Gerald Murphy runs a 107ha
(275-acre) farm in partner-
ship with his parents in
County Waterford on the
south-east coast of Ireland.
Dairying is the main
enterprise with emphasis on
milk from grass. The mainly
all-grass unit carries 110
Holstein Friesian cows and
also grows forage maize and
cereals for home
OUR maize harvest turned into a bit of an operation; a success but still an operation. Three-quarters of the maize had to be hauled 14 miles, the rest was much closer. For the long haul we put one of our own tractors on and hired in two more, one on self-drive plus our contractor put on an extra tractor.
We were still far from keeping the harvester going but we got through it nonetheless. It was well worth the effort.
Even taking in the extra costs involved in haulage, the cost an acre was down on the last year we grew maize conventionally – last year was under plastic – and yields and quality are up.
The increase in yields was due to two factors; the first was better sites overall and the second was less weed competition, leading to a much reduced spray cost. We will have to subsoil the maize fields because the weather was very poor in the run up to harvest and it is quiet easy to map the progress of the harvester across the fields by following the tracks. No one got buried but there was a lot of compaction.
The weather in late October was very bad and we thought we were going to be forced to house all the stock. Thankfully the weather has picked up this week and the pressure is off.
The fresh cows were housed at night at the beginning of the first week of Nov. In fact they are only out for about six hours a day now .
The stale cows are still out grazing at night but are getting a 30kg buffer 50:50 mix of maize and grass silage with 3kg of concentrate before evening milking.
All other stock apart from 12 bulls are still out. We are hoping to finish the bulls in early summer next year and so they could not be allowed any check in growth, plus when there are a large number of maiden heifers coming on heat it is a case of out of sight out of mind. The remainder of the stock will remain out until the grass supplies are grazed out which varies from 10 to 30 days with different groups. No paddock which was grazed after Oct 20 will be grazed again before spring. *
Peter Wastenage, in
partnership with his parents,
farms a 121ha (300-acre)
farm tenanted from Clinton
Devon Estates. He milks
175 cows, rears his own
replacements and grows
40ha (100 acres) of maize
MILKING is currently somewhat of a mix-match with most of the herd all but dry, apart from about 30 autumn calvers. These wont be put in-calf until next spring because I want them to calve in January the following year.
My original intention was to sell this portion of the herd but with present prices and few sensible offers around Ill keep them and hopefully sell some heifers in the spring on a better trade. However, this will make forage quite tight this winter.
The dairy cows have now started grazing 18 acres of kale. Once again this has proved to be a saviour, being both high-yielding and of excellent quality. We increased the seed-rate to 3kg/acre to increase plant population and reduce stem size. The largest stems are about 25-255mm (1-10in) round and cows are grazing from 1.5m (5ft) down to 305mm (1ft). Moving the fences when the crop is absolutely soaking is still a very unpopular chore.
Looking back over the previous 12-months lactations, several lessons have been learnt, the main one being cows need feeding well in early lactation. In recent years, when fresh calvers have started grazing in February, theyve been having 3kg concentrate, about 5kg dry matter maize and the rest grazed grass.
In previous years when the weather has been particularly bad, yield has dropped and then improved with better weather. However this year with three consecutive weeks of dreadful weather, although they had plenty of grass, dry matter intakes were significantly reduced and yields dropped.
Having plenty of grass I was loathe to increase silage especially as we were carrying more stock than intended and I was worried about running out. Anyway to cut a long story short, the cows peaked at about 26 litres and by late summer average was down to 17 litres when the quality of grass they were having should have produced more. Both this and the extended lactations of many cows to get within our desired calving pattern has left us with a herd average of 5300 litres. Not that Im worried at all about yield but more by the loss of "free" milk in the latter half of the lactation.
Weve just returned from our honeymoon in Vermont, New England. We managed to look around several farms, an icecream and cheese factory. What a honeymoon! The farms we visited had 40-100 cows. Average herd size in Vermont is 70 cows; I found these figures amazing as there are no quotas. Many smaller farms survive by joining farmer-owned co-ops which retain all the profit for members.
This is of particular interest to me as Milk Marque has recently acquired another cheese maker in Somerset; North Brandon Farm, and has applied for a further processing plant at Cullompton. This must be regarded as an excellent move, not only for Milk Marque members but the industry as a whole. *
Dennis Bridgeford farms 50ha
(125 acres) at Petley Farm in
Easter Ross, about 40 miles
north of Inverness. The farm
comprises of a 480-sow
indoor unit producing 95kg
pigs for one outlet and 85kg
pigs for a more local abattoir.
A further 320 sows are run
outdoors, with progeny sold
at 7kg. The land not used for
pigs grows spring barley for
use in the farms mill-and-mix
Rain and more rain – it hasnt stopped for three weeks. Thankfully, with the help of our cereal baron neighbours we managed to get the slurry store almost empty before the rain started. Even with our light land we would struggle to spread slurry without making deep tracks. By their own admission it is amazing, after years of continuous cereal, how well land reacts to pig dung and slurry.
One problem with slurry has been the effect on nitrogen levels in malting barley, but with the installation of booms on the tanker we are able to get a more even application on the field. It appears that some maltsters have shot themselves in the foot with the level of deductions for malting barley. I cannot understand the theory that you suppress yield in the hope that you might get it away for malting then for the malsters, almost at their discretion, to knock the price back. They then go on about quality but when it suits them all of a sudden the spec gets lower.
Every now and then you get a boost in life; I received mine recently when I got an invitation in conjunction with Pig Farming magazine and PIC, to tour pig units in South Africa. It was the most thought-provoking trip I have ever been on. The units, without exception were first-class, producing excellent pigs at a cost of production that we can only dream about.
My immediate reaction was the number and the quality of pigs in the farrowing section. It really brings home how dam lines in this country have been pushed to produce ultra-lean carcasses, and out has gone mothering and milking ability. All their costs were less than ours; building, feed and labour. They were receiving 75p/kg with fat measurement higher than we would be allowed, the aim being like the Americans for slightly more fat and a tastier carcass.
We also visited the equivalent of the Pig Fair. They have gone down the individual breeder route based on the herd book. It appears to be working well, producing a lot of pigs cheaply. On reflection I think if I had been 20 years younger and given the opportunity I would have stayed.
On the home front, the price of pigs is trying to rise, but. I suspect the meat trade is desperately trying to suppress it. If prices do not rise significantly, over the next few months the pig industry will all but disappear. *
John Alpe farms in
partnership with his parents
at New Laund Farm at
Whitewell near Clitheroe in
Lancashire. Besides the
tenanted 80ha (200 acres)
at New Laund Farm, the
family own a neighbouring
farm of 36ha (90 acres), and
rent a further 40ha (100
acres). About 60 dairy cows
and 60 followers, 500
Swaledale and Mule ewes
and 250 store lambs are run
on the farms. Bacon pigs are
also fed on contract
Throughout spring our recorded cell count had remained fairly static about 130. During summer and early autumn it steadily rose to 180, and consequently we did not achieve the bonus band payment. This caused me some concern, as we had no obvious cases of mastitis and, other than the weather, everything appeared to be normal.
I decided to actively try and find the root cause of the problem and arranged for the milking equipment to be checked. The testing did highlight that the vacuum pipe line which supplies both the pulsators and the automatic concentrate feeders proved to be at best only just adequate. It transpired that when air was allowed into the vacuum line during the course of milking it caused a considerable shortfall in the vacuum pressure, and, as a result, slowing the pulsator speed.
Quite the opposite was found for the milk transporting line which proved to be in good working order with a good vacuum. Since the problem was then pinpointed to the pulsator/feed vacuum pipe line, which was 1in bore galvanised steel piping, a piece was removed and split to reveal the diameter was almost blocked with debris which had built up over some 40 years since first installed; little wonder the vacuum was failing.
Our dairy engineers fitted a new 50mm bore blue plastic line to supply the vacuum and there has been a marked improvement, especially noticeable because of the speed of the concentrate feeders. Thankfully the bigger improvement is that the cell count average for October has fallen considerably to 78. This was one of those problems that quietly gets worse over the months without really being noticed.
During the winter months our breeding ewes are fed on hay using the four-wheeled quad bike. Since this year we have very little hay, we will have to use big bale silage. However, a large part of the flock out-winter on a limestone hill. This land is very dry at the summit but is incredibly difficult to reach when the ground conditions are wet. To make feeding possible with a tractor and back spike we had to build a road to allow us to access the area. Hopefully this will work but only time will tell!
It was constructed simply by digging two single tracks and back filling them with a redundant stone wall; we have now built the Whitewell by-pass: Fortunately we saw no demonstrations or strong opposition from Swampy or any of his eco-warriors! *