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