19 May 2000

No sins in this simply profitable dairying system

Simple dairy systems do

not have to follow the Kiwi

route of block spring calving

and extended grazing as

BGS summer tour followers

found out in Sussex.

James Garner reports

SUMMER calving, set stocking, grass and maize silage are all, we are told, synonymous with higher cost systems.

But one West Sussex unit proved to BGS summer tour delegates that adopting these principles did not necessarily mean lower profits.

Even when the financial stakes are as bad as they are, Tony Hextall of Hill House Farm, Haywards Heath, is still making good money by keeping costs low. His system is carefully devised to epitomise simplicity. That is one reason why he sets stocks rather than rotationally grazes his 235 September-calving black-and-white cows on 121ha (300 acres) of permanent grass.

The other reason is that all grass burns up by June, so his LKL herd manager, Brian Kelland, dries all cows off by July 17, six weeks before calving.

According to grazing experts Mr Hextall also commits a sin by over-wintering sheep, earning him an extra £2500 income. But he still managed to turn cows out part-time in March, before they went out fully in May this year.

"According to LKL figures, I still get 5200 litres from forage." This is from a total production of 6900 litres a cow. But achieving this is dependent on 30ha (75 acres) of maize silage making and feeding lots of grass silage over winter.

"Maize silage has been one of the biggest revolutions in the dairy industry. It has changed the situation here; it has upped yields from the same amount of concentrate and grass, and cows stay cleaner in winter." This year his area of maize silage is increasing to 44ha (108 acres) to capitalise on his belief that high dry matter intakes have increased his cows yields.

Last year cows ate 6.5t of maize silage and 5t of grass silage. All forage is fed from a shear grab and bucket. "I would like to self-feed silage, but we cant do it here because of the building layout." As a compromise he has built a 1.8m (6ft) wide trough that all his cows can feed from during the whole day.

"We fill it up once a day during milking. It only takes half an hour and I do not mix up the grub, the cows do that themselves."

It is this simple system that leaves Mr Hextall relaxed about the current crisis. Perhaps it is also because he had to fight his way into farming; he is not from agricultural stock, but his drive to be a dairy farmer gained him a smallholding 36 years ago.

He sees the crisis as a chance for youngsters wanting to join the industry. That is if older producers are prepared to rent out their dairy farms to newcomers, he said. &#42

LOW COST MILK

&#8226 High DM forage diet.

&#8226 Simple once-a-day feeding.

&#8226 Cows dry during late summer.

Tony Hextall and his wife, Lesley reckon a simple block-calving system is still making money and allows them to have six weeks holiday a year.