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Cowmen comment: Christopher Murley - 'This spring we went back to watching for bulling several times a day'

Christopher Murley farms in partnership with his two brothers and parents at two neighbouring farms on the western tip of Cornwall. Higher Bojewyan farm has 180 autumn-calving pedigree Jerseys and Levant farm runs 120 spring-calving cows on the 370-acre mostly grass enterprise.

Grass growth in west Cornwall has been pretty good since cows have been out, apart from the end of May as things were very dry.

 

Luckily we have had rain when needed and good spells of dry weather when we have had grass to cut. So far we have made very good silage with a higher dry matter than last year, which should be better for the cows’ digestion.

 

All fields which had kale/stubble turnips last winter ended up being ploughed as they were so wet in winter that it would have taken too long for them to dry out naturally to make a reasonable seedbed. Ploughing also helped break up compaction and aerate the soil.

 

In mid-April they were sown with a westerwold, vetch and red clover mix which came up very quick and covered the ground well, keeping out most weeds.

 

They were cut for haylage on July 18 and baled four days later, yielding 31 bales per hectare (12.5 bales/acre).

 

Following an application of nitrogen and some rain, regrowth has been rapid with cows grazing nearly every 10 days.

 

Cows at Levant are now hopefully in-calf and cruising along at about 14 litres at 5.96% butterfat and 4.26% protein.

 

Sexed semen

 

All cows have been served with sexed semen, as have the heifers, followed by our own Limousin bulls to sweep up.

 

All spring-born calves went out to grass on July 16 and are now on grass only after three weeks of buffer feed to help them adjust to grass.

 

They are now on a block grazing system with a fresh paddock every three days with a back fence which works very well and trains them to graze the sward tightly from the start.


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Autumn calvers at Bojewyan started calving on August 12 to Jersey via sexed semen, so we should have a good number of replacements with a few British Blue crosses in the mix.

 

By the end of September all Jerseys should be born and the rest will be beef crosses of British Blue from AI or Limousin from our own two bulls used in the last six weeks of service to sweep up.

 

For the last six years, we have synchronised all of our heifers to calve at the start of the calving window for both spring and autumn blocks, which despite being costly has worked well for us.

 

Pandemic

 

This spring, mainly because of Covid-19, we thought it best not to have anybody on-farm who was not essential and went back to watching for bulling several times a day.

 

To our surprise, we served 30 out of 37 in 10 days and the remaining seven in the following week, then introduced the Limousin bull.

 

Now there are fresh calved cows at Bojewyan, we are feeding a small amount of first cut silage only to fresh calvers at milking times with grass making up most of their diet.

 

Dry cows have been rotationally grazed behind the milkers tidying up followed by topping with the mower.

 

Close up drys are grazing standing hay with haylage and a calcium binding dry cow nut fed in the yard for a few hours when milking cows are grazing.

 

This is fed for the last 10 days before calving and seems to work very well for us, with little milk fever or reatined cleansings.

We aim to run all heifers with the milking cows for at least two weeks before calving to get them used to the parlour and routine and to have a small amount of concentrate before they calve.

 

Early August saw us sow 10ha (25 acres) of kale for outwintering youngstock with bales of haylage in the field ready for feeding.

 

We also reseeded 6ha (15 acres) at Levant, with a medium-term grazing ley and another 3.2ha (eight acres) at Bojewyan.

 

So far we have coped well with Covid-19, most importantly we are safe and well. Hopefully that will continue, but with the easing of restrictions and tourists returning, it is a worry.

 

Milk price

 

Business-wise it has been stable, with the Arla price remaining good and we have been able to get the necessary work done, albeit with some changes in how it is done.

 

Hopefully the worst is over, but time will tell.

Farm facts:

  • Farm size: 150 hectares (370 acres), mainly grass, with some kale for outwintering youngstock.
  • Herd size: 180 autumn calvers doing 5000 litres at 5.8%F and 4.0%P; 120 spring calvers (milked once a day) doing 3400 litres at 6.2%F and 2.4%P.
  • Rainfall: 1400mm (55 inches)
  • Milk buyer: Arla
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