2020 winners follow-up: Martyn and Claire Eastham, Newhouse Farm, Dorset

For Martyn and Claire Eastham, winning the New Entrants: Against the Odds Award at last year’s British Farming Awards was recognition of their  achievements to date and will help set them in good stead for future farming opportunities.

Kickstarting their own dairy journey in 2015, Martyn and Claire Eastham purchased a share in a farming partnership which saw the duo take onsignificant debt against a backdrop of a declining milk price.

Despite coming from non-farming backgrounds, Martyn had previously worked up the dairying ranks, having completed a national diploma in Agriculture at Myerscough College, Lancashire.

But his travels to Australia, South Dakota and New Zealand highlighted how progressive the sector can be, as well as the simplicity of certain systems.

Claire, who completed an agricultural degree at Bishop Burton, Yorkshire, had worked for Defra, Food and Environment Research Agency and Kingshay, before overseeing eight dairies for a large organic farming business in Dorset.

Claire says: “We were both working in dairy businesses when we met and our romantic bond strengthened when we realised each other’s skill set.

“Between us we had £23,000 saved up and apprehensively went to the bank about borrowing money for a shareholding venture.

“But as we went prepared, with three years of cashflows and budgets, the bank loaned us £40,000, with which we bought 40 cows, a caravan and a 20 per cent share in a herd based on cattle numbers with Tim and Sandy Walwin in Shepton Mallet.”


After two years, during which the couple paid off their loan, a council farm tenancy opportunity for a 53-hectare (132-acre) farm arose in Shaftesbury, Dorset, and the couple found their application had been successful.

Yet they decided to start afresh at New House Farm near Shaftesbury in 2017, since their original cows were settled in the herd at Wanstrow.

Claire says: “The farm was run down as the previous tenants had gone bankrupt. We bought 70 spring slip cows from anywhere and everywhere to start building up our milking herd, since farmers only sell their worst cows, and our first milk went to Barber’s Cheesemakers in May.”

Today they run a mixed herd of 130 cows, consisting of Irish Friesian, British Friesian, Kiwi cross and Jerseys, and the herd is fairly level, averaging 5,600 litres
per cow per year and 479kg of milk solids.

Operating a spring block calving system, they artificially inseminate cows before sweeping with their Hereford bulls to catch any tail end cows. Bulls are also used on the heifers as they do not know their potential until they have been in the herd; similar to a trial period at a new job.

Claire says: “Next year, we will have 47 of our heifers coming through and we will be a closed herd for the first time. The aim is to get 150 cows and push our herd performance, averaging 6,500 litres and 550kg of milk solids.

“For us, it is quality not quantity, so building up the herd we want is a long-term challenge and we are still not there.”


This year the Easthams have sent 800,000 litres to Barber’s for cheese production, with Martyn sitting on the board of farmer representatives.

Claire says: “We were supplying Barber’s at our shareholder agreement and they were happy with our milk qualities “The farm we moved to also had a Barber’s contract and we have found the company to be really supportive of  new entrants and willing to take on council and start-up farms.

“However, their protected designation status narrows down the field of farms we could move to in the future if we wanted to stay supplying them.”

Aiming to maximise milk from forage, the couple has invested heavily in grassland and reseeded more than  half of the original rented land, averaging 12ha (30 acres) a year.

Claire says: “It is expensive, but we are seeing the return reflected straight back in the milk.

“As well as planting red clover in some of our offlaying ground, we have put some herbal lays into the system on the Countryside Stewardship scheme as we are keen to push boundaries and see what we can grow here without fertiliser.

“With a keen interest in regenerative agriculture, we are also undertaking the Linking Environment and Farming Environmental Land Management scheme trial and implementing integrated farm management techniques to bolster sustainability on-farm.”


Reflecting on their journey to date, Claire believes in having their individual skill sets complemented each other, making the transition to running their own farm easier.

She says: “Martin focuses on herd management, whereas I deal with cashflows and keep an eye on key performance indicators.

“It can be a shock to go from herdsman to managing a business as it is rare a herd manager is in charge of organising everything on-farm and doing jobs like
updating the movement books.

“The only time we faced any stigma was when we went to purchase a tractor and the salesperson suggested a local Dorset person may have wanted the farm.

“We thought what an odd thing to say, considering we had both been in Dorset working for dairy firms for a number of years prior to our tenancy, and already knew a lot of people in the area.

“However, most people seem happy for us and knew how hard we have worked to get to this stage.”

Claire talks passionately about the role of new entrants within agriculture and the need for them across all sectors, highlighting there was a place for everyone within industry.

“Agriculture does not sell itself enough to show the diversity of roles available. From journalism and marketing to mechanics, we need new entrants to bring fresh and bright ideas.

“We are still stuck with the traditional image of working hard and grumbling about it, however if you enjoy the work it does not seem quite as hard.

“But we have to be more flexible and foster an attitude adjustment, such as more staff doing fewer hours and being respectful of the people’s life commitments.”

Positive messaging

Claire says winning the New Entrant: Against the Odds Award at least year’s British Farming Awards was a pleasant surprise and helps the industry provide
positive messaging about getting into agriculture.

She says: “It was recognition of all our hard work and what we have achieved together.

“When we find the right farm to progress to, we hope it will helpset us apart from the competition and is another talking point, opening doors to discuss you are not from a farming family.

“Going forward, we still have growing room in this farm and have invested a lot, so it is payback time.

“But we only have six years left at this farm and would like to move somewhere else and expand to a two-man team, which would allow us to strike a balance between life on-farm and spending time with our young children, Ned and Burt.”

A word from the sponsor

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