WILL TO WIN IN HIGH PLACES
Careful management of
grazing, silage making and
reseeding is essential on
one Lancashire hill farm.
Jeremy Hunt reports
TAKING three cuts of silage, the first in late May, and reseeding up to 4ha (10 acres) each year may not seem out of the ordinary for many Lancashire dairy farmers. But Stuart Ingham runs his herd at 300m (1000ft) on thin soils with over 1520mm (60in) of rainfall and a seven-month winter.
Perched high on a hillside overlooking the Rossendale Valley at Lumb, Mr Ingham, his wife Ruth and son David run 75 dairy cows at their 50ha (125 acre) Peers Clough Farm. They have been here 18 years and have never allowed the restrictions of thefarms location or climatic conditions to impede their approach to grassland management.
"This year has been difficult because we were feeding silage all through last summer when cows were inside every night. Now we are having to eke out forage with sugar beet pulp, fodder beet and carrots, but our target of 1000t of silage is usually enough even in our long winters which can last from late September to late April," says Mr Ingham.
High winter rainfall can delay fertiliser application but hopefully by the second week in March all silage ground – around 32ha (80 acres) – is given about 376kg/ha (3cwt/acre) of a 25-5-5 compound. About 62kg/ha N (50 units/acre) is applied to pasture ground.
"Ideally I would like to put some straight N on sooner but its just impossible to travel on the ground up here any earlier than March."
The thin soils are mostly peat over clay but respond well enough to the positive approach to management to provide grazing for cows at 300m (1000ft). The main grazing block of 10ha (25 acres) is set-stocked although an area is sometimes designated for day-time strip-grazing at turn-out.
Although the farm does take some lambs for winter grazing until January, the Inghams feel there are enough pressures achieving sufficient grass for cows without the added demands of a ewe flock.
"Some would say this type of farm should carry a flock of ewes but they would only eat the spring grass that we want in the silage clamp by late May."
First cut is taken by May 28 – about a month ahead of most farms in this situation – and on land running to at least 260m (850ft). "There isnt a lot of it but its taken early for quality. We get about 7t/acre from 80 acres to give us around 500t in the clamp by early June."
Immediately after first cut aftermaths are treated with slurry – up to 11,240 litre/ha (1000 gal/acre) – followed by 376kg/ha (3cwt/acre) of 25-0-16.
Second cut is taken from 24ha (60 acres) during the last week of July. Aftermaths are again treated with slurry and 250kg/ha (2cwt/acre), aiming for a third cut in mid-September – but this cut needs to top up the total of the farms two clamps to around 1000t.
"When cows are short of grass we will buffer feed the current seasons silage. Last summer we opened the clamp to feed first cut in June. The weather was so bad cows were in at night all summer. Half the first cut was eaten before we took the third cut," says Mr Ingham.
About 3-4ha (8-10 acres) of land is re-seeded annually, usually after second cut. This year, as an experiment on 4.5ha (11 acres) that has been sacrificed to slurry, a crop of spring wheat will be grown and taken as whole-crop silage.
A five-year ley mixture for heavy land has been used successfully in recent years; the tetraploid perennial ryegrasses Condesa and Tivoli with perennial ryegrasses Aberelan, Stratos and Twystar. Sowing rate is 45kg/ha (40lb/acre).
Land for reseeding is ploughed or Rotavated where drains are near the surface. About 5t/ha (2t/acre) of lime is applied to the seed-bed along with a 17-17-17 compound at 376kg/ha (3cwt/acre). The family prefer to broadcast seed but prevailing winds can make drilling essential.
"We will run a few lambs on re-seeds during the winter just to consolidate it but not to hammer it. Lambs will probably be taken off by October." Re-seeds come straight into the silage system the following season. We have had re-seeds that have missed but weve had to cope.
"I dont think £100/acre is a high cost for the amount of improvement we are achieving. It is proving that even on this sort of farm you can make a difference and produce a more productive and more responsive sward. We could not achieve three cuts from a long-term, unimproved sward."
The all-year-round calving herd, which averages just over 6000kg, is fed less than 1.5t concentrates a cow. The poor weather last summer meant cows were eating up to 30kg of silage a head every night.
The shortfall on mid-winter silage stocks has meant cows have been limited to 28kg of silage a head a day plus 10kg pressed beet pulp, 10kg fodder beet and 10kg carrots plus 2kg of maize gluten outside the parlour.
"Its proving to be an expensive winter but at least we kept our cows going through last summer and yields have held up reasonably well. Grass is still the cheapest feed for milk production and even on this type of farm there is the potential to make more of it," says Mr Ingham. *
• 225g/kg DM
• D-value 71
• ME 11.4MJ/kg DM
• Fermentable ME 8.1MJ/kg DM
• Crude protein 204g/kg DM
• pH 3.9
• Ammonia 11% of total N.
Lime £64/ha (£26/acre)
Fertiliser £39/ha (£16/acre)
Seed £76/ha (£31/acre)
Ploughing £29/ha (£12/acre)
preparation £25/ha (£10/acre)
Total £233/ha (£94/acre)