As this year’s Profit From Grass series comes to an end we catch up with the four farmers to see how their grazing season has been and what their future plans are.
With fourth cut silage beckoning, Richard Tucker, of Ditchetts Farm, near Tiverton, Devon, is aiming to finish the grazing season with grass covers of 2,100kg dry matter (DM)/hectare (850kg DM/acre) in preparation for turnout early next spring for the family-run 240-cow dairy herd.
Silage remains a key management tool, with round bales used as a buffer feed along with concentrate feed to compensate for lulls in grass growth in early spring and mid- to late-summer.
He says: “Mid-September’s cool weather saw growth fall to 50kg DM/ha against a demand of 60kg DM/ha. Five round bales of silage and upping concentrate to 2kg/head/day meant cows kept milking well.”
Milk recording on September 13 showed the spring-calving herd averaged 17 litres/head/day at 4.63 per cent butterfat and 3.81 per cent protein.
“If autumn plays out half sensibly we will hit a production target of 5,000 litres of milk from forage and 500kg/cow of concentrate,” he says.
To achieve that target the grazing round across the 61ha (150 acres) milking platform is gradually being lengthened to about 40 days by the end of the month. The herd will be housed from mid-November.
Paddocks had organic P and K applied which will release slowly over the coming months.
“This season has played out better than we had hoped having avoided a drought in August. But the importance of keeping up-to-date with reseeding and ensuring closing covers are high enough to ensure a good entry the following spring has been brought home to us,” he says.
Rotationally grazing of 20ha (50 acres) of grassland through 2017 has allowed Andrew Jones, of Higher Trevallett Farm, near Launceston, Cornwall, to carry 30 per cent more beef cattle than set-stocked pasture.
Working pasture harder has resulted in quicker recovery times and better quality grazing, helping achieve an initial goal of lowering feed costs for 600 beef cattle finished annually.
He says: “On the intensively stocked cell grazing area we grew 13,000kg DM/ha in 194 days from March 6, according to plate-meter readings. Growing cattle consumed 10,000kg DM/ha suggesting a utilisation of 77 per cent.
“To put it into perspective, the system has produced 900kg/ha of liveweight gain. At a market value of £2/kg for good quality forward store cattle it has generated £1,800/ha. Thanks to James Daniel, of Precision Grazing’s, advice we have made good use of what we have grown.”
The system, run with help from son Oscar has been carrying more younger cattle this season. Weights checked in late September show an average liveweight gain of 0.74kg/head/day. This compares to 0.83kg in 2016 for older stock on a mature but more productive pasture than the new ley used this season.
The feed and income generated on the cell area is particularly welcome this year as 56ha (140 acres) of spring barley grown for feed performed poorly after a difficult start. It yielded 4.94t/ha (2t/acre) against 7.41t/ha (3t/acre) in a normal year.
Forage maize may also be under par due to a lack of sunshine to date. More biscuit meal – a high energy/high sugar by-product feed costing £164/t – will be used more widely this winter in diets to compensate.
“Looking ahead to 2018 we shall certainly be carrying on with cell grazing. But having suffered early in spring when ground conditions were poor, I will hedge my bet and take a cut of silage off some of the area before including it in the rotation.”
Historical data and accurate recording of grass growth, covers and demand continues to allow James and Lucy Muir to trim costs for the family-run 450-cow herd at New Buildings Farm, Stafford.
James Muir says: “In mid-August we took 97 acres of silage and another 160 acres on August 30. The aftermaths received 4,000 galllons/acre of dirty water slurry and 40kg nitrogen/ha on the early cut ground and 20kg N/ha on the later cut fields.”
The reduction in fertiliser used was influenced by accurate forecasting of where target grass covers needed to be and what was actually available on the grazing platform, he says.
“Our target is for 2,200kg DM/ha on September 1 and our actual farm cover was 2,321kg DM/ha; there was less need to stimulate growth.”
Aftermaths provided good clean grass for the herd, which in mid-September was giving an average of 19.7 litres/cow/day at 4.93 per cent butterfat and 3.93 per cent protein (1.8kg of milk solids).
Mr Muir says: “We aim to grow 13t DM/ha of grass and utilise 80 per cent. To date we have grown 10.5t/ha and expect a further 2t DM/ha into early December. Key to successful management of the system is to have good historical data and be proactive rather than reactive to conditions.”
As the farm has cubicle space for 350 cows, a proportion of the herd will be dried off before housing. Although based on New Zealand principles, about 100 cows will be milked right through winter to avoid stopping collections.
He says: “Our challenge for 2018 is to keep focused on being efficient at producing low cost milk. Expansion and capital investment will be constrained as HS2 is planned to pass through the farm, but we remain committed to dairy farming and are actively looking for opportunities.”
After a year of considerable effort to reap the rewards of rotational grazing a number of fundamental decisions are being taken by Jimmy and Thomas Stobart, of Croglin High Hall, near Amathwaite, Cumbria, to simplify the business.
Jimmy says: “We have been aware of being too sheep heavy, so have taken the decision to sell the Swale draft ewes and breed just one flock of White-faced ewes. Doing this and improving the management of allotments (upland grazing) we should be able to keep these on the hill all-year-round.”
This will ease workload through spring and summer, helping accommodate the extra effort of moving cattle daily on the area of rotational grazing. This improves daily liveweight gain and turnaround of cattle which has a positive impact on cashflow.
With fewer sheep, more stirks will being bought and over-wintered in yards. These will be fed either haylage or clamped silage according to age. Other cattle will strip graze 3ha (7 acres) of the winter forage, Redstart, planted recently.
Jimmy says:“The one thing we have learnt with rotational grazing is we can feed stock on grass reducing a reliance on bought-in feed. Now we have realised that I think we have the confidence to give more things a go.”
While clean grazing will be needed in early spring as the sheep flocks gear up for lambing, the Stobarts would ideally like to get some cattle out earlier.
“With more cattle on the farm we need to continue improving infrastructure such as access to water toughs. We also need to plan the rotations better to avoid moving stock from one end of the farm to the other; it needs to be simplified,” he says.