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Nigel Smith

21 March 1997

Nigel Smith

New entrant to dairying Nigel Smith rents a 23ha (57-acre) all-grass county

council smallholding near Lutterworth, Leicestershire. It supports 75 Holstein Friesian cows and followers

YOU may recall that I feel our cows will increasingly rely on a feed trough and a pad of concrete to feed them on. The system that has evolved on this farm is that we feel a basal ration for maintenance plus 20-22 litres to the whole herd for the whole year.

Of this basal ration, grass silage and cheap bought-in bulk feeds form the large part of it. Currently, the ration consists of fat coated chips, grass silage and a mix of waste oranges and bread. The bread and citrus waste was mixed and clamped last autumn.

The net result has been a 13ME rocket-fuel feed for below £70/t dry matter. Soya and molasses are also included in the ration. Luckily, our molasses tank was filled up at the end of the previous winter at £20/t below this winters prices. However, even at £98/t molasses is still overpriced.

This is the first winter that we have not fed brewers grains. The cows have certainly not missed them. Grains are too expensive for my system, especially considering the alternatives that are available. For the record, February costings show that the cows averaged 28.2 litres/day at a feed rate of 0.16kg/litre, leaving a margin of £151 a cow.

Our feeding system has taken us down the road of purchasing a diet feeder – second-hand of course. Compared to the previous system – a size 10 shovel – feeding is now easier and quicker. Feed allocation is now very precise and we can now safely use feed like fat coated chips.

I anticipate that the diet feeder will be used for at least 300 days of the year. If the dry summers continue, then it really will earn its keep.

It has also been necessary to upgrade our scraper tractor from a 436 International to Ford 4000, so that the latter can drive the feeder. The former tractor is an absolute belter and sadly is offered for sale in this weeks FW. The 434, a 1970 model, was purchased three-and-a-half years ago and has been replaced by a 1972 model. Is this progress? &#42

Nigel Smiths scraper tractor – a 436 International – has been replaced by a 1972 Ford 4000 to drive the farms latest purchase – a second-hand diet feeder.

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Nigel Smith

29 November 1996

Nigel Smith

New entrant to dairying Nigel Smith rents a 23ha (57-acre) all-grass county

council smallholding near Lutterworth, Leicestershire. It supports 75 Holstein Friesian cows and followers.

THE milking cows were eventually housed full-time on Oct 29. In pure nutritional terms, it was probably about six weeks too late.

Although there was plenty of seemingly-good quality grazing available, the cows were not interested.

In hindsight, they should have been put on full winter ration, kept in a loafing paddock and the rest of the farm silaged.

This may not be in keeping with current moves towards more milk from grazed grass, but the future of this herd lies in cheap purchased grub, a pad of concrete and a good feed trough.

Our 20-year old kennels have been redesigned. The side cladding was removed and a framework built to extend the kennels to 8ft long. The upper kennel rails have been raised to 3ft 9in above the cubicle bed, and a brisket board installed. The lower rail was replaced with a twisted rope three years ago. Finally, the beds were built up using clay. Total cost: approximately £50 excluding labour.

The redesigned cubicles and kennels have considerably improved cow comfort. However, to achieve complete acceptance of cubicles, we need to house bulling heifers in them.

However, our youngstock buildings do not lend themselves to cubicles. Renting in a redundant cubicle building for bulling heifers may be a possibility, and cubicles have the added attraction of straw savings and keeping feet in better condition.

The first batch of heifers has been synchronised and served to Labelle. Non-return rate has been only 60% – a bit disappointing for maiden heifers but again this probably reflects the poorer autumn grass this year.

Average bulling weight was 382kg with 360kg being the cut-off point. Growth rates throughout the summer averaged between 0.8 and 0.85kg/day. Without doubt, a secondhand weighcrush has been one of our best investments this year. The rearing programme is now much more focused.

This autumns crop of heifer calves are either Labelle or Mountain daughters. I have never been one to get excited about the looks and milking potential of three-month-old calves. However, I must say that the Mountain calves are comfortably the best-looking cattle that we have bred to date.n

Nigel Smiths kennel building has been redesigned. The kennels are now 8 feet long, the beds built up and brisket boards installed.

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Nigel Smith

14 June 1996

Nigel Smith

I HAVE been keenly following the series of articles in FARMERS WEEKLY about New Zealand grazing management techniques.

It has always been of concern to me that, despite their close attention to grassland management, New Zealand milk yields are so low (even accepting that very little concentrates are fed). Cynics would say that they know a lot about grazing grass down to the roots (by starving the cows) and not so much about getting sensible milk yields out of cows. But far be it from me to suggest such a thing.

I have learnt from Mark Blackwell that grazing cows need 2500kg DM/ha in front of them. This equates to approximately 5t fresh grass an acre (or half a silage crop). In order for me to get so much grass to present to my cows, one of two things would occur. Either the cows would be starved of grazing in order for the grass feed bank to build up, or I would need to extend the cow grazing area to encroach on the silage area. Herein lies the difference between New Zealand and the UK.

Making silage in New Zealand does not seem to be that important and the grazing area is flexible. No doubt Mark Blackwell will put me right when he visits the East Midlands in July.

First-cut silage was taken on May 29. This was a week later than planned due to catchy weather forecasts which failed to bring any amount of rain anyway. A 25t load of waste potatoes was mixed in with the 150t of silage. Grass yields were only mediocre at 3.2t/ha (8t/acre). Some 16ha (40 acres) were shut up for second cut – I am looking for 200t of silage from this to give me adequate stocks.

For late summer feeding, 40t of brewers grains and 40t of citrus waste will be mixed and clamped in a makeshift clamp in a dry cow yard. The average cost of this mix is around £75/t DM (12 ME). I intend to buy a large amount of alternative bulk feeds. &#42

Nigel Smith is yet to be convinced that – New Zealand grazing techniques could work for him.

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Nigel Smith

26 January 1996

Nigel Smith

"DID your balls drop last night?" my local vicar asked me last Sunday morning. He was, of course, referring to whether my numbers came up on Saturday nights lottery.

Its just marvellous how the lottery offers tens of millions of people the chance to dream about spending those millions. For me, a Cheshire dairy farm or a Shropshire dairy/arable would be my way of blowing the money. Retirement? No – Id carry on farming until the money was spent.

Well, the New Year was only six-hours-old when the first disaster struck. Our six-stall-abreast parlour contains three feed dispensing hoppers. Rusty brackets caused one hopper to crash to the floor. This is turn, was followed by half a ton of soya running down from the feed loft above.

On fetching a shovel to bag up the soya, I discovered a fountain of water in the dry cow yard due to a broken plastic water fitting. Fixing parlour feeders and mucking out yards was not what I had planned to be doing on New Years Day. Catching up on a bit of sleep was really what I had in mind.

For 1996, I just hope that we get a better ratio of heifer calves than in the previous year. In 1995, we had 10 heifers out of 36 calvings. My theory is that older bulls throw more bull calves. Getting heifer calves out of test bulls does not seem to be a problem on this farm.

Sexation Bert, an old Dutch bull, is the main offender. Southwind is a bull which I would very much like to use, but Im reluctant to do so as he, also, is getting long in the tooth. A load of old bull? Probably.

Milk yields seem to be holding up well – too well. Because silage is good, cutting back on cake is having little effect on milk yields. The cows simply eat more silage. If milk yields are not curtailed, we will end up 3-4% over quota.

As a member of a small group of farmers supplying milk to Kirby and West at Leicester, opportunities for a good threshold are limited. However, we shall change silage clamps in the next few days. Im highly confident that yields will drop on the new inferior silage. Brewers grains (the most expensive component of the ration) will also get cut out. One advantage, I have discovered, of the out-of-parlour feeders is that freshly-calved cows can still be well looked after even when the rest of the herd is facing a challenging two months.n

Nigel Smiths New Year wish is for his cows to have more heifer calves. He blames last years poor percentage on using older bulls.

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