10 April 1998

Patchy clover needs reseed

Devon dairy producer Simon

Paddon has just over a year

to complete his organic

conversion. Jessica Buss

returns to the farm to report

on his progress and plans for

the coming year

EARLY grass growth and excess forage from last year will allow Simon Paddon to reseed land where clover failed to establish by overseeding.

Grass swards must have clover to fix nitrogen, and although overseeding pastures with clover generally worked well last year, 10ha (25 acres) have too little clover and must be reseeded.

His 40ha (100-acre) Peach Hayne Farm, Cheriton Fitzpaine, Tiverton, is in its second year without bag fertilisers, and will receive organic status on Apr 1, 1999, with cows milk deemed organic from July 1999.

Good forage stocks and some purchased silage offer Mr Paddon scope to reseed the field which did not overseed well with a red clover and ryegrass sward under a cover crop of peas.

Having extra forage has also been of benefit over the winter, allowing cow number to be kept at nearer 70 than the 65 he expected to have feed for, helping to maintain income despite the lower milk price.

"We also bought in maize silage, but we will not be able to buy in non-organic forages when we are fully organic."

Concentrate fed through out-of-parlour feeders will also be reduced before conversion is complete. The 5570-litre cows are fed 725kg a lactation of maize gluten, 0.13kg/litre, but once the farm is organic concentrate will be cut to under 700kg a year and must be organic.

Mr Paddon has also taken advantage of early season grass growth. Early lactation cows from the spring calving herd were turned out in mid-February. Grass was available and ground conditions good, so cows were grazed three hours a day for two or three days in the 24 hour 0.8ha (2-acre) paddocks set up for rotational grazing last year.

"The 2-acre paddock may prove to be too big now with fewer cows, but grass growth may not be as vigorous early in the year. Clover will come later so the April, May, June grass growth will be more level. Luckily we have silage to balance out shortages in grass," says Mr Paddon.

He wont grow forage maize again this year. "Although in theory maize could be grown, it is a hungry crop and would leave no muck for grass. We hope to get 4.5t of dry matter from a red clover and ryegrass ley instead. That will leave the soil fertile rather than empty like maize."

Spring applications of composted slurry from his free-range broiler unit have been spread on silage ground. But Mr Paddon is unsure when he will cut silage.

"We have two options, to make a mature first cut for dry cows which wont need supplementing, or to make a higher quality silage and dilute it with straw."

Tightening up the calving period is also well under way, with just nine cows calving after the end of February. Next year he hopes that nearly all cows will calve in January and February, simplifying cow management. He will, as a result, shortly be focussing on cow fertility, but it will only be for a short period, he explains.

All cows will be dried off in November and he will try to keep these dry cows out at grass for as long as possible.

&#8226 Simon Paddons intention to go organic was first featured in Livestock Oct 3, 1997. &#42

Clover has established well in most of the pasture over-seeded last year. Right: Extra forage and an early turnout has allowed Simon Paddon to keep cow numbers up, which in turn has reduced the impact of lower milk prices.

GOING ORGANIC

&#8226 Must rely on clover.

&#8226 Grass growth more level.

&#8226 Red clover replacing maize.

Alternative to antibiotics

Treating cows with fewer antibiotics because of the long withdrawal periods required under the organic regime is yet to be addressed at Peach Hayne Farm.

The alternative to antibiotics, homoeopathy, is reported to be successful by some producers, but others who have tried homoeopathic medicines remain sceptical, and Mr Paddon is not yet convinced that they will be successful.

But next winter he will have to dry off cows without antibiotic dry cow therapy. He hopes that the weather will be good enough to allow cows to spend the early part of the dry period outside, where the challenge from mastitis bacteria will be lower.