Farmer Focus: Tim and Louise Downes - Farmers Weekly

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Farmer Focus: Tim and Louise Downes

AT A RECENT MDC meeting, the debate ranged from improving its extension service to teenage girls drinking milk and “What If?”. The “What If?” is a scenario planner, which encourages forward planning using your own farm”s financial and physical data.

We had the opportunity to use it with some excellent consultant backup on a pilot course. By linking this up with the success of Milkbench, it will be a very powerful tool. All those on the pilot course were impressed with its potential to improve their businesses.

Spring is my favourite time of year, particularly when it is dry, allowing all milking cows out to graze. They certainly have leapt in milk production. This suggests a shortage of energy in silage, which we are going to improve in the second year with the forage wagon system.

One of the ways we are planning to do this is by filling hundreds of sausage-style draught excluders to add weight to clamp edges by keeping the secure green woven covers taut. It may mean the end to tyre throwing at the farm, which usually sees people scatter for other jobs – even dock pulling.

The firm ground conditions have enabled us to spread nutrients in the form of well-rotted compost and small amounts of slurry as cows leave a paddock. It is certainly helping, as dad commented recently he could hear the grass growing, which my guess is about the 20kg of DM/ha a day or enough for two cows.

Spring beans are drilled into warmer soil than usual. However, the ploughing is more complicated, with 6m and the normal 2m wildlife margins to be avoided. We have appreciated seeing numbers of wagtails and skylarks on the over-wintered stubble.

The tined Weeder harrow is proving a universal tool, spreading any lumps of compost left by the dual spreader and also scratching seedling weeds from cereal crops.

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Farmer Focus: Tim and Louise Downes

MILKING COWS have been grazed for a few hours each day until Nov 18, reducing average paddock cover to 1900kg/ha DM for winter. Added benefits are unhindered bedding and scraping of loose yards.

With butterfat levels rising above 5% briefly, it is a pity our organic milk buyer OMSCo does not reward us for constituents.

To replace grazed grass, we have begun feeding crimped triticale and wheat, with crimped beans. We’re feeding a maximum of 1.5kg a head.

The Ag Bag silage system for the Angus beef cattle is harder on the back than expected – hand-forking is challenging compared with the simplicity of round bales.

With negligible waste and good palatability, it will be a difficult decision to choose between Ag Bag and bales next year. However, after 380t we should have plenty of practice at leaving a tidy face with the shear grab.

In November, two student groups from Harper Adams came to look at our farm. I believe it is important to educate and be open to questions, allowing visitors to learn from these visits. In a similar vein, prospective vet student Kate came for a week’s work experience, and with more than 40 calves born in the past month she timed it well.

Our staff have been busy, too, with Graham steam-cleaning and Simon recording field inputs and outputs, enabling us to pass our Soil Association Inspection and combined NDFAS test. All we need now is FABBL and ACCS and CSS and HSE inspections to be amalgamated into one visit and significant duplication costs will be saved.

The first presentation of my Nuffield study to the Shropshire Grassland Society was a good rehearsal for the real thing in Brighton, where a diverse range of topics was covered, from bioethanol crops to discussion groups and mushroom farming.

Another scholar, John Geraghty, entertained us in how to avoid ploughing by adopting conservation agriculture. On his travels he met a Brazilian farmer who said: “If you are in the red, you can’t afford to look after the green.” How true.

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