3 March 2000


Embracing New Zealand

grazing techniques means

one north-west producer

is gearing up for an early

turn-out. Jeremy Hunt

visited this convert

PLANNING for an early turnout last autumn has provided one Cumbrian producer with as much grass on fields in mid-January this year as he had at turnout last April.

This year Robert Craig expects his cows to be out by mid-March – two weeks earlier than last year – and hopes to further improve on the 3000 litres of milk achieved from grazed grass last season. The herd averages 6400 litres from 850kg of concentrate.

Improved production from grazing has been possible on this exposed east Cumbrian farm, with grazing ranging from 180-240m (600-800ft), without re-seeding or additional fertiliser.

Cairnhead Farm, Ainstable, near Penrith is a 66ha (160-acre) holding – with 20ha (50 acres) rented – and carries 115 cows and 85 youngstock. The farms remaining 100 ewes will be sold shortly with lambs at foot.

That will clear the way for Mr Craig to further exploit the benefits of a New Zealand system, followed for the last two years.

"My aim is for the business to continue growing in the current difficult agricultural climate." And he remains confident that good grassland husbandry is the most efficient way to do it.

His goals are to increase cow numbers to 150 by spring 2001 and to 200 thereafter, so that he can produce 900,000 litres in the 2000-2001 milk year. He aims to maximise milk produced from grazed grass by switching to spring calving and will run a simple, one-man system with additional help at calving time.

Another critical target is to reduce production costs to 10p a litre or less, on a comparative farm profit basis, so as to remain open to new opportunities for improving profitability.

Paddock grazing was introduced a year ago with cows at grass from April 3 to November 15. Tracks were laid to improve access to most paddocks. These 3m (10ft) wide tracks were installed at a cost of £2/m (60p/ft).

The tracks allowed cows to be turned out a fortnight earlier than previous years. "We had grass cover of about 1300kg DM/ha last January and 1900kg DM/ha in April. This January the plate meter reading showed 1900kg DM/ha across the farm and fields which will be used for turnout had about 2200kg DM/ha.

"We are operating a system of growing grass, grazing it and then leaving it to recover instead of set-stocking and letting cows keep nibbling new shoots.

"At turnout we let cows graze down to 1600kg DM/ha but in the drier months, when the sward is losing some quality, cows may only get it down to 1800-1900kg DM/ha and we may have to top it."

The first area used for turnout in mid-March has not been grazed since mid-late October; parts received a slurry application and urea went on in early February.

Daytime grazing will initially provide cows with 6-8kg DM. This will be supplemented with silage at night.

Mr Craig says increasing individual cow yields is not his primary concern. "We must produce more milk from the farm to stay in business. We are increasing cow numbers to achieve that, but the New Zealand grazing system gives us more control over the way we manage our grazing, and it underpins our policy of efficient milk production."


&#8226 Starts in autumn.

&#8226 Measure grass available.

&#8226 Invested in tracks.

Plate meter readings show

Robert Craig that grass cover is higher than last year, allowing cows to start grazing earlier.

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