A grassland based system was a natural choice for Alistair Cliff

Published 7 June 13

A grassland based system was the natural choice for Alistair Cliff, our Forage for Knowledge farmer contributor from Cheshire, when he started milking his own cows 15 years ago.

"We started on a council holding, pretty skint to be honest, so naturally moved towards a lower cost system, making the most of the grass, and
we've continued down that route as the business has developed," he explains.

Alistair now milks two herds, a 180 strong spring calving herd and a 240 strong autumn calving herd, on 580 acres at Burwardsley, near Chester. The cows in both herds are predominantly Holstein Friesian crosses. The farm has 25 acres of whole crop sown as a cover crop for reseeding.

"The structure of the two herds, be it autumn or spring calving, reflect the grass growing abilities and the building facilities on the two units," says Alistair. "While the autumn calving unit has light soil, effecting forage production in the summer and good cubicle housing, the spring calving unit produces grass well over the summer months and less housing facilities.

"In both cases making the best possible use of grass was at the route of decisions, but it also works as we can share spare labour, basically me, between the two units during busy periods.

"My pathological hatred of machinery has also contributed to our journey down the low cost system," he jokes. "I just can't get on with tractors and machinery, I don't want them around!"

Alistair turned cows out to grass from both units on 15 February this year and then had to bring them back inside when heavy snow fell in March.

"Like many, grass growth has been hammered across the spring by the cold temperatures and that icy wind," says Alistair. "I do think we benefited by getting that winter growth off before that wind and snow came and killed everything. The grass plant was below the ground and more protected that it could have been.

"When we did manage to get out again, we slowed the rotation right down and buffer fed the cows in order to preserve the grass for future rotations. I think we're pretty much back on track now, growth wise but it took some juggling at the time. We're lucky because we were able to 'borrow' silage from the spring calvers and feed them straw, when we ran out at the autumn calving unit.

"Again like many our clamps are pretty empty now and ideally I would like to see them fill up for the autumn, but I'm not going to compromise grazing just to do this. I think utilising grazed grass and sticking to the management plan for silage production makes the most sense for our set up," he concludes.