Last year was a record breaker at Greenvale, both climatically and in the weaning percentage achieved from the spring herd.
This year, spring calving got off to a rocky start in the first days of March. While there was no one cause for it, we did lose more calves than we would have liked. We were somewhat spoiled last year with having more calves than cows, and managed to wean over 100% on cows put to the bull. However, this only makes you set the bar higher for yourself for the following year. So much so, we were nearly annoyed to see a cow without a calf at foot this spring.
At this stage, 96 of the 98 spring cows have calved and we have 96 calves on the ground. However, we did buy in three calves to adopt onto cows that had lost a calf.
Having the two herds really extends the calving period, so keeping each herd as compact as possible is essential. In the spring herd, over 95% calved in eight weeks. We are happy with this and it is a figure we are hitting consistently over the last couple of years.
The summer herd, which is out-wintered on a sandy hill, started calving from the first of May. Currently, we are in the mid-teens numbers-wise, with a total of 58 to calve down. We are drafting cows from the hill to a field beside the house twice a week, so that we can keep an eye on them during calving.
Grazing is going well, although we could really do with some moisture as fields are really dry at the moment. The good ground conditions in spring allowed us to get cows and calves out to grass nearly as they calved, from mid-April onwards. We put them out in smaller numbers around the farm and have since batched these up into suitable bulling groups.
From mid-April, cows were turned out shortly after calving.
We have also held back 75 youngstock for grazing this year. Last year, we sold the majority of stock out of the shed in spring, only retaining the latest of the summer calves and potential replacement heifers.
This year, we feel we can carry more stock on the farm as we are getting more from each acre of ground using rotational grazing. This will allow us to put extra kilos onto these animals relatively cheaply at grass and sell them as stores come September.
Apart from 13 steers the rest are all heifers. We will select our own replacements from this batch for next year and, where suitable, we will also sell some of the remaining heifers as replacements – as they are mostly Angus and Simmental-cross heifers.
Calf creep area earlier in spring.
The bulls will be going out to the spring cows in the first days of June. We have 94 cows that will go back to the bull and a bunch of 18 replacement heifers that will go to the Shorthorn bull. All the heifers are bred to join the spring herd.
In the past, the summer herd numbers were always maintained by getting the late spring-calvers to join the summer herd each year. As we tighten up the bulling periods, we are no longer getting the flow of cows from one herd to the other, so we will need to start calving a second batch of heifers in the summer herd from now on in order to maintain numbers – a good complaint to have.
The majority of our silage ground is in an environmental scheme that has to be closed from 1 April and prohibits us from spreading fertiliser until after 15 May, and cannot be cut until the 1 July. Therefore, silage fertiliser will be going out towards the end of the week. We are also taking up an additional 18 acres of silage to boost fodder reserves for the coming winter, as we were quite tight for silage this spring. This will hopefully build up a reserve for us that we can carry from year to year, if necessary.
We sowed a grass reseed in superb conditions here in late April, however, so far there hasn’t been much growth. It really needs moisture. We were hoping to get a cut of silage off this ground later in the year, but at the moment it doesn’t look like that will happen and it will be used for grazing instead.
by Declan Marren
Mark and Shona have embraced the principals of the project wholeheartedly from day one, and this year they have taken it a step further. Where in previous years the majority of stock were sold out of the sheds in spring, they have kept on 75 youngstock for grazing this summer in order to maximise the margin per head at the point of sale.
Putting 120-150kg onto stock at grass over the summer months is a cost-effective way of increasing output – especially from summer-born animals that are just coming up to a year old. Selling these animals out of the shed in spring at eight to 10-months-old is hard to get the weight for age, given the relatively short first grazing season they have had on the cow.
Grazing them for the season should raise them £250-£300/head for less than £80 of cost. While this can disrupt cashflow for the first year while the system changes, in the long run it will realise more value for every animal sold. The Mackays have an extremely fertile, maternal-type herd that would make ideal replacement heifers for other suckler herds. Therefore, If they can select a number of suitable heifers to be sold as either bulling or in-calf, this will further add value to stock.