Farmer Focus: Cow tracks get overhaul

The recent dry spell has enabled the resurfacing of about half the cow tracks on our home farm at Cairnhead.

Originally constructed almost 20 years ago for a much smaller herd, the recent upgrade gives us the best access we’ve ever had to the majority of the grazing block.

Although it’s proving to be a larger job than was first expected due to several years of making do, the improvements won’t only make effective grazing management easier, but will hopefully help reduce lameness, which has been a challenge in recent wet summers.

The milking cows at Dolphenby have enjoyed grazing night and day since late February, but at home we only started our first round of calving in the middle of March. In stark contrast to spring 2013 the pasture looks very lush and green and for the first time in almost 20 years it would appear we’ve managed to hold grass covers and even grow grass during winter, albeit only very slightly. Our decision to aim to breed sufficient replacements in the first three/four weeks of calving has had to be reconsidered.

A poor ratio of heifers to bull calves leaves us with only just enough heifers coming through to join both herds in 2016 and may leave us a little short should we decide to cull more severely. Beef cross and dairy bull calves are being successfully sold directly to private local buyers this season. As large numbers of Hereford and Angus calves begin to build up, moving them swiftly is paramount to avoid getting distracted from the main focus of rearing healthy heifers for replacements. Luckily the ability to source large groups of calves from one or two farms seems highly attractive to local stock farmers.

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With just over 12 months until the end of EU milk quotas – and as 31 years of production restriction comes to an end – we enter a completely new and challenging period in dairy farming. As parts of Europe gear up to significantly increase production, predicting the future economics of dairy farming is highly speculative. However, one thing is certain – it’s essential we work hard to remain competitive and control the exuberance the recent relatively high milk price has brought.

Robert Craig farms a 160ha all-grass dairy unit in north-east Cumbria. A passionate grassland farmer, Robert aims to maximise profit while ensuring a balanced and enjoyable life. Robert is also current Cumbria NFU chairman.