On Dartmoor, Lloyd and Rosemary Mortimore’s 120ha (297-acre) beef and sheep unit aims not to rely on SFP payments and has had to adapt systems to meet this objective.
“The target is to minimise how much we use the SFP. We have set a target of investing 50% of our yearly payment, in preperation for 2012,” Mr Mortimore explained to those attending the open day.
Having taken the tenancy over from Lloyd’s parents in 1988, the financial investment needed to take what was then the dairy herd forward made it infeasible. The couple decided to expand the original suckler enterprise, having been built up by using a South Devon x Limousin bull on dairy cows two years before herd dispersal.
Suckler cow numbers have been reduced since the switch from 145 to 100 cows, to enable the enterprise to be a one-man operation. The herd comprises native breeds – South Devon, North Devon and Aberdeen Angus. A flock of 80 pedigree Texel ewes are kept for both supplying the meat enterprise and ram production.
Constraints exerted by TB in the area meant a system had to be developed that enabled all stock to be finished on-farm. “We finish everything on farm and this could not be reliant on buying in concentrate to supplement forage.”
A direct meat selling enterprise was started in 1999, which required not only time, but also a different skills base, he added. “With diversification, the main ingredient is time, something we were trying to strategically minimise.
“Although on Dartmoor, we have the land to grow 35ha of quality feed, currently in an Italian ryegrass, wheat and maize rotation, complementing the 85ha of permanent pasture.”
And as Lizwell Farm is at an altitude of between 900 and 1100ft, maize variety choice is crucial for good establishment. “This year a variety with maturity class 9 has been drilled at a seed rate of 40,000 seeds/acre.
Layering clamps allows a number of options to be available throughout the year. First-cut Italian Ryegrass is first into the clamp, with whole-crop wheat on the second level and maize on top layer. “Although it can be a bind to do it in this way, it is well worth the time, particularly in terms of flexibility.
“For a one-man system, it’s not simple, but it is easy to organise. We feed Italian ryegrass predominantly to youngstock and a maize diet to finishing cattle.”
Second-cut ryegrass is big baled, after which weaned suckler calves are turned out onto aftermath, something Mr Mortimore believes minimises pneumonia and improves overall health. Perennial ryegrass and white clover are undersown on wheat stubble, baled and also fed to youngstock.
“We are not a low-input, low-output farm, particularly when it comes to growing forage,” he explained. “But, we have a commitment to grow high quality value feed and finish at between 0.8kg and 1.5kg a day.”
Shed space dictates that not all stock can be wintered inside, so a proportion outwinter. “We tried wintering outside four years ago and found a noticeable difference between calves which had stayed outside as opposed to those kept inside.” Two-thirds of the herd is spring-calving, which are kept inside and the rest, which calve in November, remain outside.
One area which concerns Mr Mortimore is the number of replacements kept on farm, particularly as the farm sell breeding stock in the form of cows and calves and sheep couples with the aim of speeding up genetic improvement.
With this in mind, there are other options to be considered. “The farm lends itself to a finishing unit, which has the resources to be able finish cattle without buying in feed. If there was a way to lease out cows and finish stock here, this would be an avenue to explore.”