Farming couple start a new life without cars, paved roads or INCOME TAX on the Channel Island of Sark which has been ruled over by a feudal lord since 1565
A husband and wife dairy farming couple have started a new life on the tiny Channel Island of Sark after being told they could operate income tax-free.
Jason Salisbury and his wife Katharine, who run a herd of pedigree Guernsey cows on Whitegate Farm, near Ipswich, Suffolk, were selected from a short list.
A barn kitted out with milking parlour and milk pasteuriser has been put up on Sark, ready for the arrival of the cows.
Jason and his wife and their two children have a wealth of experience as they already make their own award winning Suffolk cheeses from their own top quality Guernsey cow milk.
He said he was excited about the arrival of the Sark cows and the new barn, but admitted there are challenges ahead before milk produced on the island can be sold for human consumption.
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 young stock from a lady on Guernsey who had recently retired from milking.
‘The cows and heifers have to be shipped over to Sark 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 on to the boat by crane. The same process, only in reverse, is repeated on Sark and the cows will be unloaded in our fields.’
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.
Jason Salisbury and his wife Katharine, were selected from a short list for the Sark gig
A new De Laval four-point milking parlour has been installed and milk will be sold by machine
Sark is famous for being unspolit and businessmen the Barclay Brothers – Sir Frederick and the late Sir David – own an island in its territorial waters
‘There are a lot of hurdles we have to jump over, before the milk can be sold.
‘We have installed a new De Laval 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,’ he added.
Sark is famous for being unspolit and businessmen the Barclay Brothers – Sir Frederick and the late Sir David – own an island in its territorial waters and business on the mainland.
A figure called the Seigneur of Sark is the head of the feudal government and holds the island for the English monarch.
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 Suffolk farm for over 35 years.
A figure called the Seigneur of Sark is the head of the feudal government and holds the island
In return the dairy farming family get to live on the tiny island income tax and VAT free
He said: ‘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.
‘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.
‘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.’
The couple’s two children, who are university age, will travel to the island this month to lend a hand on the farm.
Covid and logistics have been the main challenges getting it up and running for Jason, but he has ‘absolutely no regrets’ and his farm in Suffolk will be managed by staff while he is on Sark.
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.
After the last dairy farmer retired, the islanders had to import their milk, cream and cheese.
Launching their quest for a new ‘milkman’ in 2019, they pointed out that Sark residents pay no income tax, inheritance tax, VAT or capital gains tax, though there is a levy on each property and on any resident with a property available to them for 90 days a year.
Known as the ‘jewel of the Channel Islands’, Sark has unspoilt landscapes and beautiful unpaved roads.
There are no cars or airport, so the only mode of transport is by horse and carriage, making it a true escape from modern life.
Around 500 people live on Sark, surrounded by a rocky cliff-lined coast accessible by ferry and boat, under a sky dark enough for the stars to twinkle at night.
Trouble began when the island’s sole remaining dairy farmer, Christopher Nightingale, retired and shut down in 2017 due to rising costs and a lack of land stability – the island is still led by a seigneur, or feudal lord, who’s currently Christopher Beaumont.
Though feudalism formally ended on the island in 2008, old habits die hard.
Farmers on Sark must still lease their land on a short-term basis, which makes it difficult to plan a sustainable business.
And the way most UK residents get their milk has been changing over the past 30 years.
Some 89 per cent of British households still had fresh milk delivered to their doorsteps in 1980, but that number has dropped to around three per cent today.
Supermarkets have driven small dairies like Sark’s out of business by selling milk below the cost of production, said Richard Young, policy director of the UK based non-profit Sustainable Food Trust, and co-owner of Kite’s Nest Farm, speaking in 2019.
Between 2005 and 2015, half of the UK’s dairy farms packed up, and those that remain are mostly large farms with 500 cows or more.