As we have mentioned previously, our gross margins for both cattle and sheep are back on last year, mainly due to purchased feed and bedding.
However, this winter and spring have been much kinder, with the farm looking quite well just now.
Grass is actually offering to get ahead of us in places – a great complaint to have.
This could change quite quickly though, as we really need moisture here at the moment.
We seem to have missed a lot of the passing rain in the last few weeks.
Silage ground has all been shut now for a fortnight and while growth is coming, ground is incredibly dry for the time of the year.
We have a slight fear that we will have a repeat of last year and silage yields are affected once again.
Although silage yields were reduced last year, we managed to keep our purchased silage to just 20 bales this spring.
This was achieved by keeping a batch of cows out longer in the back end of the year on forage crops sown after winter barley, and we also purchased a few loads of draff throughout winter to help stretch silage reserves.
We aim to make three cuts of silage again this year, in the hopes of building our reserves and putting a buffer in place that we can carry from year to year.
All going to plan we should be making first-cut silage in the last week of May.
Calving is progressing, but somewhat slower than expected. We are putting this down to the drier summer last year.
So far we have 72 cows turned out with calves at foot. A further seven cows have either lost a calf at birth or were not in-calf at calving time, despite scanning in-calf.
This leaves us with 32 still to calve, a much higher number than at this time last year.
However, of these there are quite a few that are on the point of calving. Hopefully, in another two weeks we will be down to a dozen or so.
A batch of 24 bulling heifers have been selected from last year’s stock. They will go to a Stabiliser bull in early June.
A bunch of 24 homebred bulling heifers.
We have just short of 60 store cattle to sell this week at Thainstone Mart, as they are looking well and hopefully the price will reflect this.
This is as big a bunch we have sold together in many years, as we try to maximise the number of kilos sold out the farm gate.
Usually, we would be selling a batch each month throughout the winter months.
Lambing is just about finished, with only three ewes left to go. We have had a decent lambing this year.
Delaying a further 10 days definitely helped, and the weather was much kinder this spring.
We had to pull feed off the ewes as they were nearly over-conditioned coming to the point of lambing and grass quality on the grazing fields was quite good.
This saved us a couple of tonnes of purchased feed.
Once all is finished we will look back on the lambing diary and see where the losses occurred.
Before we look at the data at all, we can tell that there were greater losses from the Suffolk-cross ewes compared with the Mules.
This just further reassures us that we are on the right path, switching to all Mule ewes that are suited to our outdoor system in the future.
Ewes and lambs are being rotationally grazed on new grass.
This year we decided to try drift lambing the ewes. To set this up, we split the lambing field up into six paddocks and had the ewes out on rotation.
Each day, we shifted the ewes that were yet to lamb onto the next cell. We then grouped up those with lambs and moved them off.
It has been a great success and barring a couple of small tweaks, we are keen to do it again next year.
We are planning to strategically use forage crops once again this year. It worked well last year, however we are looking for something to fill the ‘hungry gap’ between January and March.
We are going to grow about 10 acres of turnips and 14 acres of fodder beet, which will be sown in the coming days.
We also plan to sow a hybrid brassica in July into an old grass ley that needs renewing. This will then go straight back to grass next year as the field is not suitable for the combine.
Along with this, if the season is favourable and winter barley is off in decent time, we will sow a hybrid mix into about 30 acres of stubble ground after the combine, as we did last year.
All these will provide feed into late autumn for cows and allow us to keep ewes off grazing ground during the winter, which in turn will help bring forward the turnout date for the cattle.
Adviser comment – Declan Marren
Lighter cattle – sell or graze
There are six later-born calves at Arnage from last summer, as they continue to work on calving spread. The question now is whether or not to cash in these calves or run them for the season at grass.
The major benefit of selling now is that it clears the decks for the farm and they can focus solely on this year’s cattle.
It also takes away the issue of an extra group of cattle on-farm and finding sufficient grazing for them away from breeding bulls, as some of the lighter stock are heifers.
The Biffens are also keen to bring as many heifers into the system this year as possible, as they look to boost breeding numbers over the coming years.
By selling these lighter six cattle now, they could replace them with three or four bulling heifers.
Graze for the season
The clear and obvious benefit of grazing them for the season is cheap liveweight gain at grass. These animals are currently 260-330kg.
If these cattle are grazed, come late September they will be 420-480kg, putting them in the perfect weight band for selling as stores.
This extra 150kg+ will come entirely from grazed grass, including a cost of a dose, they will see change out of £80/head and potentially return nearly £300/head.
Therefore, the money raised would more than cover buying another bulling heifer for the following spring, or go a long way to bringing an in-calf heifer into the system in the back end of the year.
There are options to graze these animals with either a batch of cull cows that are not going to go back to the bull this season, or another option is to run them with the ewes and lambs that are on the best grass on the farm.
This will ensure they achieve maximum thrive for the season.