John Helliar has a 130ha
(320-acre) farm on the
Longleat Estate, near
Warminster, Wilts. He milks
180 cows, rears his own
replacements and grows
45ha (110 acres) of maize,
which comprises 70% of the
winter ration. 1500 store lambs
are put out on winter grass
keep in October for sale as
fat lambs in January/February.
IT IS one of those years when we have gone from winter straight into summer.
If it has been the wettest April for over 100 years and we came through it with cows out every day plus 18 nights, that is quite an achievement.
What has come out of this spring is we have got three distinct soil types regarding water retention.
The greensand is like blotting paper, will absorb large amounts of rain, and grows grass through the winter for early grazing but produces little or no grass from mid-June to September.
The sandy loam over sandstone is relatively dry, but needs two or three days to be dry enough to allow cows to graze. The third type, silty loam over clay, although well drained, needs a week at least to support cows in the spring, but will grow grass right through the summer – even in 1995 was green in late August.
To exploit the greensand in spring any surplus cash will have to go into improving access to this area, also the aim will be to shut up 30 acres by October to allow the late autumn growth to be grazed in February.
I estimate that 260t of silage has been saved, equivalent to 20 acres of maize, plus all the other benefits of less concentrates, labour, bedding, etc.
I know that the New Zealand consultants have come in for a bit of criticism in the Press recently, but dairy farmers have got to look at the whole picture, not just extended grazing; it is a concept, it is about reducing production costs.
The problem lies in the mind. Once we can get away from the idea of producing large amounts of conserved forage – which is where a lot of the high capital and variable costs start from – I am convinced most farmers can go part way, and some the whole way, towards extended grazing.
All the maize has been planted (94 acres), the first on April 28 the last on May 8, which on average is 12 days later than last year. One of the MGA trial plots was planted on the first day and is just emerging (May 12). This is not a variety trial but a plant spacing and treatment experiment which we will watch with interest. *
We need to move away from producing lots of conserved forage, says John Helliar. He says most farmers can go part way and some the whole way.