Farmer Focus: Grass growth rates exceed demand

It looks as if most dairy farmers in Cumbria will have successfully taken their first cut silage in the predominantly dry May weather. Large quantities of high-quality silage will certainly help continue the trend that’s likely to see 2014 become a bumper year for UK milk production.

The seasonal unpredictability of being able to achieve adequate, high-quality silage was one of the reasons we opted for seasonal block calving almost 20 years ago. It has removed a huge amount of stress and uncontrolled variability from our dairy business.

With fewer contractors doing more and more work it’s indeed a rare year when everything comes together leaving everyone happy – perhaps 2014 is one such year.

Grass growth rates are largely as expected across both units, with large areas of the milking platform out for silage as growth exceeds demand by almost 2:1. Although we’ve all enjoyed a reasonably predictable year so far, maintaining grazing quality from the middle to the end of May, when ryegrass is determined to go to seed, is always a challenge.

Read more from our other livestock farmer focus writers 

Even getting it just about right in May can sometimes mean running short of available feed in early June if growth rates take a sudden drop.

The final sections of concrete railway sleeper cow tracks are going down at Cairnhead. Although more expensive than the hardcore option, being completely maintenance free they should prove to be good value in the long term.

As I write we’re at the end of our first week of AI at home and have 28% of the main herd submitted to service since the start. The maiden heifers have had two weeks of service, with so far 72% mated to easily calving NZ sires.

I’m taking a break from this page so this will be my last focus article for a while. George Brown, a new member of the team at Cairnhead, will take over for a few months.

Many of you will remember George as winner of the first Farmers Weekly Apprentice competition in 2012. Following two years working on dairy farms in New Zealand, George has returned to the UK and is settling in as our new herd manager.

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