FARMER FOCUS: It’s a struggle to feed more cows

The past three months have flown by since we moved to the new farm. As you would expect, it has been very hectic learning where everything is and what does what, however, we took the farm on in very good working order and things have generally run smoothly.

Despite a slow start to the season in terms of grass growth, forcing us to buffer graze heavily through March and April, we have raised cow numbers by 100.

We bought in two loads of stock from Ireland and one from Cheshire, hoping to capitalise on buying late-lactation cows rather than paying more for the same cows freshly calved in the autumn.

We are now unfortunately – and again – struggling for grass, as we have a high stocking rate with 120 heifers and 280 milkers on 73 grazing hectares, with 13ha of reseeds yet to enter the rotation. We started drying off a week early to relax the pressure and will have to buy in silage bales to supplement the yearling and dry cows, as we need to preserve the silage ground as much as we can.

The first cut was taken three weeks ago. The quality was great, but there wasn’t the quantity. However, we decided to go early and aim to make it up with more cuts.

We have settled into Devon life very well. The locals have been fantastic, always popping in to say hello and ringing up to see how things are going. When the sun shines the place looks fantastic and we certainly realise how lucky we are.

This is our last article and we have thoroughly enjoyed writing our updates. Thinking about what we have done has always been fun, especially after a crazy first few years farming. I was once given a good piece of advice – to write down and believe in your goals. They are much less likely to happen if they are just in your head.

Ian and Cath Ratcliffe relocated their herd from Cheshire to north Devon in March 2013. They farm 102ha and rent a further 42ha, with maize grown off farm, and milk 300 autumn calving cows aiming for high grass use and a compact calving block

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