Framlingham dairy farmer swaps milk herd for campsite to bring balance to family life
PUBLISHED: 06:09 21 July 2019
Birds and Bees
After the Strachans sold up their dairy herd a few years ago, they knew they had to look at other options for the farm.
Keeping the low-intensity 120-strong dairy herd was a struggle, and had become unsustainable due to low commodity prices.
James and Emma Strachan, of D & C Strachan at Rendham Hall Farm, near Framlingham, knew they needed to make the best of the positives they had. After about 18 months of deliberation and research, they decided on Birds & Bees Campsite, which they launched in July 2017. The site provides eco camping in the heart of Suffolk's Alde Valley.
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"A family tragedy also gave us huge perspective on our goals," explains James.
"We looked at dozens of different options until we ended up with a combination that we felt comfortable with from an investment level but also on a family-work balance.
"It's been a challenge, but now we're in our third season and we've learnt a lot, made improvements along the way so we now feel really pleased with how it's running."
James had already been involved in a highly successful business, managing Marybelle Dairy, which processed more than 4m litres of milk, and had a 35-strong workforce, before the family sold its interest.
He was also involved in Suffolk Meadow Ice Cream, which was set up as a useful diversification for the family's milking business.
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The latest enterprise suits the rhythms of family life, and means that he no longer has to deal with the daily stresses and strains of running a dairy herd.
"There's not much we don't like about it really: it's seasonal which is a real positive from us as we can close at the end of the season, regroup, but also follow other business ventures through the winter months," he says.
"It's a real change from dairying when there never seemed to be a time to clear your thoughts, or your desk." It wouldn't suit all farmers, who really need to look at the most suitable use for their land to reach its full potential, he cautions.
At first, they were unsure whether people would come and love it as much as they did, and it's taken three seasons to get the business where they want it to be.
"It's not for everyone, I think you need to be a people person. We were fortunate in that we've always run a B&B from the farm and the previous 16 years we'd worked with lots of customers and suppliers at Marybelle so we feel we already had a lot of experience," he says.
"We love the fact that we're getting dozens of returning guests who in turn recommend us to their friends. We don't have plans to expand as we can manage the work load within our family at the moment while the children are young.
"No doubt we'll have to adapt again in the future but we're going to enjoy the next period as much as possible - it's been a bumpy road getting here."
The business is going better than expected, says James. "It's now crucial to our farming life and brings a great balance to the enterprise."