Ian Ratcliffe suffers a farming rollercoaster

The past month has been one of mixed emotions. We finally got the rest of the herd out on 6 April. Grass covers had increased enough to have the herd as one and have a large proportion of grazed grass in the diet.

The milk dropped, but so did the work load and the concentrates fed. We were expecting growth rates to take off and were hoping not to have to use the feeder wagon until calving next time – wishful thinking.

The rain has finally come and it hasn’t stopped, but the worst thing is the temperature, with overnight frosts reducing growth rates from a high of 55kg/dm/day to 40 over the past few weeks. So having finally got the herd out we are now buffer feeding until the growth rate improves again. I need a growth of 75kg a day to comfortably graze the 190 in the herd on the 100 acres we have around the farm, which certainly is a challenge with our sandy farm.

We have had a lot of trouble getting residuals down, having grazed the farm hard into November, coupled with the mild, dry winter the cow pats are still left in abundance. I put some salt on the worst-affected fields to see if it would help and we saw a marginal improvement. On the next grazing round I think I will have to pre-mow a few paddocks as long as the sun is shining.

I was hoping to get maize drilled and silage in the clamp before our wedding, but each weather report I see renders that unlikely. I have run the idea past Cath about having to silage on the wedding day if the weather is right, to which she replied – “If it’s right we have to silage.” There’s not many brides that would say that – maybe it was the thought of having 150 people helping to sheet the clamp.

Ian Ratcliffe, 26, took on the family farm in Cheshire, comprising 121ha (300 acres) on 1 April 2011. He aims to calve 230 in an autumn block averaging 7,000-8,000 litres a cow a year, maximising milk from forage.

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