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Christian Fox

5 June 1998

Christian Fox

Christian Fox milks 270

autumn calving cows plus

followers and manages

146ha (360 acres) at

Crouchlands Farm near

Billingshurst in West

Sussex. The system is

geared to profit and lower

production costs, so grazed

grass and grass silage are

the main feeds. Average

yield is 5600 litres.

WE seem to have beaten the grass into submission without losing either quality or the all-important feed wedge. The one advantage of this heavy ground is that it holds up well in a dry spell. As we dry off between July 1 and 31, and all the girls relax in August, we rarely have a problem with drought. I will never-the-less hope to maintain an average cover of about 2400kg/DM/ha.

One side effect of dealing with heavy grass cover has been that my sward measuring eye is now out of kilter. I recently pondered subdividing a coppice into 12-hour grazing blocks!

The cows have just gone back into the paddocks we grazed with covers of up to 5000kg/DM/ha last time round.

It is important that these are grazed tightly this rotation to ensure quality for the autumn. When growth slows during July and August then these paddocks might be grazed next by fresh calvers in September.

There is no sign of growth slowing at Crouchlands Farm yet, with a rising 98kg/DM/ha being measured at the end of May. But the other farm in the partnership at Tillington measured at the same time is slowing at 60kg/DM/ha – the difference between sand and clay. My boss is now the definition of an unhappy farmer – rain is always bad for one farm, sunshine bad for the other!

The May meeting of the Plate Meter Discussion Group, run by BGS consultant Paul Bird was very fruitful. Having established a standard format for comparing farm costings, we are now able to look at the facts – this is the total cost of milk production and how can we control it?

The group comparison was very interesting. Our total production costs for the past year are 13.4p/litre, including all labour (unpaid labour costed in at £7/hour). Will we improve on this or will some of our group colleagues who have changed to spring calving overtake us in the coming year?

If dairy farmers are to win through this lean time, we must learn to talk about issues that really matter, such as costs and profit in pence per litre. Margin over concentrates and yield/cow dont tell you if you are making money. Indeed, theyre completely meaningless figures. Look what happened to the last person who said "Let them eat cake." &#42

Christian Fox can see no sign of grass growth slowing as he measures grass covers with his plate meter.

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Christian Fox

8 May 1998

Christian Fox

Christian Fox milks 270

autumn calving cows plus

followers and manages

146ha (360 acres) at

Crouchlands Farm near

Billingshurst in West

Sussex. The system is

geared to profit and lower

production costs, so grazed

grass and grass silage are

the main feeds. Average

yield is 5600 litres

LIKE the rest of the UK, Sussex has been "Dambustingly" wet over the last month. The vast quantity of silage we smugly thought we would carry over for next winter is rapidly disappearing, but we are the lucky ones. One neighbouring farmer is having to cart silage from one farm to another. Others are having to buy in extra feed. Thank goodness drying weather is here again.

We are carrying a lot of grass on the farm, the average cover is 2350kg DM/ha and it will be a real test of our grazing management to get high intakes whilst maintaining quality. We will obviously take out the longest paddocks for silage, but one has to balance the area taken out with the growth rate, to ensure there is enough grass ahead of the cows at all times.

Lots of grass is a nicer problem to cope with than trying to manage a spring with no grass due to winter defoliation – but Im trying to go at least one month without mentioning sheep.

We have a number of management techniques at our disposal. We can put the cows over each paddock first to cream off the best grass then follow-up with youngstock to tidy up the residue whilst the cows are having their next feed. On the paddocks over say, 2500kg DM/ha, we might go in with the mower, cut and wilt the grass for 24 hours before offering it to the cows.

With all this moisture we have focused on foot care. The main arterial track leading to the grazing block has been reprofiled and resurfaced, using free road planings. Our Genus foot trimmer Simon Harrow has spent several days on the farm carrying out remedial work to keep the herd in shape for the season ahead. The rest of the cows will be routinely checked and trimmed as needed when we start drying off in July. &#42

Remedial foot trimming coupled with maintaining the main arterial cow track have been key tasks for Christian Fox this month.

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Christian Fox

10 April 1998

Christian Fox

Christian Fox milks 270

autumn calving cows plus

followers and manages

146ha (360 acres) at

Crouchlands Farm near

Billingshurst in West

Sussex. The system is

geared to profit and lower

production costs, so grazed

grass and grass silage are

the main feeds. Average

yield is 5600 litres.

I AM not very popular this month. Bawled at by cows when forced to keep them in. Banned from North Wales (with orders to shoot on sight) for previous comments about keeping sheep off the dairy farm. If that wasnt bad enough, I received an e-mail from a grazing colleague in Northern Ireland suggesting I looked like Douglas Hogg in last months photo. Ah, the price of fame…

The cows have been in and out during March, thanks to intermittent spells of rain. The soil turns to a mud bath very quickly at this time of year and we have poached some paddocks quite badly. It will be interesting to see how well they recover. I saw similar damage in Ireland last December, which the farmers were quite happy with.

As promised last time, I have the fertility figures for the herd. For the first six weeks of service, 83% of eligible cows were submitted with 65% holding to first service. Last years figures were 86% and 73% respectively. This drop is definitely related to dry cow management of Holstein-type cows which need careful feeding whereas the old Friesian needed almost starving.

Interestingly, of those eligible but not submitted within six weeks, 73% held to first service when they did come bulling. It just shows that cows come bulling when ready. I wonder if the result would have been any better if we had used drugs as a panic measure during the first six weeks? You can force a cow to come bulling but you cannot make conditions right for it to take and hold in calf.

We have been allocating 6kg of dry matter for day-grazing and presenting the cows with 3000kg covers. This means we are asking the cows to do less work to get maximum intakes. This time last year we were waiting for it to grow because our grass cover had been depleted over the winter.

Talking of depleted grass cover, the sheep are on their way home and I shall wave them off with a tear in my eye. We only had 400 instead of the usual 2000 this year and they have been quite useful (honest) keeping paddocks under control that we were unable to reach in December.

I think I had better cancel my sailing holiday on Bala Lake, Gwynedd, for fear of assassination. Still, at least the Douglas Hogg disguise works. &#42

Christian Foxs winter lodgers are on their way home – the 400 sheep have kept paddocks under control.

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Christian Fox

13 February 1998

Christian Fox

Christian Fox milks 270

autumn calving cows plus

followers and manages

146ha (360 acres) at

Crouchlands Farm near

Billingshurst in West

Sussex. The system is

geared to profit and lower

production costs, so grazed

grass and grass silage are

the main feeds. Average

yield is 5600 litres.

I OUGHT to kick off my first piece with a brief introduction. Crouchlands Farm is a 260-acre all grass dairy unit, farmed in partnership by the owner, William Luttman-Johnson and my employer Gwyn Jones.

The farm is heavy (Weald clay) and tends to be concrete in the summer, as for the winter… well, lets just say that Noah had it easy.

We run 270 cows plus followers, we also rear replacements for another farm in the partnership. I hold the contract for looking after and milking the cows and managing the grazing on a day-to-day basis.

Grazed grass is the only feed from April until November. We feed 1t a cow of maize gluten to supplement grass silage in winter. The average yield is 5600 litres a cow, but as our system is geared to profit and lower production costs, yield is largely unimportant. The cows are block autumn calved (86% in six weeks) and our total feed costs (including silage and feeding-out costs) are 6.5p/litre.

We are believers in and members of, Milk Marque.

The grass has stopped growing at last. During December I was quite worried that some of the paddocks shut since late October would be overcooked before turnout. But by the beginning of this month the growth rate was down to 5kg DM/ha, and has now virtually stopped.

Farm cover is still higher than I had anticipated at 1900kg DM/ha. The quality varies across the farm; those paddocks that were grazed tightly during the last rotation are looking good, those that have not been grazed since late October, or were under-stocked are looking a little off colour. My aim is to have 2000 kg DM/ha by mid March, when we might be able to turn-out, ground conditions permitting. This would allow one-and-a-half rotations before growth takes off.

Despite the recent cold snap, the cows and I increasingly cast longing glances at the track leading to the main grazing block. I dont have the heart to tell them that colleagues in Pembrokeshire and Cornwall hope to have turned out by the time I next put pen to paper. Sorry girls, another couple of months yet! &#42

Use of grazed grass helps Christian Fox keep total feed costs to 6.5p/litre.

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