The Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassadors look back on a challenging summer and outline their plans for the coming winter.
The worst winter weather for many years followed by a long wet spring then a hot dry summer has had far-reaching consequences for farmers across the UK. But as the Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassadors reveal, most have risen to the challenge and have plans in place to tackle issues such as reduced forage stocks.
Their biggest concerns being factors beyond their control; the beef and milk price, along with the hope that this winter’s weather is not a repeat of last year.
Although William Westacott is used to extreme weather in the South East, he admits this year has been particularly challenging, but in spite of this he does not anticipate forage shortages this winter.
He says: “We only ever take two cuts of silage and I always like to make about 20 per cent more than I anticipate I need. This year, second cut was very much reduced, but it was drier than usual and quality was good.
“Maize quality is also good and I grew an extra three hectares this year which will help. We did have some flattened by the wind and, although we managed to harvest most of it, I am having to plough maize stubbles, which is something I have not had to do before.
“On a positive note, I have never had as much good quality straw for bedding, so if mastitis levels do not fall this winter I will be very surprised.
“Normally, we do not start to use this year’s silage until December, but this time we will be into it in November. We will have to make some adjustments to diets and the ration will be 1.7ppl more expensive this winter. So although we have a slightly better milk price at the moment, my biggest concern would be a falling milk price in the months ahead.”
Like many farmers, Fiona Skeen and her son Graham have been short of grass this summer and silage yields have been down, but contingency plans are in place.
Fiona says: “Stock itself has done remarkably well this summer and animals are in better condition than expected, given the shortage of grass, although we farm more extensively than some people and we are not overstocked.
“Silage yield is very much back. The first fields cut normally fill the clamp with some left over to be baled, but this year it did not even fill the clamp. We have cut the same number of fields, but yield is about 30 per cent down.
However, rain in September really helped grass growth and cattle have as much grass in front of them as they have had all summer. If the weather stays good, we will be able to leave them out for longer without poaching the ground, which is usually an issue as winter nears.
“To make up for the shortfall in silage, we bought an additional 150 acres of straw. We will use this to extend the ration and, in addition to dark grains we usually buy, we have bought a load of molasses to improve palatability.”
Fraser Jones has not produced as much silage as usual this summer, with five cuts in some places and four in others. He was hoping for six cuts this year.
He says: “Silage quality is good, but it just did not bulk up. I had some carry over from last year and only started this year’s silage at the beginning of October, so I am in a better position than a lot of farmers. Cows have done well over summer and we have kept diets the same, as I like to be consistent, although some ingredient prices have gone up.
“The maize crop has done well and tonnage looks good, apart from some spots which were flattened by wind. We reseeded some grass for next year and the rain came at the right time, so that is looking good.
“So from a forage point of view, everything is looking good and we should have plenty for winter, unless we get extreme weather again. I could have sold some maize, but decided to keep it just in case we have another really bad winter.
“My biggest concern is milk price, which needs to be higher. All costs have gone up: concentrates; fuel; labour; so margins are tighter.”
With no forage carried over from last year and this year’s silage crop about 15 per cent down, James Robinson has put plans in place to make up the shortfall.
He says: “To do nothing and wait and see what happened was not an option. I was not prepared to leave things to chance, knowing how much less silage we have.
“In August, we planted eight acres of kale/fodder rape. It was perfect timing; the rain came just in time and it has done as well as it possibly could.
“We will graze cows on this during the day through November, which will mean we can keep them going out until December which is later than usual.
“We have also put in 15 acres of Westerwold and Italian rye-grass for an early bite next spring. Even if we cannot get the cows out onto it, we will be able to bring it to them.
“This year, for the first time, we have measured exactly how much forage is in the clamp. We have never felt the need to do this before, but you cannot visualise dry matter and we now know exactly what we have available to use each day.
“My biggest concern going into winter is feed prices and whether the milk price will keep pace with these, as margins are getting tighter all the time as costs are rising.”
This summer’s dry weather has not had too much of an impact for Ian Alderson, as his farm’s clay land has been able to retain some moisture.
He says: “We only take one cut of silage and that was before it got too dry so it did not impact on yield.
“We also grew a few more acres this year, so have an extra 80 bales or so, which is a good thing, as last winter we were completely eaten up of silage.
“The biggest problem was that, after mowing, grass did not grow, so we could not turn the lambs onto it which we would normally do.
“However, we were able to run them round the permanent pasture and they have done well with the dry weather and were all sold by early October.
“Cattle have also done well and we have had 20-30 stores inside to feed since August, so we can get them away early and ease the pressure for winter.
“Looking ahead, I am hoping we do not get a winter like last year, so we can have a relatively early turnout, but if we do get short of forage, we have the option of selling some cattle a bit earlier. We also need a good beef price, but it is out of our control.”
This article is part of a ‘Disease? Not On My Farm!’ series which showcases proactive beef and dairy farmers taking pride in their robust herd health and disease management approach.
This information was provided by MSD Animal Health, makers of Bovilis® BVD, Bovilis® IBR Marker Live, Bovilis® IBR Marker Inac, Leptavoid™ H, Rotavec® Corona, Halocur®, Bovilis® Bovipast RSP, Bovilis® Huskvac and Bovilis® Ringvac. Always use medicines responsibly. More information is available from Intervet UK Ltd trading as MSD Animal Health. Registered office Walton Manor, Walton, Milton Keynes MK7 7AJ, UK. Registered in England & Wales no. 946942. T: 01908 685 685 E: firstname.lastname@example.org W: www.msd-animal-health.co.uk.