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 400-acre mostly-grass enterprise.
Spring this time round has been really tricky to manage in West Cornwall. This is partly because grass has come through winter extremely well and has been growing most of the time with steady winter growth. So we got the autumn-calved cows at Bojewyan out on February 16, but they had to be brought back inside two weeks later because it got too wet.
They then stayed in for three weeks but, luckily, we have plenty of silage, so it was okay. When they went out again, things went well for a few days, but then the weather turned wet again. This time, however, we decided to stick it out, because if we are not careful, grass will be ahead of cows and we will lose quality.
If we do not control residuals at this stage of the season, it will be a struggle and the mower will be out more than normal pre-mowing. By the time we get to late May, most fields will be pre-mown before grazing if the weather allows. Just now, in late March, grass is growing at 40kg DM/day and I expect growth to take off soon. I am not always sure if the plate meter is measuring the height of the grass or the depth of the poaching.
This spring has been so wet at times it has been difficult to spread fertiliser without making a mess with wheel marks, but we have waited and picked the best days. Youngstock finished strip-grazing kale in mid-March and have done really well on it, with only the last six weeks getting muddy.
Unfortunately, they had to stay on kale stubble for 10 days longer, eating just round bales to allow the ground to dry up enough to move on to grass without making a mess, and even now some fields are stepped up more than we would like, especially against hedges.
These areas will need to be grass-harrowed and overseeded. The youngstock are grazing winter growth off from silage ground before it has some slurry and fertiliser applied, and is then saved up to be cut around mid-May.
We have about 50 acres which has gone too far to be grazed and we shall hopefully cut soon for round bales to tidy it up, and it will be brought back into the rotation for cows should grass growth slow. We are also interested to see how early-made round bales analyse compared to clamp silage, and how well it feeds.
For the first time in years, we have had to treat calves for pneumonia because of damp muggy weather which we could have done without. Apart from the extra time spent treating and observing them to make sure they get over it properly, there is the expense and the fact some calves needed an extra dose.
The depressed growth rate is not helpful and the damp weather means we are using more straw to keep animals clean and warm and have had to buy in extra. Here in West Cornwall, barley straw is more than £100/tonne delivered and we desperately want the weather to improve so calves can be turned out.
Cows at Levant started to calve from late February with few problems apart from poor weather for grazing, so they were grazed for a few hours a day and kept in the yard for the rest of the day on good quality round bale silage.
Now there are only a few left to calve, with milkers out day and night and then having access to a small amount of silage at milking time. Although our dairy units are only a mile apart, land at Levant is more free-draining than at
Bojewyan, which is good in a wet spring, but not so well in a dry summer.
All Jersey heifer calves born at Levant came in the first three weeks of calving to keep a nice tight group for easier management.
These are fed colostrum for two to three days, before moving onto milk powder with an automatic machine. Beef calves have been reared on cows until the passports come, when they are sold locally, which has made life easier. Our attention now is on getting kale fields reseeded back into grass.
Most will go into medium/long-term leys, but 12 acres will have red clover for making round bales to feed to milkers for its higher protein content. We find it easier to ensile in bales than a clamp and it adds some longer fibre to the diet, but before we can do anything we need a dry week.