Outwintering cattle without infringing cross-compliance rules is now much easier for the Williams family of Old Park Farm, Margam, thanks to the installation of a large woodchip pad.
The partners, who run several blocks of land up to 20 miles apart in Glamorgan, have always preferred “healthy” outdoor wintering for 100 suckler cows and calves and some of the 100 store cattle they buy annually.
“For 10 years we ran cattle on rented sandy land near the sea, feeding them silage on a sand pad,” says Evan Williams, who farms with his brother, Llewellyn.
When the land became unavailable, cattle were wintered on grass. They often made a mess, but the land was then cultivated for maize. There were concerns, however, that the system could break cross-compliance regulations and put single farm payments at risk.
With trailers travelling up to 30 miles a day to take silage to cows at different locations, rising fuel and labour costs were also a worry.
Evan Williams’s son Huw, who runs a separate farm with his brother, Robert, suggested a woodchip pad could be a cost-effective way of taking some pressure off pasture land. “A new building was not considered due to cost and because we believe cattle are healthier outside,” recalls Huw Williams.
The original plan was to scrape the topsoil from a 1200sq m area of a field adjacent to the buildings at Old Park, fence it off and create a woodchip pad. But the Environmental Agency had other ideas. The partners were told they must contain the run-off using earth embankments and a linear drainage system emptying into the farm’s dirty water system.
They were also advised to lay aconcrete feeding strip and put up electric fencing to control the cattle.”Though we did a lot of the work ourselves, the pad will end up costingabout £15,000,” says Huw.
“We can stock at a rate of 12 dry cows or yearlings a sq m, or a lower number of cows and calves. Last winter it was used for 40 Hereford and Limousin-cross sucklers and their calves.”
The 0.5m deep pad was made outof 225t of green timber chipped on site. Because of the way the chipperworked, log ends were left as larger triangular pieces that tended to work to the surface over time. These caused cow discomfort and will be eliminated from any top-up material.
Cows and calves, which were creep fed, stayed clean. A springtime check showed rain had washed most dung through the chips and the permeable sheeting they were laid on. The surface will be aerated a month before the pad is used again and a thin layer of fresh chippings blown on.
The only real problem was that earth banks were too low to eliminate wind chill, so cows ended up congregating in less exposed parts of the pad. Before next winter a simple windbreak will be erected on the prevailing wind side.
The success prompted the partners to feed 300 of their 1200 breeding ewes on a temporary pad made of finer woodchips. After lambing the material was scraped to one side and the area re-seeded. Evan Williams says he had no doubts woodchip pads would work well. His only concern is the long-term future of the chips, which he suspects will have to be composted before spreading on arable land.
Rain has washed most of the dung through the woodchips and the sheeting they were laid on, meaning a thin top-up layer is all that will be needed this autumn, says Huw Williams.