Farmer comment 27 August

Published 28 August 15

Forage for Knowledge farmer contributors from Wales and Scotland explain how managing the variable conditions this summer hasn’t always been straightforward.

John Owen milks 250 spring calving crossbreds, yielding 5,200 litres at Gelli Aur College in Carmarthenshire. This herd is run alongside a further 250-cow autumn caving herd producing 6,500 litres.

Average Farm Cover       2847kg DM/ha                                                                                                  

Pre- grazing cover            3400kg DM/ha

7-day Grass growth          86kg DM/ha

Demand                           59kg DM/ha

Concentrate feed rate   1.5kg/cow/day

“We’re very wet here at the moment and struggling with the autumn calvers. The calving paddock is getting a little messy and we’ve had some very heavy showers, with cows congregating by the hedges and under trees,” says John.

“However, it hasn't been a bad season for grazing, with an average of 10.2 tonnes DM/ha grown so far. Silaging has been a little trickier, as we have struggled to get more than two dry days at a time. Having said that, we had our third cut at the beginning of August and two more fields of big bales will see us done for this year. So we have got some good silage in the clamps and bales.

“Production is down to coincide with feed rates. The spring calvers are currently producing 16 litres or 1.36kg milk solids, and cow condition is good.”


Even with periods of both very wet and very dry weather this summer Jill Bathgate, who farms in Mid-Lothian, has still been able to take advantage of the high quality grass she has been growing.

“I’ve been so pleased with the grass quality across the season,” says Jill. “Analysis shows that ME’s have remained above 12 MJ/Kg, and I think this can be seen in the way the cows have been performing.”

Two years ago, when Jill looked to move the herd of 150 Holstein Friesian cows to a more grass based system, the plan was to go block autumn calving. But a change of milk buyer, who was looking for a level supply, and an economic climate which meant Jill couldn’t afford not to have cows in calf, meant that plan has had to be shelved, for now.

This has meant the higher yielding cows are out at grass during the day and buffer fed at night, in order to get them back in calf, while the low yielders and heifers are out 24 hrs. a day.

“We started putting in some buffer for the low yielders and heifers a few weeks ago, but up to this point they’d had nothing but grass and a couple of Kg conc/day, in the parlour, all summer,” explains Jill.

“Grass growth has been brilliant, particularly recently, I’ve just measured 94 kg DM/ha this week, and in fact things have just started to get away from me. Farm cover is at about 2,800 kg DM/ha.

“We didn’t manage to put in all the infrastructure I would have liked for the beginning of the season but we do seem to have coped ok and gateways are not too poached. I’m just beginning to learn how to manage these conditions on this farm. The strange thing is we seem to have had periods of very wet weather and periods of very dry weather, so I’ve had to learn to be quite flexible.

“I’d like to have the cows out for another four weeks or so, and if it’s anything like last autumn I can stretch that to six or even eight weeks. I like to see the cows out for as long as possible, they do so well on it, they seem healthier, there is no denying their feet are great and of course the reduced costs are a great benefit.”