Heath View Farm, Yockleton, Shropshire, was one of the farms visited as part of the British Grassland Society summer meeting. Simon Wragg reports.
Calving 162 Viking Red cross Holstein cows to sexed semen in autumn rather than spring is helping Julian Evans achieve an estimated £25,000 extra income.
Based in Yockleton, Shropshire, the unit is focused on making best use of spring grazing but maintaining milk production year round, attracting seasonality payments and using supplementary feed to lift yields adds to the farm’s bottom line profit.
The 69-hectare (170-acre) farm business is focused on a 32ha (79-acre) grazing platform with off-lying land used for silage-making and rearing youngstock. Maize is bought from a local grower as a core ingredient to the herd’s total mixed ration (TMR).
Mr Evans who farms with his parents, Robert and Ros, and supported by his wife Pippa, says: “We have been an autumn calving herd since the late 1990s and moved to cross-breeding shortly afterwards. We started using sexed semen having missed out on hundreds of pounds for [continental] beef calves compared to just tens for black and white bulls.”
The herd now has a conception rate of 66 per cent, breeding replacement heifers and calving from August 20 to November 10. They have not always seen good results however, as suspected exposure to the Schmallenberg virus saw fertility suffer one year.
Most of the herd will calve outdoors with minimum intervention. A programme of dry cow therapy is used to minimise udder health issues. Replacement rate for the herd is about 19 per cent.
Keeping grassland used for rotational grazing in good heart requires careful management.
Mr Evans says: “We have identified areas high in magnesium and low in calcium where cows would not graze. In spring we apply one tonne of gypsum per acre, plus 50kg of rock salt to make affected areas of grazing palatable.”
Calcified ammonium nitrate is applied at 180kg/ha (73kg/acre) in early season to help ameliorate the calcium deficiency further.
Alongside a full vaccination programme for the herd, blood sampling had highlighted a prevalence for herd members to be low in iodine and selenium. This has been factored in to ration formulations.
This year’s replacement heifers were well fleshed, having benefited from a good start to the grazing year. As calving nears, heifers and dry cows receive an initial TMR buffer feed of 8kg/head of maize silage, 150g/head of minerals, and 2kg/head of straw to supplement grazed grass.
Late lactation cull cows are allowed to keep adding to the bulk tank to avoid a temporary suspension of milk collections from the farm. Cows remaining in the herd are dried off eight at a time for ease of management.
Once calved, cows and heifers continue grazing and receive a TMR comprising 5kg/head of a blend formulated using affordable cereal-based products, up to 15kg/head of maize silage and 0.8kg/head of straw.
This increases as the herd moves into winter and is adjusted according to the quality of grazed grass. Typically, up to 26kg of maize silage, 8kg of bought-in fodder beet and 10kg of the blend/head, plus 150g of minerals, will be used to support grazing. The mix also includes 8g of live yeast on a limestone carrier to aid rumen function.
Good quality grass silage is also needed. Mr Evans says: “A typical analysis would have a metabolisable energy value of 11.8MJ, a D-value of 74, protein rate of 18 per cent and about 30 per cent dry matter.”
Profitability of the enterprise is helped by using the full value of dairy slurry as part of the farm’s fertiliser plan. This is treated with additive and applied using either a dribble bar or trailing shoe to avoid atmospheric losses of nitrogen.
Julian Evans says tests had found areas high in magnesium and low in calcium. making pasture unpalatable.