John Helliar

27 March 1998

John Helliar

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


SPRING has arrived early. Having had 7.5cm (3in) of rain in the first week of March, 160 of the 200 cows went out to grass on Mar 8, a week later than planned. The Italian ryegrass undersown in the maize last June was 15cm (6in) tall and looking really dense (it was sheep grazed last November). A back fence is being used to encourage regrowth, and a further 50 units of N applied, with the hope of getting a second grazing before it goes back into maize in mid-April.

The savings are quite appreciable – at this point it is £90 a day – £40 on the making of conserved forage, £40 on a high protein blend and £10 on bedding costs. On the other side of the equation is the grass seed and establishment cost of £20 a day so a net saving of £70 is not to be missed. Milk did drop by a litre a day for two days but is now back on prediction.

The reason the 40 cows were left in on winter ration was because they were either about to be served or had been served in the last 50 days, so the last thing we wanted was more reabsorptions as Apr 1 is cut off day for serving cows.

The maize varieties have been chosen. We narrowed it down to three just to simplify harvesting, the forage maize varieties are Lincoln (50 acres), Hussar (30 acres), the ground ear maize variety is Aelis. The Lincoln will fill one pit plus putting 2.1m (7ft) of maize on top of 1.2m (4ft) of grass silage which we always feed first in the autumn. The Hussar will fill the remaining clamp, so if there is a difference in ripening between varieties it should not be a problem.

Writing this article on Mar 18, with the air temperature at 15C and soil at 8C, it seems like the start of April. If it was, I would be out with the maize drill, as there has been no frost since the beginning of January for the second year running. I would say the seasons are changing and we will have to exploit it to survive.

After Gordon Brown delivered his budget, it looks almost certain that interest rates will rise, and with the £ so strong and getting stronger by the day another green £ adjustment is a certainty. So with my budget day on Apr 1, can I put my milk price at 18p/litre or will it be lower? Whichever it is, there are going to be some radical changes made in order to survive. I will keep you posted next month. &#42

This years maize silage clamp fillers on John Helliars farm will be Lincoln – which will also top one of the grass silage pits – and Hussar.

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