Consolidating dairy operations to great success
Published: 29th November 2019
Focusing on their strengths has seen Dann’s Farm in North Norfolk set itself up for success with a growing ice cream business.
The 600 plus-acre Dann’s Farm in North Norfolk has been in the Dann family for five generations and is currently run by Simon Dann and his son Alex. When Simon originally started working alongside his father, the farm was very mixed, with free-range poultry, just over 100 dairy cows and over 700 acres of mixed arable land, as well as a growing luxury ice cream business, which was Simon’s brainchild. But in recent years the family have focused their efforts on growing and enhancing the dairy operation, making investments in new herds and a new, modern dairy.
Growing the dairy business
“We were probably busy fools,” says Simon. “Trying to do too much and spreading ourselves too thin. When Alex finished college he had the idea to focus primarily on dairy farming. So we did our research and started planning a new £2 million dairy building. It was originally going to be for 300 cows but ended up being for over 400 when we got the opportunity to buy our neighbour’s herd.
“Alongside that, we have kept our poultry business, and now have over 8,000 hens, and carried on building the ice cream brand, which is going from strength to strength.”
Not all smooth sailing
However, growing the dairy business was not without its challenges, particularly when the family’s original lender pulled out of financing the new dairy buildings.
“We had financing in place to build the new accommodation for 300 cows,” says Simon. “But then, when we decided to buy the second herd, our request for extra funds was declined, and the bank withdrew the original loan, despite having given us a £100,000 deposit to get the ball rolling.
“I think they got cold feet due to milk prices and concerns over the dairy industry generally. The day we found out the funding had been pulled, £370,000 worth of building materials arrived, so we were left in a horrible situation. We looked for an alternative lender so we could continue with the project and that’s when we started working with AMC, who have been a breath of fresh air.”
“It took us three years from deciding to focus solely on dairy to getting the new buildings up and running, but we got there,” he adds. “We had some teething problems bringing the two herds together, but now the cows are milking well and we’ve had nine months of static milk prices. It was a risk, but hopefully it’s paying off.”
“We’re a lender that lends for the future,” says Mike Lord, Regional Agricultural Manager for AMC. “When the original lender pulled out of the deal, we were happy to step in, even amidst falling milk prices at the time, as this was still a viable proposition due to the efficiency savings of the project and the longer loan term offered.
“The new dairy site is great and doing very well. Simon and Alex are very experienced and know what they are doing. It’s great working with them.”
Growing the ice cream business
While the majority of the milk from the farm goes to a dairy co-operative, around 100,000 litres a year is kept back for making luxury ice cream.
“We started the ice cream business, Dann’s Luxury Norfolk Ice Cream, in 2007 and our aim has always been to provide a top-quality product made with the best ingredients,” says Simon. “It’s a handmade product, made in small 10 litre batches and we use local produce where possible. Milk and eggs come from the farm and we also use local honey, malt and lavender in some of the flavours.”
“Over the years we’ve diversified into ice lollies, as well as sorbets and iced treats for dogs,” Simon continues.
“Originally we thought the ice cream would just be sold in farm shops but actually our biggest customer is a local stately home. You can also find our products in a well-known supermarket chain across Norfolk.”
Looking to the future
The Danns are hoping to continue growing the ice cream business by coming up with new flavours and maybe even branching out into more dairy-free offerings.
“The growing popularity of veganism means we need to look at our dairy-free offering and how we market and brand it,” says Simon. “Obviously being a dairy farmer this trend worries me, but we’ll adapt and rise to the challenge like we always do.”