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Chris Knowles

23 August 2002

Chris Knowles

Chris Knowles farms in

partnership with his

parents in the West

Penwith Environmentally

Sensitive Area near St Ives,

Cornwall. The farm consists

of 97ha (240 acres) of

grassland and 45ha

(110 acres) of rough

moor land, stocked with

160 dairy cows, 80

followers and 50 assorted

beef animals

SUMMER here in west Cornwall finally began during the second week of July and we took the chance to make 8ha (20 acres) of hay to add to this years fodder mountain.

There must be either a hard autumn or winter ahead to balance all this extra grass.

Niggling cases of mastitis keep rearing their ugly head. As usual, a handful of cows with high cell counts are the culprits. These are always older cows which are milking well and there are a few too many to deal with the problem simply by culling alone.

But I culled five persistent offenders this summer to try to keep cell counts under control.

Recent higher temperatures, aftermaths coming back into the rotation and unseasonably high grass growth rates make maintaining grass quality a struggle.

We have several leys which contain some Italian Ryegrass. These fields are difficult to manage at this time of year, with the Italian going to head so quickly. Mowing these fields in front of cows works well, as cows are unable to select the leaf from the stem.

We are running 64 six-month-old heifer calves as one group. We are keeping them on aftermaths as much as possible and concentrate feeding has stopped. It has surprised me just how much grass this age group will get through when conditions are favourable. Should weather or grass quality deteriorate, concentrate feeding will begin again.

Both I and my father managed to fit in a weeks holiday during July. I had attempted to organise a surprise trip to Paris for my wife Rachels birthday, but she managed to find out most of the details before we went. Leaving the girls with granny and grandpa worked well, especially for me and Rachel. &#42

It is surprising how much heifers will eat when they are offered aftermath grass and conditions are favourable, says Chris Knowles.

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Chris Knowles

24 July 2002

Chris Knowles

Chris Knowles farms in

partnership with his

parents in the West

Penwith Environmentally

Sensitive Area near St Ives,

Cornwall. The farm consists

of 97ha (240 acres) of

grassland and 45ha

(110 acres) of rough

moor land, stocked with

160 dairy cows, 80

followers and 50 assorted

beef animals

HAVING recently received our accounts for the last financial year, I was pleasantly surprised by the result. Of course, the single factor that makes such a difference was the improved and almost respectable milk price.

Our average milk price for the year was 19.1p/litre, a point at which I believe all sectors of the dairy industry can be profitable. The way things are going, this year we could well only achieve about 16p/litre. On my 2m litres that is £30,000 that will be in someone elses pocket and not mine.

With this scenario in mind, I was heartened by the news that Milk Link have invested in more processing capacity in a deal with Express. At long last, as a producer, I feel that we are actually marketing our milk by adding value via products such as Long Life milk.

Meanwhile, back at the farm this continues to be one of the grassiest seasons for many years. This is in contrast to the maize crops locally with some seriously considering the crop a failure, as many plants are still only 15cm (6in) high, yellow and swamped by weeds in mid-July.

We managed to snatch a second cut of silage between the showers, as well as 16ha (40 acres) of more mature grass for dry cows. These aftermaths will be back into the grazing rotation by the end of July and should help keep the milk up, while the summer season payments apply. The cows are still averaging 24 litres/day from 3kg of concentrate a day.

The two Limousin Bulls that we had on hire have gone home for a well deserved rest. Fertility is the key to a tight block calving pattern and I am still concerned with the number of cows returning to service. I am convinced that we need to feed more energy during the service period and that is something we will focus on next year. &#42

Chris Knowles is concerned by the number of cows returning to service this summer, believing low energy may be to blame.

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Chris Knowles

28 June 2002

Chris Knowles

Chris Knowles farms in

partnership with his

parents in the West

Penwith Environmentally

Sensitive Area near St Ives,

Cornwall. The farm consists

of 97ha (240 acres) of

grassland and 45ha

(110 acres) of rough

moor land, stocked with

160 dairy cows, 80

followers and 50 assorted

beef animals

NOT so much flaming June as a flaming horrible June with day after day of cold, wet, miserable weather.

Getting enough grass into cows has been the main challenge, with ground conditions often resembling a nasty day in March or October when cows would be brought back in after 2-3 hours grazing.

I have resorted to mowing grass for cows, which I have found works well, as long as the swath does not get too wet.

We are still feeding a flat rate of 2kg a head a day of citrus pulp after morning milking. This will continue until the end of the service period in mid-July, at which point cows will move on to stubble turnips.

Before bulls went in, we scanned cows that had not returned from the first two weeks of the service period and the conception rate during this period was 57%.

We have hired a 21t swing shovel to finish off the cow track network we started two years ago. I am looking forward to finishing tracks, as during the past couple of months it is typical that we have been trying to graze fields without a track when the weather has been wet.

With all 190 cows now in milk, it is taking about three hours a session to milk, which is too long.

Add half an hour to get cows in and half an hour to wash down and suddenly eight hours out of each day are gone. We have an 11/22 swingover in a traditional Cornish stone barn.

My gut feeling is that we should start again on a new site with at least a 20/40 swingover. But the way the milk price is going, perhaps another five units on the back of the existing parlour is more of a reality. &#42

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Chris Knowles

3 May 2002

Chris Knowles

Chris Knowles farms in

partnership with his

parents in the West

Penwith Environmentally

Sensitive Area near St Ives,

Cornwall. The farm consists

of 97ha (240 acres) of

grassland and 45ha

(110 acres) of rough

moor land, stocked with

160 dairy cows, 80

followers and 50 assorted

beef animals

WE BEGAN AI on Apr 10, giving a start date for calving next year of Jan 15.

Dry, sunny weather has certainly helped cows come bulling and is quite a contrast to the past two wet, miserable Aprils. After 14 days of serving, 86 cows have been inseminated out of about 145 that are eligible.

The situation with bulling heifers has been better than I could have expected. Between Apr 10 and 15, 35 out of 47 came bulling and were inseminated USING Holstein Friesian semen. The plan was, as last year, that after a week any heifers not served would be given prostaglandin.

But having caught so many in the first week, I decided to put the remaining dozen straight to the bull. I think I had started to feel a bit sorry for him, as he has waited patiently since last July for a bit of spice in his life.

Aprils grass growth in west Cornwall has been extremely variable. Cold east winds and a lack of any decent rain has put pressure on grazing fields. But one days rain and higher temperatures meant the whole farm took off, with growth rates reaching over 100kg DM/ha a day towards the end of the month.

Along with another farm in the West Penwith moors Environmentally Sensitive Area, we recently played host to the Cornwall Grassland Society county field day. Our co-hosts situation was similar to ours – similar size farm and similar cow numbers, but a huge difference in cow size, theirs being Jerseys and ours Holsteins.

Both of us had plenty of lush green grass on show. The day was blessed with spring sunshine and not a breath of wind. Afterwards, I wondered whether most of the 130 producers in attendance had gone home thinking that we farm in a land of milk and honey: If only. &#42

Recent rain and warm weather has done wonders for April grass growth on Chris Knowles Cornish dairy unit.

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Chris Knowles

14 December 2001

Chris Knowles

Chris Knowles farms in

partnership with his parents

in the West Penwith

Environmentally Sensitive

Area near St Ives, Cornwall.

The farm consists of 97ha

(240 acres) of grassland and

45ha (110 acres) of rough

moor land, stocked with 160

dairy cows, 80 followers and

50 assorted beef animals

WE have broken all records this autumn with milking cows grazing day and night until Nov 20 and by day until Nov 27. This means we achieved 240 days of full grazing plus another 45 days of part-day grazing.

A notable change this year has been an increase in concentrate feed rates. In response to the low quota costs, feed rate has increased from 0.15kg/litre to 0.21kg/litre over the last 12 months, resulting in an average increase of 800 litres of milk a cow.

The conversion to block spring calving is in full swing. There are currently only 60 cows in milk, averaging 15 litres/day. Most of the dry cows and in-calf heifers are housed and receiving silage and minerals. However, a group of 45 dry cows are strip grazing kale with round bale hay also on offer.

The orginal idea was to buy barley straw for dry cows this winter to make up for a lack of silage. However, the obscene price of straw led to a rethink and I have bought 27t of sugar beet pulp at £95/t instead.

During the dry spell in November, we did some work to cow tracks laid last summer. After a long wrangle with the local planning authority, one track had to be removed and another landscaped with soil at the sides – the idea being that grass will grow on these soil banks and camouflage the track. Farming in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Environmentally Sensitive Area can have its drawbacks.

As a livestock farmer, 2001 will always be synonymous with the outbreak of foot-and-mouth. No lessons were learned from the 1967 outbreak, but lets hope it will be different this time. Rearing livestock seems to be taking a back seat to form filling, with movement licences, passports and assurance schemes piled high on the passenger seat. &#42

Farming in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty does have its drawbacks, including having to landscape cow tracks, says Chris Knowles.

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Chris Knowles

16 November 2001

Chris Knowles

Chris Knowles farms in

partnership with his parents

in the West Penwith

Environmentally Sensitive

Area near St Ives, Cornwall.

The farm consists of 97ha

(240 acres) of grassland and

45ha (110 acres) of rough

moor land, stocked with 160

dairy cows, 80 followers and

50 assorted beef animals

WHAT a wonderful autumn we have had and what a contrast to last years washout.

October was a near perfect month for us – 12.5cm (5in) rain and many warm, dry days.

The net result was a huge flush of autumn grass. The other net result was that the local "old boys" delighted in telling me: "Theres nothing in that wet, autumn rubbish" (polite version). But cows have milked well and we have only just started feeding silage.

One group of stock that has been less content is our in-calf heifers. They are in good condition and we have been trying to use them to graze pasture short before winter.

But heifers prefer to nibble off any fresh growth before scouring the entire hedge line looking for the slightest weakness. They then turn into the bovine equivalent of mountain goats, moving themselves on to the next field, a neighbours garden or the main road. I have tried to explain the movement restrictions to them, but they are having none of it.

Before calving begins in mid-January, the next couple of months will be fairly quiet for us. We have 190 cows to calve next spring and are converting an existing shed into a decent calving facility.

There will be 30 cubicles at one end and one large bedded pen at the other. Each day, any cow that is close to calving will be moved into the bedded pen. Cubicles will be covered with deep sand, which with barley straw at £85/t is a good investment. &#42

With straw prices so high, sand bedded cubicles will prove a good investment, says Chris Knowles.

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Chris Knowles

19 October 2001

Chris Knowles

Chris Knowles farms in

partnership with his parents

in the West Penwith

Environmentally Sensitive

Area near St Ives, Cornwall.

The farm consists of 97ha

(240 acres) of grassland and

45ha (110 acres) of rough

moor land, stocked with 160

dairy cows, 80 followers and

50 assorted beef animals

THIS years autumn rains arrived a full month later than normal, right at the end of September. This put my well laid plans for building a high cover of grass for autumn grazing into disarray.

During the last few days of September I covered 60.5ha (150 acres) with the fertiliser spreader applying straight urea at a low rate. Although slow to respond, by mid-October grass was growing at 45kg DM/ha a day in perfect warm and wet conditions.

To build up grass covers we have fed quite a lot of silage. We have been using clamp silage during the day and big bale silage at night. Cows have still been going out both day and night, but only to a limited amount of grass.

This change in management has left our cows dazed, confused and in a general state of shock as it is many years since they were turned out each day with a bellyful of silage on board.

They have shown their disappointment to this management change by a significant drop in daily production.

The farming Press has recently been full of headline-grabbing messages from the people sent to sort out the agricultural industry. The likes of Margaret Beckett and Lord Haskins are very keen to tell us that our production subsidies will be switched to areas like rural development and agri-environment schemes, which we are told is what the public demands.

Now that our country is officially at war with terrorism, the sudden unease around the world should serve to remind us that putting food in front of 60m people every day is more accurately what the public demands.

Meanwhile here in Cornwall, the European Objective One Funding programme is gathering momentum. One proposal, for which there is a great deal of interest, is the establishment of a machinery ring.

This would be a great asset for West Cornwall as many farmers enjoy getting out and doing the work on their own farm, but simply cannot afford the costs of purchasing ever more expensive machinery. &#42

Getting their own back…Chris Knowles cows are less than impressed with their new grazing arrangements.

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Chris Knowles

27 July 2001

Chris Knowles

Chris Knowles farms in

partnership with his parents

in the West Penwith

Environmentally Sensitive

Area near St Ives, Cornwall.

The farm consists of 97ha

(240 acres) of grassland and

45ha (110 acres) of rough

moor land, stocked with 160

dairy cows, 80 followers and

50 assorted beef animals

THE first week in July has become the week to take our annual holiday. This year, as last, we headed 40 miles west to the Isles of Scilly.

One of the great attractions was within an hour of leaving home we had travelled to the heliport, checked in, watched the safety video, enjoyed the 20 minute flight and arrived at our accommodation. This all counts for a great deal when you have two young children. Another bonus is that I can spy on all my neighbours farms from above.

However, the downside of our holiday was the weekss weather. It rained nearly every day and in all we had 5cm (2in) of rain. As you can imagine, we returned to a different coloured farm from the one we left.

For the first time since April the grass was growing well, having survived the spring monsoon and cold winds followed by lack of rain. We were feeding three big square bales of silage a day for about 10 days at the end of June. We set an electric fence across the middle of our town field and spread silage out underneath wire along the entire length. This meant all cows had access at the same time.

In common with most livestock farms, we now have several cull cows waiting to go on the Over-30-Month Scheme. The effects of this schemes absence will be felt this winter with uneconomic stock eating into precious fodder supplies. The only other option is the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme, but it would seem the goal posts for getting cows onto this scheme are actually touching each other.

Recently, we managed to sell 10 in-calf heifers. The auctioneer came to value them, then returned a week later with a potential buyer, with whom we struck a deal. Then we waited 10 days for the movement licence to be sorted out. By this time we ended up selling five in-calf heifers and five freshly calved heifers &#42

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Chris Knowles

1 June 2001

Chris Knowles

Chris Knowles farms in

partnership with his parents

in the West Penwith

Environmentally Sensitive

Area near St Ives, Cornwall.

The farm consists of 97ha

(240 acres) of grassland and

45ha (110 acres) of rough

moor land, stocked with 160

dairy cows, 80 followers and

50 assorted beef animals

Chris Knowles farms in

partnership with his parents

in the West Penwith

Environmentally Sensitive

Area near St Ives, Cornwall.

The farm consists of 97ha

(240 acres) of grassland and

45ha (110 acres) of rough

moor land, stocked with 160

dairy cows, 80 followers and

50 assorted beef animals

OUR climate never ceases to amaze. Within the space of ten days, the cows went from almost poaching fields, to walking on ground that resembled concrete. There was a small window of about five days to get the ballast collar across the whole farm, to level the legacy of eight months, wet weather.

Early May is usually associated with an abundance of lush green grass. But this year, strong, cold north and east winds meant that at one stage I actually recorded grass going backwards, as the tips of new shoots were singed by the wind.

I am sure my neighbours think I have lost the plot. As they were busy making silage in early May, I was just shutting most of my fields up for a cut of silage in mid-June. Nearly all these fields have been grazed twice this season. I would like to think that we have had two small cuts already, for a fraction of the cost.

The aim this year is to make enough silage for 5t/cow; 3t will be decent milking cow silage and 2t, more fibrous dry cow silage.

The last six weeks have been the most important of the year for spring block calving herds. During this crucial period, things have been on our side. Grass quality has been high because growth has nearly got away from cows this spring and also, for once, there has been an abundance of sunshine.

Submission rates have been extremely high, but experience tells me this is only half the battle. I shall reserve reporting on conception rates until the service period is over.

Just as we thought the foot-and-mouth outbreak was abating and complacency was setting in, we were issued with a Form D notice. A feed lorry came to the farm immediately after having visited what later became an infected farm. The restriction only lasted for one week, but two inspections of all cattle by a ministry vet served as a reminder that this disease isnt over yet. &#42

A sharp reminder that F&M disease is still around… Chris Knowles was issued with a Form D notice for one week due to a feed lorry.

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