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Cowmen comment: Christopher Murley - The relief of a clear TB test

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On farm this month: Work has continued on repairing field boundaries

Ever since the cows were turned out in late February we have been chasing the grass and have so far grazed most of our farm at least twice with cows and youngstock.


As of May 1 we only had 35 acres saved for first cut silage but, by May 10, with warmer weather, followed by four days of fog and drizzle, the grass grew much faster at 114kg DM/day enabling much more to be cut. Grass analysis shows excellent quality and the cows are milking very well with low milk ureas, which is good.


First cut silage was cut on May 15 in ideal conditions, although yields were variable with some fields very heavy and others lighter. It did start to rain a couple of hours before we finished but with the forecast looking poor for the next few days we decided to push on and finish. As it had been cut and raked in the dry hopefully little harm was done.


The grass was spread by the mower and then spread again with the tedder before rowing up and chopping with our own self-propelled machine. Although our harvester is quite old it has been very reliable and enables us to go when we want and at a speed which allows enough time to clamp it well in the pit.


Next job is to get the fertiliser on and empty the slurry tank with the trailing shoe tanker. The fertiliser will be straight nitrogen as soil testing has shown good P and K levels which will at least be a saving in these difficult times.


Cows at Bojewyan are now in late lactation and will start to go dry in June. Currently they are milking well which is good as they didn’t milk as well as we would have liked through the winter. They are doing 18 litres on 2kg of cake with the rest from grazed grass. Fat is 5.6% and protein 4.13%.


Cows at Levant were nearly all served in the first three weeks of the breeding season starting May 2, and hopefully there won’t be too many returns. After AI for six weeks we will run two sweeper bulls with them again to hopefully get a tight calving block. Levant cows are also doing 18 litres at 5.5% fat and 3.9% protein on less than a kilo of cake.


We had a clear TB test in April which was a big relief as there are plenty of problems locally. We are a bit understocked at present and do not want to risk bringing in disease by buying animals, so the last thing we need is to be losing cows with TB. We are extremely thankful to hopefully have another 12 months clear.


As mentioned, some of our grassland had struggled in late winter with the wet and cold weather. We overseeded 25 acres and did a complete re-seed on nine acres as they were too badly damaged. The fields which were overseeded were slit twice with the blades fully offset, then grass harrowed with the seed broadcast at the same time. This was followed by Cambridge rolling with fairly good results.


The fields for complete reseeds were ploughed to start from scratch. Last winter’s kale fields have taken a while to reseed as we had to wait for them to dry out first. They then had some dung and slurry spread on them and were ploughed followed by several passes with the cultivator to break up the clods.


The last few months has seen us mending some of the fences around the grazing fields with some new posts and wire where needed. It doesn’t seem to matter where we get our wood posts from but they struggle to last more than seven years if we’re lucky, and some an awful lot less.


Last summer we managed to buy a block of 34 acres which we have been renting for about 10 years but unfortunately it isn’t stock proof and will need barbed wire fencing. Perhaps we should use chestnut posts even if they do cost a lot more.


By the time this is published we will be close on the European referendum and I wonder if the country will stick with the devil we know or take the leap to leave.


Either way, I suspect the country and the dairy industry will still have plenty of problems to deal with!


Farm facts

  • Farm size: 140 ha (350 acres), mainly grass with 16 ha (40 acres) spring barley for alkalage
  • Herd size: 310 pedigree Jerseys milking and 140 youngstock
  • Yield: 5300 litres at 5.75% butterfat and 3.97% protein
  • Rainfall: 1400mm (55 inches)
  • Milk buyer: Arla Milk Link.
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