In 2016, before the project started, Andy Duffus had his herd split in two, with 41 spring-calvers and 47 autumn-calvers based mainly on Simmental and Limousin genetics.
After introducing the Highlanders and Shorthorns on the hill, the farm is now carrying 56 spring-calvers on the hill, 38 spring-calvers in the in-by herd and 29 autumn-calvers, an increase of 35 cows. In 2017, autumn calving numbers rose to 49 but plans are for them to settle down to around 35 for the future.
“We tried increasing the autumn-calvers and weaning the calves when they were turned out to grass. Unfortunately, this caused a lot of mastitis,” explained Andy. “We had eight or nine cows go down with mastitis which if we wanted to avoid in the future means taking all the cattle in every four to six weeks over summer to treat the udders.
“I don’t think we have the time to do this, so I am going to keep numbers to 30-35 and keep the calves on the cows until they are nearly calving again. The frustrating thing is the early weaning meant the calves had better growth rates but the risk of mastitis is too much.
Increased rearing percentage
The rearing percentage has risen over the programme from 85% in 2016 to 90% in 2019.
Andy thinks that changing the genetics has helped increase the number of calves reared. Currently Andy has a Charolais and two Shorthorn bulls for the autumn-calvers. However, the success of the Shorthorn could see the herd go all native. “The Shorthorn has made calving a lot easier. The calves have great vigour and get up and suck. I am not sure how long we will keep the Charolais bull for.”
Usually, Andy would sell the stores at around 12 months old but this year he is thinking of selling them in the new year. With the spring cows spending more time outside, he has the shed space and, with improving grass yields, has the silage for them. Once they are housed they will be on a ration of bruised barley, draff and good-quality silage to take them to sale in January.
Over the time in the project, the sale weights of the autumn stores have risen from 395kg in 2016 to 420kg last year. The extra weight has helped the output per cow in years the price was poor, such as in 2019, when the price was £2.02/kg liveweight. The extra 20kg raised output per cow by over £40.
Getting soil fertility right
Taking on extra ground often requires extra investment to improve the soil. Andy has worked hard to increase the fertility in the soil, with the main focus having been at the out-farm in Glenconglass. This has meant he has used higher application rates of phosphorus and potassium. As a result, the cost of silage per autumn calving cow has risen from £62/cow in year one to £95/head in 2019.
However, the investment has increased grass production on the farm, which meant silage and grass crops have rocketed. One 18 acre silage field used to yield around 115 bales of silage. Now, with the investment in fertiliser and lime, he is getting 155 bales. This is a 35% increase in output. Taking two cuts results in an extra 80 bales, worth £1,200.
The increased silage yield also means that Andy is able to reduce the area he has for silage. Thanks to that, this year he didn’t send his mules to the hill but kept them on the in-by land. This has raised the performance of the lambs this summer.
Future of autumn herd