Monday, 28 June 2010

Wonderful French Hospitality on Breton Grass based Dairyfarms

"Pasture to Profit" grass based dairy farmers from England, Wales & Northern Ireland again visited Brittany in France & were treated to thought provoking farm visits, wonderful food with local ciders & wines, glorious sunshine & very good craic....banter & fun!
You would be amazed language barriers, doubts or previously held views collapse & vanish over a cold glass of Breton Cider. The Breton friendship & hospitality was wonderful as we met "like minded" farming families, walked the farms, struggled with translation, & laughed together over another cold cider.

The food was amazing!

Tough "Student work"......but someone has to do it!

For some it was exhausting!

Too much really!

I know..what happens on tour stays on tour....but I couldn't resist!
Key Messages from Brittany

Question.... When is your group going to visit Brittany this is a very important tour for every P2P group to make.

Question..... Why are wives not going to Brittany with these group tours???? You are missing out girls!

There is still life after tough NVZs (140kg N/ha organic N) & there is still grass growth in abundance without Nitrogen. Some of the clover swards were fantastic.

Although there are only 50 Organic dairy farms in Brittany (out of 12000) we saw a trend to organic conversion amongst the pasture based dairy farms we visited.

A good reminder from Travarez Research Centre that the average response to concentrates (from many trials) was less than 1 litre of Milk for each 1 kg Conc fed.

Extraordinary that French farmers still have a huge say in the farm research different from the UK sadly where UK farmers have lost the effective research centres, lost control of the projects & where DairyCo seems reluctant to commit to a research program?????

Family time is a serious priority for Breton dairy farmers.....Work Less Earn More!

If you don't have a clear precise Business do you know where you are going?

International study tours always reap changes in farm practices & in farmer thinking.....BIG TIME!

Sunshine & warmth but rapid drop off in grass growth

Brittany was seriously dry & pasture growth was falling rapidly. It was easy to be critical of increasing ryegrass seedhead development & stalky pastures.......that is until we returned to the see the exact same situation.
There is NO moisture reserve in the sub soil & now with a few warm days grass growth has all but stopped in many areas.
Grazing Rotations must be lengthened.....if need be by using supplements. The grazing rotation can be doubled over night if you stop grazing at nights & put the whole farm on a day round. There is little you can do if growth stops......but a long rotation ensures a quick recovery once the rain comes. Long grass can be used as a crop especially if supplement is used at night. The clover content on most farms will be sufficient to meet cow's dietary protein needs.
Get the youngstock off the milking pad. This group is much easier to supplement & besides the milkers are priority.
Make sure the cows have plenty of good quality water. Water consumption will often rise above 100 litres per cow per day on hot days.
Make changes now while there is still some growth.

So what is the pasture growth in your area?
Northern Ireland 2115kgs Av. Cover, 60kgDM Growth, 24 day rotation, 3kg Conc & some rain
Northern Ireland 2050, 15kg, 60 days, 4kgs Conc + silage pm
Stranraer 1950, 35kg, 23 days demand very high due to silage cuts
Dumfries 1986, 54kg, 18 days Some rain or Scotch Mist!
Cumbria 2150, 35kg, 35 days feeding 4kg conc
Cumbria 1935, 18kg, feeding 3kg conc rained last night but needs to be more
North Wales 2060, 59kg, 25 days Good response to N
North Wales 1930, 32kg, 20-26 days Feeding PK & Brewers Grain
South West Wales Organic 2194, 41 growth, 30 days, demand 43 2kg conc just rained (again!)
Shropshire 2230, 68kg, 35 days
Shropshire organic 2200, 53kg, 25 days 2kg conc
Cheshire Organic 25kg growth, 25kg demand (400grms Conc)
Staffordshire 2109, 15kg, 31 days 2kgs Conc & pre mowing silage grass
Staffordshire 1925, 13kg, 30 days 5kgs supplement & some minus growth
Staffordshire 1950, 10-15kg, 30 days, 4kgs plus silage
East Staffordshire 1980, 32kg, 28 days feeding 4kg Maize silage pm
Derbyshire 2209, 48kg, 20days demand 69 & 1kg Conc
Herefordshire 2100, 68kg, 25 days
Herefordshire 2300, 40kg, 27 days Demand 50
Gloucestershire 1977, 51kg, 23 days Demand 43
Somerset Organic 2100, 30kg, 40 days Grass only
Buckingshire Organic 1650, Zero growth, 35 days...12kgs DM Silage
Somerset 20kg, 30 days Demand 39 & 7kgs DM fed Very Dry
Dorset 2015, 25kg, 35 days Demand 31 & 4kgs Conc silage shortly
Dorset Dismal, 15kg Depressing, Long rotation.....about to dry off autumn cows
Dorset 2080, 20kg, 60days Silage & 3kgs blend
Somerset 2300, 30kg, 35 days & 3kg conc
East Sussex Organic 1900, 28kg, 28 days huge drop in growth
East Sussex 2084, 53kg, 28 days OAD & Chicory
Devon 2000, 40kg, 35 days feeding extra 600kg silage + 200kg Conc per day to herd
Cornwall 2150, 30kg, 40 days OAD & turnips soon
Cornwall 2050, 40kg, 28 days......rain or Cornish Mist today
Cornwall 2032, 49kg, 24 days no feeding
Ireland Limerick 2100, 55kgs, 23 days No feeding & using N...rain forecast

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Future lies in Milk, Surplus Heifers & Energy Sales

Most UK dairy farmers probably believe that what remains of Dairy R & D is primarily for the benefit of farmers. But is this still true?? Probably NOT!

There are a number of issues....Lack of Research commitment by the likes of DairyCo, reduced Government spending, dairy farmer apathy towards research & lastly Governments increasingly wanting & directing Research facilities to do work that will frame Government policy especially in regard to climate change. Production research is NOT a priority any longer despite a looming World shortage of Food. Some projects might have a spin off benefit to this the best we as farmers can expect in the future.....maybe!

It depends on how much of a fight pasture based dairy farmers are prepared to put research important to you? If so you had better do something about it NOW!
Governments need information on how to reduce CO2 emissions....dairy farmers maybe a target for Govt but they should be a resource to reduce are we going to win the argument?

I recently visited Hillsborough Research centre in Northern Ireland with Gwennoline from France.....great day organised by Drs Conrad Ferris & Alister Carson....thank you guys.

Heifer Rearing

Steve Morrison described the extensive calf & heifer work being done at Hillsborough. If anyone is having problems with calves Steve & his colleagues have produced an excellent booklet called "Rearing Your 2010 Herd" which covers all things heifer.

One research fact that I thought was really interesting was that approx 80% of all calves sent for post mortems showed clear signs of a lack of colostrum. A calf requires 10% of it's birth liveweight in colostrum fed in the 1st 6 hours.

With our tight calving patterns & larger herds we should be ALL tubing every calf at birth as a matter of routine. This is a guarantee that every calf gets sufficient colostrum within the first hours of life.

If you are feeding milk powder to calves we need to aim for 500gms per day daily intake to hit the weaning targets of 100kgs LWT.

Grazing High Yielding Cows on Pasture
Andrew Dale is conducting grazing trials with high yielding Holsteins (40 litres per cow per day). The trial involves three pasture residue levels 1600kgs DM/ha (4cm), 1900 (5cm) & 2200kgs DM/ha (6cm). Can high yielding cows graze tight?

We will follow this trial with interest. GrassCheck is monitoring grass growth at 6 sites.

Renewable Energy on Farms
Hillsborough has a Renewable Energy Centre.
There are a number of interesting possible outcomes from the research at the REC. Firstly & perhaps surprisingly it is likely to be pasture based farms in Ireland which convert to Energy growing crops like Willows.....Why? The returns from energy crops like Willows are likely to be considerably more than the current or future beef farmers will switch.

Secondly, one of the strongest arguments for farmers getting involved in Energy Production is that it means "local ownership" it wind turbines or anaerobic digestion energy will be owned locally & returns will bolster local economies.

A range of timber products are put thru a furnace to reduce heating costs at Hillsborough.

Anaerobic Digestion was clearly described to me as being very similiar to the functionality of the this context it is finally very easy to understand. Methane is a by product of rumen digestion & anaerobic digestion.

Pasture Growth Rates on UK Dairy Farms
Northern Ireland Av. Pasture Cover 2153, 71kgs DM/ha/day, 21 day grazing rotation
Northern Ireland 2070, 67kg, 26 days
Northern Ireland 2200, 48kg, (61 demand) 21 days
Northern Ireland 2091, 22 days
Dumfries 2180, 83kg, 20 days
Cumbria 2400, 58kg, 20 days very dry
Cumbria 2143, 48kg, 28 days very dry
Cheshire Organic 2000, 50kg, 28 days
Staffordshire 2197, 56kg (platemeter), 80kg (calculated), demand 72, 20 days
Derbyshire 2396, 77kg, 20 days
Shropshire 2200, 67kg, 21 days
Herefordshire 2250, 66kg, 25 days
Herefordshire 2051, 77kg, 23days
Gloucestershire 2050, 50kg, 18 days
West Wales 2160, 120kg, 20 days
West Wales Organic 2205, 60kgs, demand 41kgs, 25 days
Somerset Organic 2300, 60kg, 30 days
Sussex 2158, 50kg, 30 days dry
Dorset 2202, 45kg, 35 days
Hampshire 2500, 108kgs, 26 days
Devon 2050, 76kg, 25 days
Devon 2654, 167kg, 28 days (power of dirty water)
Cornwall 2300, 70kg, 24 days
Cornwall 2300, 90kg, 25 days
Cornwall 2180, 102kg, 19 days
Ireland (Limerick) Av. Pasture Cover 2300, Growth 75kg, Grazing Rotation length 19 days
Good rains except Cumbria.....very good response to rain but still dry in many areas. Water shortage warnings in some areas.
Please leave a comment (below)

Sunday, 6 June 2010


The more that it (dairy heifer rearing in different countries) is different, the more that it is the same. This could be a summary of the research study of Gwennoline Caroff, a French student from ENSA Toulouse, has conducted in Brittany, Denmark, Quebec Canada & with Pasture to Profit dairy farms in the UK.

To have an idea of how the heifers are reared in different countries, the project was to build a questionnaire and to interview about 10 farmers and some experts in dairy in each country. So the following information is for some farmers from each country and can not be taken as an average for the country.
Country Comparison
Heifers in a pad, on cubicles, on straw based diet, until AI

Farms in Brittany are much smaller than farms in the UK, but are run on the same idea of cows turned out on grass. Whereas in Denmark and Quebec, the cows are housed all year round. It’s quite interesting to compare the culling and the replacement rate of each country. Most of you would be surprised how high the culling rate in Denmark is: Lameness is the biggest reason.

Age at first calving is an interesting data too:
age at first calving late + high replacement rate = high cost to rear heifers!!!!

An Interesting Benchmark

YES, the replacement rate of UK is quite low, BUT, if you use one of the benchmarks used in Brittany: number of heifers per 100 000 L of milk produced. (The target would be 4.5 heifers entering the herd for 100 000 L), you can compare the different countries:

And UK is not the most efficient!!!!

Gwennoline would like to thank all of the UK Pasture based Discussion Group farmers who have helped her with her study. Later in the year she will send each farmer a report.
Please comment below we are interested in your thoughts.