REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…
The real world of dairy
farming is reflected in the
experiences of our
contributors. Heres the
latest news from our four
busy producers. Their
reports are from Carmarthen,
Co Durham, Leics
John Stanley farms 336ha
(830 acres) in Leics,
including 90ha (220 acres)
of grass and 24ha
(60 acres) of maize.
Home-grown wheat is also
fed. His 140-cow herd has
a rolling average yield of
11,000 litres on
AFTER several years of pain, the milk price has now recovered from disastrous levels. But the predicted shortage of milk this autumn, due to foot-and-mouth, appears not to have materialised. Therefore, it looks as if the milk price has peaked and is under increased downward pressure again.
I believe the British Dairy industry is now at a crossroads. Many dairy businesses have to decide whether to sell up, while there is a healthy market for whole herds, or look towards the future and make the business more efficient with lower costs of milk production. In fact, sell up or expand.
In our case, we must milk more cows and raise cow yields to reduce unit costs of milk production. But I dont have the confidence at the moment to build new buildings to house the extra cows. Currently, we have sufficient replacement heifers in the system to increase cow numbers by 30 over the next 12 months.
One solution is to contract out heifer rearing and free up existing buildings to house the extra cows, ideally an outgoing milk producer could take this on. Another option would be to install cubicles into my loose-bedded yards, enabling us to house 25% more cows.
Moving to cubicles would reduce the need for large quantities of expensive straw and bedding cows on sand could reduce mastitis levels. The cost of this option would pay for itself within four years, but again the lack of confidence to invest in buildings forces me to look seriously at the contract heifer rearing option.
Talking of heifers, I cannot remember youngstock ever being out so late in the year. There is still grass to cut and with 2kg of a soya and wheat mix being fed, heifers are still growing in late November. *
Kevin Green farms 128ha
(320 acres) near Carmarthen
in west Wales, in partnership
with his wife Lynwen. They
currently run 300 spring
calving cows and followers.
Their aim is to maximise
output from grazing
AFTER attending a business investment course which taught us how to value our time, we have learnt to prioritise more on things in our lives that are important to us. Lynwen has, therefore, made an early New Years resolution by vowing not to regularly milk cows next year.
I mentioned last month that my time management was poor. This has led us to a firm decision to employ a herdsperson or developing manager.
What a fantastic month Nov was for grazing, cows are happy to be out by day and housed at night with swards being cleaned out without any damage. The Grazing Dragons visited us on Nov 7 and following their advice, we went to once-a-day milking which has really freed up time to spend with the kids.
The farm office in the house has now become too small, as our businesses are developing, the old bulk milk tank room offers an ideal solution. A double-glazed door and window has been fitted for £800 with little additional cost to be incurred apart from a coat of paint, some shelving and a desk.
Next time the bank manager pays us a visit, there will be a mission statement on the wall together with all our awards. I wonder whether it will lead to more favourable bank rates?
Im always going on about looking outside the farm gate and have recently acted on this view by buying a few thousand pounds worth of shares in Express Dairies. With Lord Haskins no longer being its chairman, Im confident the company will recover from the doldrums.
Express Dairies does not fit within the criteria for successful investment as outlined on the business course, but Im willing to act on gut feeling and have a go.
This month Megan the cow says: "To learn without taking action, is to plough without sowing." *
George Holmes farms 158ha
(390 acres) in mid-Sussex
having recently taken on an
extra 32ha (80 acres).
He has expanded the dairy
herd to 190 autumn calving
cows and 100 replacements.
His objective is to decrease
costs by increasing use
of grazed grass
THIS is my last contribution to Dairy Update after a three and a half year period through some of the most difficult times dairy farming has faced in this country. It is good to end on a high.
What a great autumn it has been. We have clamped the rest of the maize, and cows were out grazing day and night until early Oct and days only until Nov 8, with a break in late Oct.
Bulling heifers were housed on Nov 12, to settle them before service and the last of the dry cow mob are still outside. Cows are milking very well, forcing us to go back to daily collection for the first time since our 10,000litre tank was installed seven years ago.
Currently, we are producing 1000 litres/day more than last year, which is great news together with a better milk price and lower quota cost. The first of my home-bred New Zealand Friesian sired heifers have calved and were yielding 23.5 litres/day, which is excellent when compared with a herd average of 28 litres/day.
My financial year ends in Sep and looks to have been one of the best years at Withypitts. Continued investment in expanding cow numbers and saving labour seems to be paying off. Six years ago we needed more than 10,000 hours of labour for less than 140 cows, now we have nearly 200 cows and use less than 7000 hours of labour.
Im sure this can be further improved with a larger herd, moving to spring calving or adopting self-feed silage. The problem I now face is investing for the future without the backing of my landlords as they are only offering an annual FBT.
I am told that they still want me to farm at Withypitts Farm and I can take on as much of the neighbouring farm as I want. They tell me that they appreciate what I am doing, but it does not give me any great feeling of security. *
Steve Brown farms 200ha
(500 acres) in Co Durham, in
partnership with his parents.
The familys 125-cow herd is
run at Hopper House, with a
200-ewe flock and
replacements on grass at a
separate unit and the
remaining land as arable crops
LAST month I visited a European city for a romantic break. The venue was Belfast, and my partner – my wife, but we cant have everything. A wedding celebration was the real reason for the trip, the groom is a dentist and proof that pulling teeth is financially more rewarding than pulling teats.
A 20-minute traffic delay on route to the reception was caused by some sexually frustrated cattle persistently crossing a road to seek the company of a bull in the field opposite.
Animals on the run reminded me of home, and funnily enough, that same night, 11 of my young dairy heifers broke out. No doubt aware of movement restrictions, they spent the night in the garden and yard, after a brief sortie on the road.
In my absence, a third cut of grass silage was clamped, which was good news and two tups arrived to join the hill sheep, which was not so good. This is because three separate enquiries for calves had to be turned away due to the 21-day movement ban. This was particularly bad timing as 10 heifers have recently calved, increasing pressure on numbers.
A few calf losses have incurred, which hurts the pride more than the bank balance. But as you might expect, its the heifer calf that drops dead, while the black-and-white bull survives to be sold at a price equating to the cost of the original straw of semen.
Other health problems have included a few wobbly cows and heifers after a difficult calving and its time spent with these animals that upsets the routine.
Milking cows were fully housed from mid-November, as it was getting a little wet under foot. Housing is later than usual and although grass cover was ample, energy levels were on the wane. Furthermore, none of the neighbours cows had been seen for about a month and with the dark nights I was having trouble seeing mine as I collected them for milking. *