5 October 2001


By Marianne Curtis

MOVING farm four years ago meant changing direction away from high concentrate use to a predominantly home-grown ration for one Herefordshire producer.

With 120 cows, yielding 9000 litres, munching their way through 2.5t of concentrates on a 45ha (112-acre) grass farm in Cheshire, Clive Gurney and son, Andrew were ready for a change.

"We had fulfilled the Cheshire farms potential and managing it was no longer a challenge," says Mr Gurney.

Set in a valley 90m (300ft) above sea level and surrounded by hills, the 160ha (400-acre) Abbey Court Farm, Wigmore, Leominster, seemed to offer just the opportunity Mr Gurney was looking for.

"Soil is fertile alluvial silt, so when weather permits, cows can be out by early March. However, it is not the kind of land that can be abused."

However, grazing was not the primary consideration when selecting the farm and Mr Gurney was quick to spot its potential for producing home-grown feed. Grass accounts for 60ha (150 acres) and the 100ha (250-acre) arable area comprises 40-48ha (100-120 acres) of wheat, 28ha (70 acres) of maize and 10ha (25 acres) of potatoes, plus set-aside.

"When moving to the farm, the aim was to grow as much of our own feed as possible. The first year we grew maize, adding crimped grain and whole-crop in subsequent years. Although whole-crop is known as poor mans maize, it adds valuable fibre to rations."

The herd has expanded to 270 cows, averaging 7800 litres, but concentrate use has fallen by 1t to 1.5t/cow since the move. "We are now 80% self sufficient in feed, buying in soya, rape and maize distillers. I am interested in growing protein crops, but they are currently in their infancy – so far lupins look the most promising."

In the absence of suitable protein crops, maximising grass silage protein content is key for Mr Gurney. "First cut is taken as early as possible in May to maximise energy and protein content. I prefer to use enzyme inoculant additives as they enhance nutritional value."

This years silage has analysed at 17% crude protein and 11.8ME. "Silage is wilted and we aim for 30% dry matter, usually ending up with about 25%."

A reasonably high dry matter helps maximise intakes, says Mr Gurney. "A mixed ration of 50% dry matter is fed all year round. Forage proportions are 30% maize, 50% grass and 20% whole-crop on a DM basis. Intakes are 23-24kg DM/head a day."


&#8226 80% self sufficient.

&#8226 High intakes.

&#8226 Three forages used.

Maximising use of home-grown feed – including whole-crop – is one of Clive Gurneys key objectives.


BEDDING cows at Abbey Court Farm will be a less back breaking job this winter and straw use will fall by one third, following the purchase of a straw chopper.

Time taken to bed 70 loose-housed cows and heifers and 240 cubicles has fallen from 1.5 to 0.5 hours a day, says Clive Gurney.

"The chopper takes Heston bales, which are also easier to stack than round bales. Previously when round bales were rolled out, a thick layer of straw was produced which often remained intact beneath the surface." With the chopper, a much thinner mat is produced, using much less straw, says Mr Gurney.

Chopper costs range between £8000 and £11,000, but straw costs soon mount and labour saving is valuable, he added &#42

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