21 June 2002

Good grass growth lifts dairy yields ever higher

Milk yields are well ahead at Freefolk Farms, helping to

capitalise on the price premium. Robert Harris reports

IN the first two months of this milk year, James and Jackie Crosbie Dawsons pedigree Freefolk Holstein herd gave an extra 21,500 litres of milk compared with the same period a year ago – a near 10% increase.

Like many other farmers, Mr Crosbie Dawson has taken advantage of good grass growth. The 140 autumn-calving cows have been getting maintenance plus 16 litres from grazing, and are being topped up with cake in the parlour to average 27.5 litres/day, despite the regular herdsman taking a well-deserved two-week break.

"Our new relief milker, Sarah Horne, has done a tremendous job," says Mr Crosbie Dawson. "Milk output is the same now as when she started.

"Weve never pushed yield quite like this before. Then again, we have never had such a good price, relatively speaking, to make it worthwhile."

Milk from the farm goes to Southern Co-operative Dairies, which, due to its guaranteed price agreement, is paying 19p/litre for a standard litre through to the end of September.

Although seasonality adjustments pulled that back by 2p/litre in April and 3p/litre in May, the pendulum has now swung the other way. SCD is paying 19.5p/litre this month, while bonuses rise to +3.5p/litre in July and August and to +2p/litre in September.

After September, SCD is dropping its minimum guaranteed price to 16.5p/litre. Although it points out this is a floor price, Mr Crosbie Dawson reckons his milk price will slip to that level and could stay there for some time.

"Southern Co-op will have paid over the odds for the first half of this milk year, and they will probably be keen to recoup some money. That is why I am making the most of the current price."

SCD is also terminating its minimum price at the end of this milk year and Mr Crosbie Dawson will be switching milk buyers in January. "I think I will move to Dairy Farmers of Britain, but I am still undecided," he says. "But I will probably end up with a co-operative."

In another bid to keep the bulk tank as full as possible, he bought 100t of brewers grains recently for £16/t, payment November, and 27t of wheat feed pellets for £66/t. "I shall blend this through the forage box during July and August at 10kg/head and keep feeding the cake."

The 32ha (80 acres) of silage ground produced a good first cut, which should help trim winter milk production costs. Clamps hold up to 1200t and should be filled by the end of second cut.

On the arable side of the business, crops look as good as they ever have done, he says. "But so do everyone elses in the area. They are, as my father used to say, looking solid. I would like to think we will average 70cwt on the wheat, 50 cwt on the winter barley and about 45cwt on the spring barley."

With the intended four-week gap between T1 and T2 sprays achieved, the 200ha (500 acres) of Consort, Savannah and Deben wheat are looking clean. The 55ha (135 acres) of Pearl winter barley, and 91ha of spring barley (Prestige and Optic) have also had their final fungicide. A quick calculation suggests variable costs for wheat and barley, at £175/ha (£71/acre) and £148/ha (£60/acre), are within budget.

Mr Crosbie Dawson sold 1000t of wheat forward in January at an average of £67/t, and has recently let a further 500t go to be marketed at the same merchants discretion before the end of March.

The final parcel of old crop grain – 150t of barley that failed to make malting – was sold into intervention last month for £66/t delivered. "I should net £60/t with a premium for drying it down to 12.5%."

Mr Crosbie Dawson hopes to market the first of the farms 750 lambs by the end of this month. Most are Suffolk cross Mules, though there are a few Texel crosses as well. He normally sells deadweight, but thinks farmers should support markets and may put some lambs through the ring.

"I have kept about 120 singles separate. I really want 35kg lambs to sell, and they are about 25-30kg now. I hope we can finish them in time to catch the much-improved lamb price." &#42

Cows have made the most of plentiful grass at Freefolk Farms and James Crosbie Dawson reports milk yields are 10% up on last year.

&#8226 Freefolk Farms, based at Overton, Hants, a 720ha (1800-acre) arable and dairy unit, run as a limited company with James Crosbie Dawson and his wife, Jackie, as directors.

&#8226 Land is Grade 3 medium loam over chalk with flints, with areas of clay cap.

&#8226 Arable area of 500ha (1250 acres). Crops include winter wheat, winter and spring barley for malting, oilseed rape.

&#8226 I60-cow pedigree Holstein herd averaging 7800 litres/cow.

&#8226 Calving September to January. Total dairy forage area of 75ha (185 acres).

&#8226 Five full-time staff including Mr Crosbie Dawson, plus part-time secretary.