May Gold Cup comment: Challenging spring helped by staff

The 2017 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winners—the Norman family from Herefordshire—reports on the latest news from The Leen ahead of their prestigious farm open day on June 14th.

Well, I would like to be saying what a difference a month makes! It was still very cold and wet out there in April.  But that said there are some positives from the last month—the cows are out, the grass is growing and we have gone clear on TB (the first time in 10 years).

We hit Magic day (when grass growth exceeds demand) a little later than usual—the second week in April.  For the last two weeks we have grown +90Kg DM/ha per day.

We are into the second round of grazing and have shut 25% of the grazing platform up for first cut silage.  This has left us with a stocking rate of 4.8 LU/ha, on a 21 day round.  We seem to be growing a little more grass than other members of our grazing group (Wye graze), Chris and I put this down to having free draining soils and a digestate application in February when the weather allowed it. That said, the areas we are allocating are appearing to graze out very quickly.  This tells us the dry matter content is not as high as the plate meter formula is telling us—but this is just a short term issue due to the rapid growth.

The cows are producing 1.66 kg of milk solids per day, (5.0% fat and 3.73% protein) 113 SCC and 45 bacto. The cows are being fed 0.5kg conc and 17kgDM grass.

Grazing challenge
The grazing in this period has been some of the most challenging we have had to endure.  Our paddocks have got off very lightly compared to others on similar systems.  I must give our staff the credit here for this because they were making daily/hourly judgements as to where to put the cows and for how long.  Several times they held them back or brought them in early to allow rain to pass.

They have used the multiple gates and track accesses that we have into each paddock, often allowing only one set of cow movements through a gateway each day. In the few spots where damage has occurred we are going to aerate and potentially reseed.

For the past three years we have been under sowing our maize with grass.  The aim of this is to give soils a growing cover over winter—to prevent soil run off and nutrient loss—and to give early grazing for youngstock and to give a larger area of first cut silage. Grass is drilled once the maize is about 15-20cm high it germinates and sits under the maize as a pretty insignificant specimen then when the maize is harvested it grows well, so there is a good bite of grass at the end of March/April.  This gives us approximately another tonne of dry matter utilised.  So we have been making the most of this grass with our in calf heifers this year.  Another advantages of this green cover is that we can spread digestate onto it, something which regulations prevent on a bare stubble. 

We have been planning the Gold Cup Open Day on June 14th  and we really hope that you can make it.  We hope to outline the fundamentals behind our business through a series of talks from speakers who have been influential in our achievements and have helped us to win the 2017 Gold Cup award.

With the overall theme focusing on the strategic success of an autumn block grazing system, talks will reveal how we look at our business structure to identify and develop opportunities linked not only to the dairy unit but our other farm enterprises.  The Andersons Centres’ Tony Evans will also explain the importance of succession planning and role of governance in the farms success.

Further sessions delivered by LIC and Real Success will look at the factors driving business performance and staff management and motivation; outlining the key factors determining your team’s success.

The Wye and Usk Foundation will highlight the importance of aligning and linking farming with the environment and the benefits this could have for both.

The Key enterprises—the dairy, broiler unit and anaerobic digester will be “interactive” stations, manned throughout the day by their respective managers and by industry suppliers, all of whom will be readily equipped for any queries.  Additional “points of interest” will be clearly signed and will include the parlour, cows, young stock, winter feed and summer feed; these areas will be accompanied by information boards that outline key facts.

There is a great programme lined up and we hope visitors will make the most of the day by looking around the farm, its dairy, broiler units and the anaerobic digester.

We hope we are able to provide some key take home points that people can apply to their own businesses and equally, look forward to learning some new ideas ourselves too.

HSBC are principal sponsor of the day while Kite Consulting will provide free bacon rolls on arrival for all visitors who should pre-register.

Reprinted from the May 2018 edition of British Dairying. To see the original article please visit the British Dairying website.