Henry Gent farms 120ha (300 acres) and the same area again on short-term agreements, all grazing, near Exeter. All land is organic and he sells milk from his 300 cows to the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative. Married, with grown up children, he has a team of five people looking after the dairy herd and followers and also runs chickens which go to a local abattoir.
Calving is drawing to a close because we calve for just nine weeks in both spring and autumn. The ‘magic day’ when pasture growth exceeds eating capacity is well behind us, mid- March I think, and probably about four weeks earlier than last year.
However, with more than half the grazing ground consisting of flood meadows which were too wet to graze, we continued to feed pasture silage until about March 20. We are now feeding 4kg dry matter of wholecrop to fresh-calvers, but I know this is difficult to justify.
The key is to cut down concentrates. The autumn-calved group is being fed above 20 litres of milk, and spring-calvers, which are getting the wholecrop, are being fed above 23 litres and averaging about 32 litres. The only pasture silage being fed now is some big bales, which are going to a couple of bunches of youngstock.
One mob of beef cattle is hanging about in a field waiting to go on the marshes. Yearling heifers are being kept handy to be served with sexed semen for three weeks, prior to running with the Angus bulls. We have sowed everything before the end of the month, except two fields which are waiting for chicken and cattle to move off so they can be ploughed.
We have had some interesting weather and I am not claiming everything went in perfectly. We were rained off a couple of times, but we had some good drying wind. In all cases, the sequence of events has been much the same: move off out-wintered cattle, plough, subsoil, power harrow drill 124kg/hectare (50kg/acre) of peas and barley, roll, sow either kale/rape or pasture seeds with the comb-harrow and roll again.
We have the comb-harrow and rollers and the contractor does the rest. Another significant event at the turn of the month is letting out chicken, as the bird flu threat has receded. This is good news, as I did not like the idea of keeping birds in over summer.
Until now, the weather has been sufficiently cool and the stocking rate has been sufficiently low, due to provision of extra houses, and birds have been comfortable.