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Farm Profit Programme: No room for passengers at Arnage
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Farm Profit Programme: No room for passengers at Arnage

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This week Declan Marren talks to the Biffen Family at Arnage to hear how spring work is progressing.
This week Declan Marren talks to the Biffen Family at Arnage to hear how spring work is progressing.

It’s been a busy few weeks with the late season and trying to fit six weeks work into a fortnight, but finally cows and calves have started to leave the sheds. We started letting out calved cows on the 25 April. While there wasn’t an awful lot of grass at that stage we only let out small numbers and didn’t want the grass to get ahead of the cattle when the burst of growth came. This is actually earlier than we have been out in previous years thanks to getting fertiliser out that bit earlier.

Fertiliser

The first of the grazing fertiliser went out on 22 March once soil temperatures were above 5°C at 10cm for a number of days. Growth wasn’t visible immediately but the grass did turn a healthy shade of green and started to move in the weeks afterwards.

More grazing fertiliser went out throughout April during any decent spell of weather. This included the silage fields which should be ready to cut by the end of the month all going well. This week’s heat has pushed them on greatly but they are still a week or so behind where they were this time last year. We plan to cut around the same date as last year, depending on weather, to allow us enough time for two more cuts. Hopefully it can make up some of the difference over the remaining two and a half weeks.

Silage

I think if we learned anything this winter it’s that you can never have too much silage. While we should have had enough to see us through the winter in a ‘normal’ year, we had to start feeding cows in early September last year, extending the winter by a good month to six weeks. It left us having to buy silage to make up the shortfall. We were buying it at £18/t plus haulage which, when you cost it out, you would struggle to make it yourself for any less. However, we want to have full control over the silage quality in the yard and just because we were able to buy it this year doesn’t mean it will be there next year at the same price. Therefore, we have an extra 20ac of silage to bring into the pit this year.

Calving

Our calving spread was quite protracted over the last number of years. This is one of our key objectives in the project to get under control and already we have made good inroads. We left the bulls in with the cows for 15 weeks last year and it really has made a difference to the feeding regime over winter. There were just three batches on farm this winter, dry cows to calve in spring, weaned calves and nine autumn calvers.

This simplified the whole cattle system and left us a lot more time to be prepared for the onset of calving. As a result, we were better prepared for turnout and each task on farm becomes much less complicated. As each of the 10 cows calved they were tagged, dehorned and ringed.

This meant when we wanted to put them to grass when the weather allowed, they were ready to go and there was no time lost running around tagging and sorting calves.

No room for passengers

As of this week we have 90 spring-calved cows with calves at foot at grass with 16 still left to calve. There are 12 cows in the cull pen. These have lost calves for a number of reasons and will not be returning to the bull. With the cost and length of the winter period.

We cannot afford to keep non-performers. No cow is worth looking at for 12 months with nothing from them. Six of these are fit enough to sell and will be through the ring by the time you are reading this. The other six need to flesh up a little prior to sale.

Calving has gone well overall, with calves quick to get up and suckle by themselves. While the cows have had a long winter, body condition is decent and they have plenty of milk for their calves. We will weigh all calves at weaning to see how they performed on their mothers.

We still have just over 50 young stock to sell in the coming weeks with the rest sold earlier this spring. You need to be hitting the correct weight band for the store ring as being too light can reduce the value of the animal.

Again, as we tighten the calving spread in the coming years more and more of the young stock will be sold earlier in the year. These things just take some time.

Sheep

As we have said before we have begun to change the ewe type on the farm to mules. We run an outdoor system and the half-bred and Suffolk cross ewes that we had just weren’t producing enough lambs to make it profitable. The 80 mule gimmers we bought in last year for breeding scanned at 185% while the mature ewes scanned at 166%. We decided to make an outdoor corral for the gimmers to give them a better chance for their first lambing.

The weather was most difficult at the start of lambing, the last days of March and first week of April. There was a high number of losses during that period, especially in the mature ewes outdoors. Overall mortality was 14% – too high even in an outdoor system.

We plan to delay lambing another two weeks next year to about 12 April. The outdoor corral worked a treat and it’s something that we will have to look at doing for the rest of the ewes in the future if we are to get a decent lamb crop in subsequent years.

The ewes and lambs have moved to a grass park that was undersown last year. They will rotationally graze seven paddocks for the summer months with the hopes of getting a large number of the lamb’s away fat. They are stocked at eight ewes to the acre so the grass needs to work hard for the summer. However, running them at a higher stocking rate allows us to take in extra silage ground and the rotational grazing will mean a higher-quality sward in front of the lambs all year, boosting daily liveweight gains.

Arable

Another way to streamline the workload of the business is to move to more winter crop. With that in mind we got 90ac of winter crop in last year. The winter barley is looking very good at the moment and we are hoping that this will be reflected in the yields come harvest time.

This left us with 160ac to sow this spring. While it was a ful month later than we would usually start, after a few long days and nights, we managed to get it all in before the end of April.

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