration. My aim is to eventually feed the cows a simple rolled barley diet in the parlour, which is produced on Sark already.”

With demand for dairy produce from 500 residents and some 50,000 tourists, Jason will have to calculate supply accurately to ensure a good balance. “I’m looking at averaging 10 cows in milk averaging 10 to 15 litres of milk per day, which is 150 litres per day.

"I need around 300 to 450 litres to make efficient use of the pasteuriser each time I use it. There is also a chocolatier on the island who is eagerly awaiting some cream for her business as well.”

Jason is AI trained and will use only Guernsey bulls bred on Guernsey on his new herd. He has his own AI flask which is already stocked and can be sent over to Guernsey on the cargo ship when it needs refilling.

Jason and Katharine’s two children, which are university age, will travel to the island in September to lend a hand on the farm. But Covid and logistics have been the main challenges getting this project going for Jason, but he has absolutely no regrets taking on the farm. His own farm in Suffolk will be managed by staff while he is on Sark.