2 April 1999


Richard Hinchion

Richard Hinchion milks 60

dairy cows and rears 40

replacements on 34ha (83

acres) at Crookstown, west

of Cork city, in southern

Ireland. With a fixed quota

of just over 300,000 litres,

the emphasis is on low-cost

production. Cows yield

5800 litres from 350kg of


AS this is my maiden article I would like to say hello to all my fellow readers. I look forward to sharing my news and experiences on the running of a dairying/grassland based enterprise in southern Ireland.

We are now a month into our calving season which commenced on Feb 1 and we have experienced no major problems, other than a few sleepless nights.

Over 60% of the herd has calved and I am pleased that 60% of calves are heifers, mostly Friesian. I inseminate the top 60% of the herd with Friesian. The rest are served with beef bulls along with the stock bull.

I plan to rear 15-20 replacement heifers. At present I have 15 calves bred by the two top Irish proven bulls, Jostar and Galtee Merci, along with some young test bulls.

We have moved our calving date back a week, so as to have grass available for calved cows.

We operate a paddock system, the first paddocks to be grazed were closed on October 10. All the farm received 50kg of urea/acre on Feb 1.

We planned to graze for two to three hours by Feb 10, but this was impossible due to insufficient grass. The weather then turned wet and mild, so grass growth improved.

On March 4, 40 cows went to grass and our recent milk recording shows an increase of about two litres/cow. The cows yielded 28 litres with heifers doing 20 litres.

It is great having the cows out. They are happier and healthier and it reduces the workload. Cows went out full time on March 8 and are eating 12-14kg/ DM of grass plus 4kg of an 18% crude protein concentrate costing £152/t. Milk protein has jumped by 0.22% since cows went out by night, giving me an extra 1p/litre return.

It looks as if there will be no superlevy this year due to later calving and a shortage of winter feed, so we aim to maximise output before March 31.

Speaking of quota, this year I have decided to match cow numbers with my quota so I sold seven milking cows privately at home for £5000. This should keep the smile on my bank managers face.

Last year our herd averaged 5780 litres at 3.85% butterfat, 3.34% protein. With the right number of cows we aim to achieve 5900 litres a cow on 350kg of concentrate a head, at a stocking rate of 2.5 livestock units/ha. &#42

Richard Hinchion says cows are happier and healthier out at grass; it eases the workload and milk yields and protein have also increased.

John Alpe

John Alpe farms with his

parents at New Laund Farm,

near Clitheroe in Lancashire.

Besides the tenanted 80ha

(200 acres) the family own

36ha (90 acres) and rent a

further 40ha (100 acres).

Stocking is 60 dairy cows

and 60 followers, 500

Swaledale and Mule ewes

and 250 store lambs.

LAST summer I came to the conclusion that we had reached a crossroads in our farming strategies. The general decline in agriculture was to my mind going to require some radical changes.

Milk price had fallen by around 5p/litre and the value of finished lambs was down by £10-12. I believe these prices will stay for some time, so I began to think of my options.

One way forward would be to increase production, spreading fixed costs over more output. However, all our land falls into the Less Favoured Area category, some of which is classified as severely disadvantaged. If we increased the amount of fertiliser applied and lifted our stocking rate we could increase output.

But compared with dairy farms only 20 miles away on the Fylde coast, our grazing season is considerably shorter. These dairy farms are generally larger and situated in the buyers milk fields, so it seems likely that the price differential will increase.

On the opposite side of the coin, we started to investigate the possibility of organic farming. We found initially that the conversion grant excluded LFA farms, which posed quite a barrier. But the grant structure changed last month, allowing LFA farms with improved grassland to apply to convert.

The government has also just implemented a pilot scheme to try to help farmers secure various grants and stewardship agreements. They have chosen two areas, The Forest of Bowland, where we live, and Bodmin in the West Country.

The scheme here is aptly named the Bowland Initiative. It aims to improve the environment and viability of farms, so organic farming fits comfortably within its criteria. We approached the Bowland Initiative advisors with various organic ideas and were given their support.

We were also asked by the Bowland group if they could visit our farm when the project was officially launched by Elliot Morley, minister for the environment.

We have yet to decide which path to take, but I think we are fortunate to be in this pilot scheme. &#42

John Alpe is considering his options for the future, including converting to organic production.

Peter Wastenage

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.

Grass growth is proving to be somewhat slow without any artificial fertiliser. Before we began organic conversion, we were only using an average of 150kg urea an acre/year. Normally, 100kg of this was applied between January and early April, until clover growth became stronger.

Milking cows were turned out two weeks later than in 1998 and we are still feeding more silage, around 6kg/head dry matter, even though the herd has 70 fewer cows.

This will probably have to be something we learn to live with. Next autumn we will leave more grass cover ready for spring grazing rather than trying to grow it early in the year.

There are massive amounts of clover in most of the swards, even this early in the season. When the weather warms up later in the season some swards may have too much clover.

We will start serving cows on April 1. They are in good condition and seem to be bulling well. I just hope we dont have extreme weather conditions like we had last year when we were inseminating.

About eight of our bulling heifers are on the borderline of being big enough to serve, so rather than leaving them 12 months were going to use a Jersey bull to give them the easiest possible calving. Hopefully, this will also give us three or four crossbred heifers as an experiment to try on our system. Ive seen some first-cross heifers recently which have done very well.

I read with great interest the supermarket struggle with genetically modified crops. For our organic system we cannot use feed containing GMOs, but I now see that some supermarkets are talking of banning food which contains any GMOs.

I believe there are very few straights which can be confirmed as 100% GMO free, except for home grown cereals. If buyers ban the use of common ingredients – such as soya, rapeseed, wheat and maize gluten – next winter could see our cheaper feed prices go sky high. Even if the government doesnt ban GMOs, it looks as if the supermarkets have the power to do so. &#42

Slow spring grass growth is something Peter Wastenage is planning to live with, as organic production means no spring fertiliser applications.

Dennis Bridgeford

Dennis Bridgeford farms

50ha (125 acres) at Petley

Farm in Easter Ross, north

of Inverness. The farm

comprises of a 480-sow

indoor unit producing 95kg

pigs for one outlet and 85kg

pigs for a local abattoir. A

further 320 sows are run

outdoors. Land not used for

pigs grows spring barley.

WE continue to produce pigmeat at less than the cost of production, with the main six buyers doing everything in their power to suppress the price. This includes hauling in live pigs from Northern Ireland and dropping slaughter days to try and hold pigs back on farm.

With Easter around the corner and then the May bank holiday weekend, they are managing to manipulate the live market to suit their own ends. There is no doubt that pig numbers are going to continue dropping for some time, so lets just get on with it. All we require is a decent price for our product to get the industry back on an even keel.

Just when I thought things couldnt get worse. I was half-asleep one morning during the recent cold spell and slipped on ice, damaging my ankle ligaments in the process. This was without the national drink in my bloodstream. Never mind, it takes my mind off the pig price.

We are trying to get on with spring ploughing and sowing but with the weather it has been a bit stop and go. We dont do any winter ploughing for two reasons; with our light land if we get a lot of winter rain it makes the ground very soft and it allows us to spread slurry all winter.

On the pig front, we had an interesting case of a sow with a uterine prolapse after farrowing one piglet.

It was obvious that she wasnt going to produce the rest herself, so we decided to call the vet. We agreed that the only way to save both sow and piglets would be to perform a Caesarean.

We saved 19 out of the 21 piglets, which gave the staff a little bit of a lift. Piglets are now happily sucking foster mothers.

At long last I think we have managed to get our newly weaned pig problem sorted out. We wean the piglets into dry sow huts in a well ventilated building with deep chopped straw. We leave them there for a week on pellets, then transfer them onto the wet feeder with a home mixed ration costing £230/t. They are looking first class. With this system we are preventing the odd pigs who wont take to the wet feeder when weaned. &#42

Dennis Bridgeford has had to call in his vet to perform a Caesarean on a prolasped sow, but it was worth it to save 19 baby piglets.

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