Farmer Focus: Weather has been a mental and practical test

I have tried to write this piece about five times without starting with the weather, but it’s impossible.

The prolonged cold and wet spring is providing as much a mental test as it is a practical one managing the stock and grazing.

At time of writing (4 April), the main frustration now is grass growth, having finished our first round of grazing.

Relying on silage

Regrowth is there, and the farm looks a healthy colour of green wanting to grow, but we just don’t have the grass covers we need to fully feed cows on grass alone, so we will continue to fill the gap with silage.  

See also: 9 steps to getting a spring reseed right

We thought we’d have loads of surplus silage this year. However, there will be precious little left by the time spring does its thing. Calving is virtually done, with cows left to calve into double digits.

JohnJo driving his 4x4 through a large puddle

© Lindsay Walker

Most heifer calves are grouped into batches of 40 and feeding on the fifty-teat trailed feeder.  

We would normally have the majority out on grass by now, but have only managed to get one group out to date, and while they are coming along well, we’re in no rush to get carried away.  

Calving to breeding

Calves are gradually weaned onto once-a-day feeding, with intakes getting up to about 900g of powder/day. Attention is turning from calving to breeding, with serving being less than a month away.

This will start with the team metri-checking the cows for any metritis or dirty cows and pre-mating tail paints will be applied three weeks before the planned start of mating.

We will also use once-a-day milking to help with cycling, with us targeting any low-condition cows and non-cycling cows. As an industry we will get through these latest challenges and will hopefully, where needed, help each other through it.  

Working together has never been more important, with increasing threats from outside – a proposed trade deal with Australia that seems happy to open the doors to hormone-treated beef, or wildlife groups featuring on Countryfile blaming declining hedgehog numbers on “industrial farming” practices, to name just two things in two days.

Johnjo Roberts converted his family’s 250ha beef and sheep farm on Anglesey to an 800-head spring-block calving dairy in 2014. Maximising grazed grass and good milk solids are priorities.