Henry Gent: 'Since we converted to organic in 2001 we have narrowed down even more so'

livestockdairyDairy FarmerGrassland+-

All roads in the West Country lead to Exeter and converge together like the spokes of a wheel. Wedged between two of those spokes is our farm, Mosshayne, more or less the first farm you would come to if you set out from the centre of Exeter and walked east along the railway.


The farmyards and fields which laid between us and Exeter when I was growing up have now been developed. And yet this parish, Broadclyst, is a productive agricultural area.


While the western edges of Broadclyst are developed, the greatest part of the parish, which is rather large, is completely undeveloped and home to plenty of good farming, which is mostly cattle, especially cows.


I think there are 10 dairy farms here and I wonder if there is any other parish out there which can better this?


Quite a bit of the area is strong red soil, but our end is sandy – we farm quite close to the Sandy Park rugby stadium. Our historic average annual rainfall is 800mm, relatively low for the West Country, and we out-winter about half our milkers and two thirds of the followers.


We also have some Clyst Valley floodplains and when I was young we grew early potatoes, swedes, malting barley, other combine crops and cider apples, with sheep and pigs as well as cattle.


Like most farms we have gradually specialised, and since we converted to organic in 2001, we have narrowed down even more so. Now milk and the sale of cattle dominates the business.


For us, the main challenges of organic dairy production have been, and continue to be, producing milk from forage in winter and trying to farm without antibiotics.


This last challenge has been met in the dairy herd, thanks to quite a lot of effort, so I may be returning to these themes in future contributions.


The previous writer of this column from a south western farmer, Rodney Down, wrote in his final column how July and August had been exceptionally dry for him. This has also been true round here. Grass growth in August slowed right down but we had a lot of grass in front of us.


The spring calvers, half the herd, have been on just grazing and a bit of cake in the parlour, but the autumn calvers are on silage.

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