With his mantra of “attack the cost of winter”, last summer Andrew Biffen and his son Matt took out an old underperforming grass sward at Mains of Arnage and established a crop of Swift in the field with the intention of returning it to grass this year.

After taking a cut of silage, the field was sprayed off and Swift was direct-drilled with a Horsch drill. The 6ha went on to grow sufficient crop to over-winter the 24 replacement heifers. Adding in the cost of the silage, this saved the Biffens 50p/day on bedding and housing, which, over a 170-day winter, is a saving of £85/heifer.

The field is now back in grass after having had 7.5t of lime applied per hectare to amend the pH. It was power-harrowed twice before being sown with a seed box on a grass harrow.

It has since received 188kg/ha (1.5cwt/ha) of 10:18:28 fertiliser. The plan now is to graze the young sward with lambs to encourage it to tiller.

The Biffens' new grass lay will be lightly grazed by lambs before being left to produce quality grass for next spring.

The grass mix used was herbal ley composed of:

  • 16.67% Lofa Festulolium.
  • 20% AberMagic Perennial Ryegrass.
  • 20.42% Calibra tetraploid perennial ryegrass.
  • 12.5% Winnetou Timothy.
  • 12.5% Sparta Cocksfoot.
  • 6.67% Pardus meadow fescue.
  • 2.5% AberDai white clover.
  • 1.67% Alice white clover.
  • 2.08% Milvus red clover.
  • 1.25% Aurora alsike clover.
  • 2.5% Puna II chicory.
  • 1.25% Endurance ribgrass (plantain).
  • Planning for winter forage

    To maximise grass growth next year, the Biffens are planning to follow 12ha of winter barley with stubble turnips. This will be used to keep the ewes for in midwinter. Doing this will give the grass a rest through winter, meaning an earlier start to growth in spring 2021.

    After the machine trials last autumn, they are going to use a local contractor with a Simba Express and broadcast seeder. While it was the most expensive option over the machines trialled last year, it gave a bigger yield, meaning the cost per tonne of dry matter produced was similar to the cheaper machines. The machine also has subsoiler legs on the front, giving the opportunity for the Biffens to deal with compaction in the arable land at the same time, reducing passes and overall cost.

    As last year, the stubble turnips will be sown at a rate of 5kg/ha and have 125kg/ha of fertiliser spread after sowing. This should yield in the region of 3.5t of dry matter per hectare at a total cost of around £35/t DM.

    The Biffens have sent their first batch of bulls away and still have these left to send. So far they averaged 404kg for their carcases. They have Limousin and Simmental sires out of a stabliser cow.

    Giving this to the ewes at 65% of total dry matter will mean a cost per ewe while they are on the crop of 7p/ewe per day, a very cost-effective wintering.

    The winter barley at Arnage has been desiccated this past week. Weather permitting, harvest should be 10 to 14 days away, meaning that the stubble turnips should be in the ground in early August. Allowing 12 weeks of growth, they should be ready for grazing in early November.

    Considerations for farmers thinking about sowing stubble turnips:

    1 A dry sheltered site to give best possible conditions when grazing in the winter.

    2 Established early. Winter barley is a good crop to follow due to the early harvest. Later-sown crops will yield less, giving fewer days of grazing.

    3 Ensure fertility is good. Like most crops, stubble turnips do not thrive in low pH/fertility situations. Soils with low P & K status benefit from P & K fertiliser at establishment. Yield also benefits from N fertiliser five to six weeks post-drilling.

    First bulls sold

    In the middle of the month, the Biffens sold the first 10 fat bulls to McIntosh Donald. The bulls were born last spring from mainly Stabiliser cows crossed with a Simmental or Limousin sire.

    Since weaning in November, they have been fed on a diet of straw and concentrates.

    They averaged 404kg deadweight, ranging from of 380kg to 420kg. Grades were eight Us and two Rs, with fat class 2s and 3s and one 4L. The R grade carcases were paid £3.70/kg while the U grades were paid £3.80/kg. Over 400kg but under 420kg were deducted 5p/kg.

    All told, the best-paying bull came to £1551.59 before transport cost, with the average bull at £1,493.48. Later this month, once all the bulls have been sold, the Farm Profit Programme will do a full cost analysis of the production of the bulls, looking at feed costs, kilos of output and handling bull systems.