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Mike Allwood

29 March 2002

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-

occupier of 82ha (200-

acres) near Nantwich,

Cheshire. The 175-cow

dairy herd block calves

during May and June.

Besides converting to

organic production, he is

also planning to produce

unpasteurised cheese

SPRING arrived on Mar 16 when I was selling cheese at Liverpool Farmers Market. The sun came out and awarm wind dried the streetsand pavements.

By Sunday, the silage fields had dried up enough for us to start muck spreading. I am sure somebody will tell me that this is far too late and we risk high nitrates in silage, but since we went organic such problems seem to have disappeared – says he, touching lots of wood.

All the fields are green, but grass growth has only just started and clover definitely needs some warmth. Our priority now is to get cows out as soon as possible. As with every spring, we have a seemingly endless list of jobs to do. We will rush round, do it all, then decide some things would have been better left another week.

Murphys Law dictates that whenever we are really busy on the farm, we are also busy with the cheese and this week is no exception.

Sandy has been lucky enough to win one of Country Living magazines enterprising rural women awards. The prize includes a stand at the Country Living Spring Fair in London which takes place this week from Wednesday until Sunday.

Consequently, we are rushing around like scalded cats trying to get everything ready on time. Just to make things more interesting, our car died on the way home from the farmers market on Saturday and I had to be ignominiously carried home by a recovery truck.

I love doing markets and shows. Customers really like to meet the people who make stuff and it is stimulating and informative for us to meet them. We have a range of soft cheeses from mild to strong and smelly and there is no telling what will sell best at any particular event. Therefore, we have to prepare enough of everything and hope we get quantities right.

It is fun guessing what individuals will like. Some, usually men, go for the most powerful – I call it the vindaloo factor. The ladies tend to prefer something more subtle. Best of all are the ones who make their mind up quickly and buy a lot. &#42

The best customers for Mike Allwoods cheese at markets and shows are those who make up their mind quickly and buy a lot.

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Mike Allwood

1 March 2002

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-

occupier of 82ha (200

acres) near Nantwich,

Cheshire. The 175-cow

dairy herd block calves

during May and June. As

well as converting to

organic production, he

produces unpasteurised

cheese

WHEN it became clear last spring that we may not have access to AI because of foot-and-mouth disease, we put our young Hereford bull with cows.

Calving started in February, rather than Apr 1 as normal, and he appears to have performed a good job.

The early start to calving has caused a few problems because we are not kitted out to calve cows indoors, so buildings will be rather full by turnout, which I hope will be soon.

Last autumn was the first time we managed to graze down grass fields properly in preparation for winter. No danger of winter kill, no need for time wasting woolly things, I thought. Unfortunately, there is no danger of any early spring grass either.

We do at least have the consolation of plenty of good silage. Giles, our herdsman, has been cutting off concentrate to cows which are due to go dry, only to find that they carry on milking.

When we dry off we dip with a teat sealant and put the cow into a well-bedded kennel building. If the udder looks tight after two or three days, we will milk her again and feed the milk to calves. We watch dry cows carefully and if there is any sign of mastitis we strip out the quarter and give a course of lactating cow tubes.

Since going organic we have had a little more mastitis in dry cows – although this may because we are watching them more keenly – and much fewer cases in milking cows.

Cell counts have risen and were reaching close to 350 in the autumn, so we were beginning to worry about milk saleability. We did a series of individual cell counts and discovered most were under 100, while a few were more than 1m.

Our response was to sell or dry off a few of the worst offenders, while forming a group of 20 with high counts or seen with clots, so we could milk them at the end. The bulk count is now in the 200s and clinical mastitis has fallen away to very little. &#42


Lack of early spring grass growth means cows are having to stay inside. Luckily, there is plenty of silage, says Mike Allwood.

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Mike Allwood

1 February 2002

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-

occupier of 82ha (200-

acres) near Nantwich,

Cheshire. The 175-cow

dairy herd block calves

during May and June.

Besides converting to

organic production, he is

also planning to produce

unpasteurised cheese

AT a time when few people seem to want to work in our industry, it was refreshing to show some bright final year students from Reaseheath, our local agricultural college, around the farm.

Unfortunately, they asked me some awkward questions such as: "How do you control docks?" We currently have two fields on the farm in which the docks are becoming quite bad, so I decided to try and sort one out before they got any worse.

The plan was to rotovate first to weaken plants, followed by ploughing and hand digging during autumn. The field would then be reworked and planted in the spring.

Mistake number one was the rotovating, which succeeded in multiplying the number of docks in the field by 10, as all the little pieces subsequently took root.

To compound the error, the new shoots didnt all poke through at the same time. Consequently, once we thought we had finished digging a patch, new docklets would appear.

What we also didnt allow for was that it takes a lot of people a long time to dig 5ha (12 acres) of well established docks. Therefore, when it became too wet to dig any more, we were only halfway across the field for the first time, and the whole field needed digging again.

Furthermore, by this time more weeds had germinated and a good crop of wild cabbage was established. We could no longer see either the undug docks or the piles of dug docks which we had left to pick up later. These had by now formed thick clumps and were firmly welded to the ground. I am now currently working on another plan.

Before Christmas, I received a letter from the Rural Payments Agency telling me it couldnt send a proper receipt for my claim form for veal subsidy, due to technical problems. It promised to send the proper one in due course.

Presumably, at some point in the future, I might actually receive the money. I would almost rather not receive the subsidy than suffer the thought of the tortuous machinations and time wasting which have gone into sending it to me – almost. &#42

Why are some fields clean, but others have a real dock problem, asks Mike Allwood.

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Mike Allwood

12 October 2001

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-

occupier of 82ha (200-

acres) near Nantwich,

Cheshire. The 175-cow dairy

herd block calves during

May and June. Besides

converting to organic

production, he is also

planning to produce

unpasteurised cheese

WE have just finished a week of great excitement – my wife, Sandy, and I spent Friday to Sunday at the British Cheese Awards.

This event is the highlight of the year for specialist cheese-makers, who enter their creations in the hope of winning one of the coveted trophies – from Best Cheddar to Best Soft Cheese.

Prizes are presented at the awards dinner on Friday night, after a few beers have been consumed, and we were delighted to receive the trophy for Best Fresh Cheese with our Spurstow buffalo cheese. Unfortunately, the engraver misread his notes and the plaque actually reads "British Cheese Awards – Best French Cheese".

The event takes place in Stow-on-the-Wold, in a huge marquee that fills the town square. On Saturday and Sunday the public are invited in to sample and buy from the cheese-makers stands. Despite terrible weather, the place was heaving with people and we managed to sell a lot of cheese and make some good contacts. I now have to spend a week on the phone chasing up all the leads before they forget who I am.

On the farm, we seem to be struggling yet again to get jobs done in between downpours. Our final cut of silage, which will have to be big-baled because the pit is full, keeps being delayed.

This would not be a disaster, except we pumped the rest of last winters dirty water into our main lagoon and now desperately need to spread this before cows come in. We have spread water and manure at every opportunity all summer, yet there still seems to be more.

Many would use the umbilical cord to get it shifted, but my own experience is that it is too easy to spread much more than 33,700 litres/ha (3000gal/acre). The first time we used the system I went into the field to discover that all hollows were full of slurry and the brook was a murky brown colour. &#42

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Mike Allwood

14 September 2001

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-

occupier of 82ha (200-

acres) near Nantwich,

Cheshire. The 175-cow dairy

herd block calves during

May and June. Besides

converting to organic

production, he is also

planning to produce

unpasteurised cheese

MANY producers, I suspect, plan their new enterprises in great detail before undertaking them.

I tend to operate on the find out the hard way principle, as is happening with our potato growing.

All was progressing well, apart from the back-breaking work of harvesting by hand. Then I woke up one day to discover that what I thought was drought stress was actually blight and it had spread across the entire field in two seconds flat.

I decided to harvest spuds straight away, with the help of our contractor, who advised me we could not just put them in bags and store them because they would heat and go off. We do not have floor space to store 14 varieties in bulk inside, so I decided to store them outside, covered in straw and soil. Another friend has kindly told me we should not have done this because they will be eaten by slugs – how helpful friends can be.

Cows are continuing to milk well, having averaged 3-4 litres a cow a day more than last summer. Butterfats are low, but thankfully this has no effect on price, which is fixed. From what I hear, other cows have performed equally well on grass, which is encouraging because I have some quota to lease out. Anyone wanting an early deal before the price begins to rocket should let me know.

If I could change just one organic rule, I would allow knapsack spraying of docks with glyphosate. This would cause minimal environmental damage and make life much easier, as no amount of cutting, grazing or topping seems to eliminate them.

We ploughed a badly infested ley three weeks ago and cultivated it once. Since then we – I use the word we collectively, but it means everybody except I – have been walking up and down digging up old roots and bagging them. So far we have only completed 1.2ha (3 acres) out of 4.5ha (11 acres). I have decided to have a blitz day this week, covering the field in bodies to try to finish the job.

For a third consecutive cut, we have made silage in dry weather. This must be a portent of disasters to come. &#42

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Mike Allwood

6 November 1998

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-

occupier of a 82ha

(200-acre) farm near

Nantwich, Cheshire. The

175-cow dairy herd block

calves during May and June.

Mike is also director of Farm

Produce Marketing, based

on the farm, which

manufactures and sells

Orchard Maid frozen yogurt,

and puts packs of Cheshire

milk onto airline breakfast

trays

ITS Oct 23 and we have at least 30 full days of grazing in front of the cows. It is still warm and grass is continuing to grow. Unfortunately, there has been so much rain that we have opened the cubicles at night and most of the cows are choosing to stay inside. They are eating around 4.5kg DM each of maize and big bale silage. If we give them more big bale they leave the maize – which either means that we have good big bale or poor maize – I am sure that it must be the former! For her 27 litres, each cow is being fed concentrates for 16 litres, which means that 11 litres are currently coming from forage.

During the daytime we appear to have enough grass cover to prevent serious poaching. We are picking our way around the driest areas and not grazing too tightly which will mean some paddocks going into the winter with far too much grass. There is much collective head-scratching over what to do about this problem, since we now only have a few dry cows left. One alternative is to do nothing, hope there is not too much winter kill or chickweed growth, then graze as cleanly as soon as possible in the spring. Another is to put on some sheep but I do hate to give good grass away and I dont like fetching them home at the weekend. A final option is either topping or zero grazing when the land dries up again. I am tempted by the path of least resistance, option one.

We have analysed soil samples from the new fields which we bought last month. Levels of P and K are generally good, while one or two pHs are low. This means that we must apply lime soon, as the clover which we will introduce next spring requires a high pH. We have also taken the opportunity to spray Roundup on two fields which were infested with a combination of docks, couch and creeping thistle, before applying for organic conversion in the spring. Having been bitten by the organic bug, I feel that by spraying I have dirtied my hands, but wise heads assured me that we should do it while we had the opportunity. &#42

Wet conditions will stop grazing, but there may be too much grass cover for winter, says Mike Allwood.

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Mike Allwood

22 May 1998

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-

occupier of a 82ha

(200-acre) farm near

Nantwich, Cheshire. The

175-cow dairy herd block

calves during May and June.

Mike is also director of Farm

Produce Marketing, based

on the farm, which makes

and sells Orchard Maid

frozen yogurt, and puts

packs of Cheshire milk on to

airline breakfast trays.

THE two-year conversion of our land to organic status began on April 1.

The cows must then be fed organic grass for three months before the milk can be sold as organic, that is on July 1, 2000. The other requirements for organic stock management, such as welfare and veterinary considerations, must start at least nine months before milk sale, by October 1, 1999.

Our main consideration this year will be how to cope with not using fertiliser and crop sprays.

Due to the fertiliser restriction we expect to produce less grass, and I anticipate that most of the farm will be grazed after first cut silage has been taken. We have, therefore, bought 60t of maize silage from a local farmer and will re-ensile this at Burland at the end of May.

The plan is to create three narrow faces by subdividing one of our clamps with straw bale walls, so we can feed relatively small amounts of maize through the summer without suffering face losses.

The main task for Guy, the manager, this summer is to introduce clover over the whole farm – red clover in mainly conservation fields and white elsewhere. We have started with a spring reseed of Italian ryegrass/red clover undersown under spring wheat. This will be cut for arable silage in July or August.

Two fields will be ploughed and reseeded in the autumn, while on the rest of the leys we will directly introduce clover seed into a surface tilth created by an Einbock harrow. We hope the clover will start fixing nitrogen next summer and be in full swing by the year 2000.

Because we cannot use sprays or treated seed, it is likely there will be crop failures. Frit fly, for example, has wiped out our rye in the past, and I expect to have to do some further seeding next summer before clover is fully established. We need to learn much more about the habits and life cycles of pests and weeds so their effects can be minimised by good management.

It is May 10 and I am in my customary dither about whether we should start mowing for silage. We have had two glorious days but the forecast is uncertain for the next week. Who would be a dairy farmer? &#42

Mike Allwood and farm manager Guy (left) plan to introduce clover across the whole farm this summer.

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Mike Allwood

27 March 1998

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-

occupier of a 82ha

(200-acre) farm near

Nantwich, Cheshire. The

175-cow dairy herd block

calves during May and June.

Mike is also director of Farm

Produce Marketing, based

on the farm, which

manufactures and sells

Orchard Maid frozen yogurt,

and puts packs of Cheshire

milk onto airline breakfast

trays

I HAVE given in to fashion. This year we are going to change to a rotational grazing system: Not the purists dream of twice-daily strip grazing with back fences nor lots of little paddocks, but a half-way house which will enable us to change from our set stocking without too much extra labour or capital input on tracks or water troughs.

The plan is to split the grazing fields into a number of paddocks of approximately six acres, then to strip graze across them, moving the fence once daily, or twice if necessary when moving into a new paddock.

The key measurement for decision making will be the target grass height of 10cm (as measured by a plate meter), and paddocks will be added or taken out according to this criterion. At 10cm I estimate that there will be 3400kg dry matter per hectare. After grazing there will be 4-5cm of grass left which corresponds to 1500kg DM per hectare. Therefore one hectare will provide 1900kg DM which, if cows eat 15kg DM a head a day will feed 126 cows. In practice this means that each paddock will take us two to three days to graze depending on the number of cows in milk.

The length of rotation will depend on the rate of grass growth, which I guess we will learn about over the season – but I expect the first round to take about three weeks. As we are starting our organic conversion this summer, there are a number of complicating factors which will make planning quite a challenge. One is that sometime during the summer the nitrogen will run out and grass growth rate will fall. Another is that we intend to establish clover on all the grassland.

Moving the electric fence every day will take extra labour, so we will try to make it as easy as possible, with a strategic stock of posts and reels in each paddock. In the end, we hope that the benefits will outweigh the costs – or will we just be hostages to fashion? &#42


Mike Allwoods cows will be making much more of grass this year as he plans to introduce a rotational grazing system.

Mike Allwoods cows will be making much more of grass this year as he plans to introduce a rotational grazing system.

Mike Allwoods cows will be making much more of grass this year as he plans to introduce a rotational grazing system.

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Mike Allwood

27 February 1998

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-

occupier of a 82ha

(200-acre) farm near

Nantwich, Cheshire. The

175-cow dairy herd block

calves during May and June.

Mike is also director of Farm

Produce Marketing, based

on the farm, which

manufactures and sells

Orchard Maid frozen yogurt,

and puts packs of Cheshire

milk onto airline breakfast

trays.

IT IS ironic that after they have managed to reduce the price of milk by 20%, the Dairy Industry Federation has persuaded the Monopolies Commission to look into the Milk Marque pricing mechanism. Whatever shortcomings are found, it seems unlikely that the MMC will conclude that dairy farmers have managed to fix their wholesale price.

The biggest influence on our profitability is the top line, ie the milk income. For example, a herd of 160 cows producing 1m litres can generate an extra £10,000 by a 1p increase in milk price. Compare this to only £8960 which could be saved by a massive improvement of 1000 litres a cow in milk from forage.

Marketing is far more important to us than technical performance. For the majority who produce a commodity – milk – which is no better than that of the farmer down the road, it is essential that we club together to bargain with the large dairy companies.

There are, however, other ways to influence our end-price. One is to add value to the milk by processing it into something unique. We are trying to do this by manufacturing our frozen yogurt.

Another way of raising the price is to make the milk more desirable to the customer. We are now embarking on this route by starting a two-year conversion to organic status. I am convinced that there is a growing minority of consumers who want to buy food which is not full of "chemicals".

Converting our intensively managed all-grass farm will be quite a challenge. The main obstacles will be doing without fertiliser and sprays and coping with the vet restrictions. &#42

Converting his intensively managed, all-grass farm to organic status will be quite a challenge for Mike Allwood and his staff over the next two years.

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Mike Allwood

10 October 1997

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-

occupier of a 82ha

(200-acre) farm near

Nantwich, Cheshire. The 175-

cow dairy herd block calves

during May and June. Mike is

also director of Farm Produce

Marketing, based on the

farm, which manufactures

and sells Orchard Maid frozen

yogurt, and puts packs of

Cheshire milk onto airline

breakfast trays.

SOME farmers say they do not have a problem with flies in the milking parlour. I wish we were so lucky. When I did the milking I used to dread the period from August to the middle of October when normally mild mannered cows turn into she-devils, depositing the unit on the floor whenever ones back is turned and spraying manure everywhere. No matter how patient and understanding I tried to be, I invariably ended the milking in a rage and went into the house to vent my spleen on my quite undeserving wife.

The first solution to the problem was to saturate the atmosphere with fly spray, which was quite successful but I did start to wonder how long I was going to survive when I spent five hours a day all summer breathing in stuff which is designed to kill things.

Then along came spray-on and spot-on insecticides which one at least doesnt have to breathe, even if the poor cows have to absorb them into their skin. We still use spot-on but it doesnt work very well, so we needed some other way to stop the flies getting to the cows at milking time.

The next answer was to put water sprays at the entry and exit points of the parlour, which do work extremely well but the pesky varmints will get in through any nook and cranny and we have put a lot of effort into plugging up all the little gaps.

Current practice is to saturate the parlour with fly spray just before the cows enter, then turn on the water sprays to stop any more flies getting in. We also have a big fan which creates a draught along the pit.

The problem with the water sprays is that they use a lot of water, which we have to buy and then spread on to the fields. It seems to me that somebody should have thought up a better solution to fly control by now. Has anybody heard of one?n

Keeping flies out of the parlour has been pre-occupying Mike Allwood. While current practice is to use fly spray before milking and water sprays at the entrance and exits, it involves a lot of water, which is expensive and must be disposed of.

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Mike Allwood

12 September 1997

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-occupier of a 82ha (200-acre) farm near Nantwich, Cheshire. The 175-cow dairy herd block calves during May and June. Mike is also director of Farm Produce Marketing, based on the farm, which manufactures and sells Orchard Maid frozen yogurt, and puts packs of Cheshire milk onto airline breakfast trays.

THE recent price reductions have been very effective at concentrating the mind. What we have to do first and foremost is make a profit and keep the bank manager happy, so what would have seemed a good idea even 12 months ago – like experimenting with the cow track or installing a new computer system – suddenly becomes expendable.

Our theme for the year has been to try and improve our basic efficiency in grass use – both grazed and as silage. The target is to produce 7000 litres a cow from 185 cows, using 1.7t of concentrate and no more than a tonne of brewers grains during this quota year.

Using 22.5p/litre of milk income, this should give us a margin over purchased feed a cow of £1340, and a margin a hectare of £3350 – a far cry from what one might have expected 12 months ago, but enough to keep the wolf at bay if we can control our fixed costs effectively. Up to the end of August we were up on target, both in terms of production and prices.

The time when we hope to make big progress compared with last year is over the winter, since last year our silage was both insufficient and poor in quality, even though it analysed well. This meant we spent a lot of money buying-in fodder beet which had the added benefit of raising butterfats and pushing us over our quota threshold.

This is the first year when I will have to pay superlevy. It is my own fault as I guessed wrongly on the amount of threshold available, but am still hopping mad and of a mind to murder a few bureaucrats.

To help control costs, each of us on the farm is going to become more accountable for our area of expenditure. So Giles, the herd manager, will be responsible, for example, for dairy sundries, parlour repairs and vet costs, while I have to justify why car repairs and farmhouse heating bills always rise – and why we had to pay superlevy.n

A wrong guess on quota threshold available means an unhappy and annoyed Mike Allwood faces a super-levy bill for the first time.

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Mike Allwood

15 August 1997

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-occupier of a 82ha (200-acre) farm near Nantwich, Cheshire. The 175-cow dairy herd block calves during May and June. Mike is also director of Farm Produce Marketing, based on the farm, which manufactures and sells Orchard Maid frozen yogurt, and puts packs of Cheshire milk onto airline breakfast trays.

SHALL I tell you what really annoys me? Farmers who have moved to other milk buyers saying to me "I really need you to stay with Milk Marque because we need a bottom in the market".

So why do I supply Milk Marque when I could perhaps make more money by moving to another buyer? On a personal level Milk Marque has been really helpful to me. It is happy to take a fluctuating daily supply as I retain varying amounts of milk on the farm to process, and its Product Development Centre at Rease-heath has helped us to develop both the products which we now market. In addition, my milk price isnt that bad. I compare notes with friends on what we actually receive for our milk and the results do not bear out what the league tables are saying. My price is about average – take note Barry Wilson.

On a strategic level, let us be under no illusions: Aside from a little organic milk, each of us is producing a commodity which can just as easily be produced by our neighbour down the road. We sell that commodity to a small number of very large organisations who owe it to their shareholders to buy their most important raw material as competitively as possible. For the last two years these organisations have set out to reduce the collective bargaining power of farmers and the current milk price is a testimony to their success at doing so.

We are fast moving towards equilibrium in the market as it will become progressively more difficult for a dairy farmer to move to another customer if he or she is unhappy with the price, and differentials will become much lower than they are now.

As producers, I believe we will be best served by those producer groups which can most effectively bargain for us. To deal effectively with large companies like Dairy Crest or Northern Dairies, we need to be large too. We can wait for another big co-op to evolve or we can, as I do, support the one which we already have – Milk Marque.

We Milk Marque suppliers should put all our efforts into ensuring that our organisation is as good at its job as it can possibly be.n

Stick with Milk Marque to ensure it is as good at its job as it can be, urges Mike Allwood. Besides its flexibility with his fluctuating supplies – varying amounts are retained for processing – its milk price isnt as bad as league tables suggest, he says.

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Mike Allwood

28 March 1997

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-occupier of a 82ha (200-acre) farm near Nantwich, Cheshire. The 175-cow dairy herd block calves during May and June. Mike is director of Farm Produce Marketing, based on the farm, which manufactures and sells Orchard Maid frozen yogurt, and puts packs of Cheshire milk onto airline breakfast trays.

EVERY winter we spend some time having a good think. I used to go and hibernate in the office myself, emerging haggard but triumphant two weeks later with the grand new plan.

These days I try to involve my staff, since they are the ones who are going to have to do the work.

The process involves three stages: Questioning the system to see if we have got the basics right. Examining performance over the previous year – what worked, what went wrong and what can we learn? And then producing a plan for the coming year and beyond.

Regarding the system, we looked at one area in particular: The calving pattern. Should we continue to calve cows in May, June and July? There are advantages in this; cows calve outside, which is better for cow and calf health, and it means there are no calving yards needed. We also make good use of buildings, with baby calves reared in the cubicles. Quota management is also easier, with cows going dry at the end of the quota year, while calves and barrens traditionally fetch the highest prices in May and June. We also get high milk price.

But there are also a number of disadvantages: We cannot make the best use of spring grass with cows going dry, and conception rates are poor which is linked to mid-summer energy shortage. Silage is expensive to make as feeding often starts in August. Winter performance is sensitive to silage quality, and it is difficult to manage autumn grass when there are no dry cows around to mop up.

Until now I feel that the pros have outweighed the cons. However, recent changes have made it more difficult to justify May-to-July calving in comparison to winter or spring calving. The milk price differential is not so great and calf and barren prices are all over the place. Most importantly, the energy gap, which caused our milk output to dip and fertility to suffer in the crucial late summer period, seem to have been exacerbated by dry summers and modern genetics, which have created cows which milk off their back.

There would seem to be a strong argument to shift calving to mid winter or early spring, putting the lactation curve in line with grass growth. &#42

Mike Allwood and his staff have been planning; they are considering whether to shift the calving pattern to mid winter or early spring.

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