Giles Henry rents 105ha (260
acres) on a 10 year lease and
a further 114ha (280 acres)
of heather moorland near
Selkirk in the Scottish
Borders. Cropping is mainly
grass with 10ha (24 acres)
of spring barley. Its stocked
with 650 breeding ewes and
95 hoggs, 30 Luing cattle
with followers and finishers
WELCOME to Oakwood Mill in the heart of the Scottish Borders.
Our farm is in the Ettrick Valley, two miles west of Selkirk. An LFA upland unit, it lies at 400ft above sea level next to the river Ettrick at the steading, rising quickly to 800ft at the top.
We are nearly three years into a 10-year lease with Buccleuch Estates on a limited partnership basis. The farm is basically beef and sheep with a small acreage of spring barley being grown for our own use, also to act as a break from grass.
Oakwood Mill is 260 acres and we rent 280 acres of heather moorland on an annual grazing licence where we out winter cows. This is only grazed between October and May.
Lambing started on Apr 5, but is rather slow. We lamb 350 ewes just now, over 17 days and then a further 300 ewes plus 75 hoggs starting on May 15. The April lambing flock comprises Bleu du Maine x Scottish Blackface – Bleu Mule – ewes and gimmers. The May flock consists of 200 Lomond Half Bred ewes, 100 Scottish Blackface ewes and Bleu Mule hoggs.
We mainly use high index Suffolk rams, with a Texel put to half of the Lomonds and the Bleu du Maines put across the Blackies to produce replacements.
Calving of our purebred Luing cattle is also under way, with three bull calves to date. We bring cows off the hill when calving starts and they remain in fields for the summer.
The herd numbers 30 head at present, though the intention is to increase this to about 65 head; the limiting factor will be what the hill will comfortably carry in winter. The only feed they receive while on the hill is cobs, and they have to forage for the rest.
Bulling and yearling heifers are still inside on slats, their winter rations being barley and hay. Last years bull calves are on ad-lib barley and straw to be finished at 13-14 months at, I hope, about 310-320kg dead-weight.
While lambing has been slow, I have taken the chance to roll silage ground and to put nitrogen on to cow grazing and last years silage fields. This is not normal for me, I usually rely on clover to fix all the nitrogen required for grazing fields. *
Giles Henrys Luing cattle have been brought down off the hill to calve at Oakwood Mill, Selkirk; he has had three bull calves so far.
John Helliar has a 162ha
(400-acre) farm on the
Longleat Estate, near
Warminster, Wilts. He milks
230 cows, rears his own
replacements and grows
40ha (100 acres) of maize.
1000 store lambs are put
out on winter grass keep
IT is that time of year again when budgets are drawn up, cash flows examined in detail, all costs scrutinised and ways to increase income assessed.
Its never easy, but now its almost impossible. An awful lot of calculated guessing goes on, but after 30 years one gets fairly close. Well, we thought we could. Expenditure is fairly straight-forward, get the big ones right; concentrates, fertiliser, rent and contractor charges, then the rest would always balance out – some up, some down.
But the biggest problem now is predicting income. In the last few years it has dropped dramatically and is still falling. Unfortunately, nearly all aspects are out of our control; currency fluctuations, world prices and conflicts in Europe, to name but a few. Forecasting this year, therefore, is going to be a lottery.
One thing is sure, its going to be less than last year. Milk price could be down by 1p a litre, which is £16,000 off our bottom line. Barren cows certainly will not be increasing in price and we dont know what price calves will make after the scheme ends.
Our saving grace this past year was that we could expand cow numbers without too many extra costs. But we cannot do that again without major capital expenditure.
One idea that has been floated recently is three-times-a-day milking. We went through this exercise in 1982, before quotas were imposed. It fell down at the last minute because the two girls who agreed to do the late evening milking withdrew. But now that herds are closing down all around us, there may be someone looking for that kind of work. But without the right person it is a non-starter.
We have been grazing since Mar 14 in perfect conditions; warm, dry and grass growing at a rate of knots. But low and behold, its now snowing, temperatures have plummeted and its blowing a gale. What with the weather and budgets its all doom and gloom.
On the good side, the new tracks are working well. It has speeded up moving cows by as much as 30%. Both cows and staff are pleased with the results. The only change I would make next time is to hire a vibrating roller on the final roll. *
John Helliar is finding it difficult to budget his income for the next year, but he knows it will fall.
Mike Allwood is owner-
occupier of 82ha (200
acres) near Nantwich,
Cheshire. The 175-cow dairy
herd block calves during
May and June. Mike is also
director of Farm Produce
manufactures and sells
Orchard Maid frozen yogurt
and Cheshire milk
WE have turned out our cows three times this spring, so far, soon they will be getting used to it.
At last they went out at night on Apr 9. Turnout date has been governed, as usual, by ground conditions and not by grass availability. We now have too much grass in front of the milkers and will have to work hard to open up enough acres for the second grazing cycle. An early cut of silage on the most advanced fields may be needed.
Most paddocks have a good cover of grass, with heights measured by plate meter of about 10-15cm. The exceptions are areas which we have not been able to reach with the muck spreader during the winter because they were too wet. These look hungry, and we will have to make sure we feed them over the summer. Paradoxically, the clover looks to be thriving where the grass is thinner and we may see a different picture in a couple of weeks when soil temperature has increased.
Clover establishment on grass fields has been generally good, except where the sward was dense last summer.
We have bought some more clover seed to patch these areas, either after grazing or first-cut silage.
We have now dried off about 30 cows without using long-acting tubes. To try to prevent mastitis infection during the early part of the dry period we have teat dipped daily with a product which is supposed to form a seal over the teat end.
This does not visibly appear to have been successful and we have reduced the frequency of dipping. There have been two cases of mastitis – which is two too many – but both have responded well to antibiotic treatment. In future, we will confine cows giving more than 10 litres to a straw diet for a couple of days before we stop milking them.
Our vet costs are shooting down as we move on to the organic regime, and should be well below £30 a cow before the end of the spring.
Stopping dry cow therapy alone will save us £7 a head. Latest bulk cell count is 130, about the same as this time last year. *
Grass is getting ahead of cows at Burland Farm and Mike Allwood is considering taking an early cut of silage on the most advanced fields.
David Maughan farms with
his brother, Peter, on two
farms totalling 172ha (425
acres) in Co.Durham on the
Raby Estate. The 40ha (100
acres) of grass supports an
18-month Continental beef
system with purchased bulls
and a silage beef system
using Continental bull and
IF MARCH arrived with the roar of a lion, it certainly departed with the bleat of a lamb. Conditions are now so dry, after several almost rainless weeks, we would actually welcome more – in moderation of course.
We reseeded an area of permanent pasture in mid-September which has not been a complete success, so much so that it required some further overseeding early in April. In these situations, it is always difficult to know the best approach to ensure success, without sacrificing too much of what has already established.
We opted to broadcast further seed onto a friable surface followed by firstly a ring roll, then a heavy flat roll, followed by a rain dance.
Meanwhile, grass growth on silage leys has made a flying start with above normal temperatures. The new leys, established last August, missed out on their chickweed control last autumn, so a herbicide spray was necessary in early April.
Over the last few weeks, much effort has been applied to completing building the free range poultry shed, in readiness for the arrival of 6000 pullets in early May.
We have endeavoured to create working conditions within the shed that are as pleasant as possible given that a considerable amount of time will be spent in there. Extra time spent at the building stage to achieve this, should be rewarded in the satisfaction of enjoying the working surroundings. This, in turn, will hopefully be reflected in the flock results.
This new enterprise will involve a rapid learning curve in poultry management on our part. However, it always adds interest to have a new challenge.
It will be a requirement of our production contract that the flock is firstly accepted and then monitored to comply with the RSPCA Freedom Food welfare production code. We dont really mind, as it secures our place in the production chain.
We have also been FABBL-inspected on the cattle side for four years now and willingly pay our £75 annual fee. We are also obliged to register for ACCS approval on the arable enterprise in time for the 2000 harvest, the fee for this inspection is for some reason that I perhaps dont fully appreciate, several times that of the other two schemes, which does stick in the throat a little. *
Grass growth on silage leys made a flying start with above average temperatures, says David Maughan.