100% feed sufficiency aim for Welsh organic herd

Being totally self-sufficient in feed is the aim for Jonathan Thomas, and he is heading there thanks to a mix of forages and home-grown cereals.

A farming partnership is aiming to be self-sufficient in organic feed by producing high-quality silage from clover leys and growing crops of wheat, barley and peas.

The Thomas family, who run Trewilym Farm, a 145 ha (360-acre) dairy and arable farm in Pembrokeshire, will achieve full organic certification in June.

The Thomases are already producing 95% of their feed, with the aim of becoming 100% self-sufficient. Only a small quantity of protein concentrate is bought, to feed in the parlour, at a rate of 0.75kg a cow, mixed with a grain ration to a level of 2-3.5kg a cow.

Good-quality silage is important to the system. Silage leys are reseeded every three years with red or white clover, in rotation with arable crops. A crop of stubble turnips is followed by crops of wheat and peas, barley and peas and finally whole-crop silage undersown with clover.

Analysis of the first cut last year showed a dry matter of 49%, crude protein of 20%, metabolisable energy of 12.8MJ/kg/DM and an ammonia level of 3.5.

Jonathan Thomas, who farms in partnership with his parents, Idris and Beth, says all their forage is based on red and white clover.

Mr Thomas has reseeded 16ha (40 acres) this year, the silage fields with short-term leys of organic red and white clover and the grassland leys with a long-term seed mixture. “The younger the grass, the better it grows, responding well to the slurry we inject. Converting to organic has focused our minds on producing the best silage.

“We like the control we get by harvesting silage in big bales ourselves. Our diesel costs are at a sensible level because we don’t have to use big machines to do this job. We’ve got a couple of small tractors and I do the job myself.”

Last year’s crop yielded 20 bales/ha (8/acre) at first cut, 14/ha at second and 10/ha at third. Slurry is the only nutrient used, injected after all three silage cuts and on grazing fields in early spring.

Silage is chopped and topped up with a mix of milled grain from home-grown wheat and barley and an organic cake, fed to a maximum of 3.5kg for the fresh calvers. Mr Thomas estimates he only buys in 2t of feed a month over winter, every-thing else is grown on the farm.

“We want to get to a position where we don’t have to buy in any feed. We grow 66 acres of combinable crops and 44 acres of whole-crop silage. The grain from combined crops is stored in a moist grain bin and processed using the on-farm mill-and-mix system.”

The herd of 100 cows is predominately British Friesians, but a growing percentage of MRIs, Swedish Reds and Montbelliards are being introduced because the Thomases feel these breeds better suit the organic system. The cows calve all year round and yield an average of 5500 litres with a butterfat average of 4.54% and protein of 3.35%.

Conversion to organic production was a natural progression, says Mr Thomas. “We felt that under the conventional system we would have had to double herd size, which would have meant a lot more work and employing more staff, which we didn’t want to do.

“Organic production works well for us due to the amount of available land that has not been intensively farmed. However, this is not a system that would work for everyone.”

Organic feeding

  • Clover-based leys

  • Home-grown cereals

  • 100% self-sufficiency aim

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