Harvest at Cranna kicked off at the end of the first week of August, with the combine going up the first field before the weather broke. Conditions quickly turned unfavourable and the combine didn’t leave the shed again until last Saturday. After a good run, there is only one field left at the time of writing this. Fortunately, the crops didn’t suffer too badly with the weather, as only one field was sprayed off and the rest were left to ripen naturally.
It has been an unbelievable year for grass growth, with a fairly hefty oversupply of grass throughout the season. Initially, the aim with the pit silage had been to improve quality. We intended to start cutting it two/three weeks earlier than usual this year. However, conditions meant that it was cut around the same dates as last year.
While the quality will be similar to previous years, the yield was huge. There was already some carryover from last winter in the back of the outdoor pit, but while Scott (my son) did his best to get as much as possible into the pit, there was still some first-cut to bale.
The grass growth has also seen nearly every paddock in the rotation cut this year, as the sheep and cattle have struggled to clean out. Nearly 400 bales were made from a reseed that followed on from last year’s forage crop. Added to everything else that has been made this year, there are 763 bales in the yard at the minute, nearly double last year’s total. Despite all of the silage in the yard, the grazing still got a round of fertiliser in August. The plan is to build a bank of grass into winter that will also allow some early grazing in the spring. The grass field that has been selected as the run back for the cattle on the forage crop this year, now has no stock on it. This will be grazed by the spring cows before they go onto the forage crop.
The autumn calves were weaned two weeks ago. The improvements made to genetics, wintering and grazing are now starting to show. Weaning weights have improved year-on -year, with the average 200-day weight of the 2018-born calves up by 28kg in comparison with the 2016-born calves. Also there are 10 more calves on the ground in comparison with 2018, as there had been a significant cull of poorer-performing cows in 2017.
Autumn numbers will rise again this year, with 22 replacement heifers to calve down this autumn and less than half of that number culled out.
Between changes to cattle housing on the farm and the increased feed resource available, expanding both the spring and autumn herds is a logical way of driving output.
The improved grazing management has increased the amount of grass available to use on the farm, and the growing conditions this year have shown that the farm is a little understocked. The spring herd is also undergoing expansion, meaning that by the end of next year, between the spring and autumn herds, cow numbers will have increased by 10%.
Lambs were weaned in July and put back onto the paddocks that they had come off. Ewes have been moving around the farm, helping us to try and keep on top of the grass growth. The weather doesn’t seem to have done the lambs a lot of good this year, with growth being a little disappointing. As it stands, only 40 prime lambs have been sold, with the first draw taking place in August, later than the last couple of years.
However, there are a good few lambs around the 40kg mark, so there should be a couple of good draws coming up over the next few weeks. Cull ewes have also been drawn out and are on better grass to fatten up.
The Swift was drilled in the last days of July. Like in 2018, it was grazed hard and then direct-drilled with an Aitchison drill into the grass sward. The day after drilling the grass was sprayed off. It only took six days for it to chit, and with ideal growing conditions it is looking well.
To reduce tractor operations in the field over winter and to simplify feeding out, the silage bales that the cows will have as their roughage are already in the field, evenly spaced out along one side. This will mean that as the fence is shifted down the field, the ring feeder will be rolled across the fresh bales and the wrap cut off. Once the ring has been moved, the wrap from the previous day will be lifted out from under what silage is left. This will reduce the amount of diesel required, as there will be no need to carry any feed up the hill to the cows, only minerals.
The turnips are another story though. Not only have they had to be redrilled thanks to the weather in spring, they have had to be sprayed twice for flea beetle this year. Despite this, the crop is looking as well as it did this time last year, so if it goes on to yield like it did last year, the extra costs will be very small in the grand scheme of things.