John Downes owns 96ha (236 acres) and contract farms a further 139ha (344 acres) near Shrewsbury, Shropshire. The unit carries 112 Holstein Friesian cows, 80 home-bred beef cattle and 320 ewes – originally North Country Mules, now including Suffolk Mules and Cambridge crosses. He grows 73ha (180 acres) cereals, 10ha (24 acres) maize and 5ha (12 acres) fodder beet.
THE dairy herd continues to increase milk from forage with big bale silage just introduced. We also hold regular rain dances as the drought begins to bite. John has enjoyed milking clean cows, even with a few flies, but no water means no grass. Sooner or later we shall have an excess of both followed by less access. It is definitely time to plan for cow tracks.
With dairy cow prices in the doldrums we have calved everything in to the herd for the past two months, keeping milking cow numbers steady by taking out culls.
Sadly Shropshire is a black spot; lucky for these culls with no home to go to, unlucky for dairy farmers as grass burns away. We now have 16 looking for space at the local abattoir as their set a-side grazing will soon need preparation for winter wheat.
Rob has been busy ploughing after the slurry tanker following a grand crop of winter barley. We have reseeded two fields at home with four-year clover leys. Away from home we have drilled Italian ryegrass and rye as catch crops before fodder beet and maize. Now we need rain for germination. We plan to graze these with sheep, lambing a little earlier. At least this years lambs are finishing as the price improves.
Peter, and occasional helpers, have dagged and foot-trimmed the flock and teasers are out and rams in on Sep 18. We have three smart new ram lambs joining the team, two Texels and one Suffolk. I just hope grass will be sufficient to maintain our prolificacy.
We hope to improve cattle housing this winter and await planning applications before replacing a World War Two Nissen hut. We have had problems rearing calves due to poor ventilation. The winter housing for Angus and his bulling heifers leaves much to be desired as they are currently fed from a ring feeder in a low lying outside yard. We have applied to increase the roof area by 50% and feed under cover – a treat for man and beast.n
Lack of rain means drought is beginning to bite for John Downes, but milk yield is up and the cows have just gone onto bale silage.