Early silage and Murphy’s Law

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I can’t remember starting silaging so early before but then I can’t remember such a dry April and May either. The decision over when to go is usually based on the stage of grass growth and the volume of grass in the field. It’s a balance between quantity and quality. The longer you leave it, the bigger the crop and the lower the quality, as the leaf turns to stem and the grass goes to seed.

In a perfect world, silage would be taken early in May every year but that would mean small crops of grass and having to cut four or five times through the Summer to harvest enough grass for Winter feed – which sounds fine in theory. In practise it’s not that easy to find that much decent weather to harvest in; and then Drenewydd is a heavy farm. Growth is slow early in the season and conditions can be sticky as the clay dries out.

But thats the theory for a normal season, whatever that is. This year has been dry and cool with a sharp easterly wind drying the ground out for much of the Spring. When I walked the grass ten days ago I didn’t take a plate meter with me, I took a spade. It wasn’t a case of measuring the grass but looking for moisture. Was there enough moisture left in the ground for anymore growth. Out of the seven fields I dug holes in, there were only two with any meaning amount of dampness left in the clay. It wasn’t bone dry but I couldn’t get a handful of clay to stick together in my hand in all but two paddocks.

The weather forecast didn’t give much hope of any change either with another week of sunshine and easterly winds predicted. That was on the 9th of May at least a fortnight before we’d normally start which still seemed to be way too soon for me.

But then in the back of my mind was the weather. I’ve said this many times and I’ll continue to do so because it still stands true: The weather has a nasty habit of evening itself out. Long dry spells are inevitably followed by wet ones and visa versa. If I didn’t decide to silage and it did start to rain then Murphy’s law dictates that it will never stop.

I made this mistake three years ago with first cut. We had completed the silaging at the farm and had another 80 acres to do the other side of town on the hill. There wasn’t much of a crop there at the time as it was a later ground.

“Don’t worry Huw, We’ll leave it until Monday” I foolishly told the contractor.

We did start it on a Monday as I remember but it wasn’t the one I was banking on. it was three weeks later as the rain came in. When we eventually got round to it the crops were huge, the ground was wet and the quality was poor. It filled the silage clamp up nicely but the cows spent the next Winter chewing their way through it, milking like mice.

Bearing all that in mind and the old saying “make hay when the sunshines” we started foraging last Wednesday lunchtime and were done in a day.

Some of the crops were okay but most fields were more like a second cut.

Thankfully, there is still a fair amount of silage left from last year so the deficit will not be too severe. The grass itself smelt very sweet and should make wonderful silage for the Winter.

The harvest went smoothly enough with only a short breakdown involving the metal detector and the whole job was wrapped up by Thursday afternoon.

And then the next day it rained. Perfect timing or a nasty case of premature foraging? Time will tell.



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Posted in Harvest, The Farm | Leave a comment

Eating grass

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This cow is a Jersey cross Holstein. So her mother was a Holstein and father a Jersey.

Jerseys are great grass grazers and will strip a field bare unlike their black and white cousins who are more picky eaters. How they manage to graze the ground so hard I am unsure of but could it be something to do with this?

If you look carefully you can see the cows tongue sweeping the grass as she eats. I can only assume it helps her rip the grass up but Ive never really noticed if all the cows do it or just the Jersey cross breds. If anyone out there knows the answer then please send it in to john@thebigcowblack.co.uk and I’ll publish your explanation.

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Posted in Grazing, The Farm | Leave a comment

May is July

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It hasn’t been very spring like in the last month despite the sunshine. The cool dry easterly wind has persisted for over a month bringing little rain and taking the moisture from the ground.

Grazing conditions have been superb for the cows and they have milked well so far. But grass growth has been slow, partly due to the cold evenings but the largest problem is the lack of rain.

This years April showers didn’t arrive to provide the warm damp conditions that make spring growth so virile. Instead the grass has grown steadily right through the season so far and been easy to manage.

In a normal spring I would be expecting to take fields from the rotation as growth speeds up and the cows are unable to eat the grass quickly enough. This year however the rotation has remained the same – until now that is.

But I’m not about to take ground out of the rotation, I’m about to add some in. In the first time in my living memory we are going into drought conditions in May. I  can recall plenty of dry springs but none quite like this one.

This is the rainfall from March 1st until May 9th.

After a couple of days rain early in this period there has been little since and that is after a dry Winter. The chart underneath the rain denotes the air pressure which has been high right through, going hand in hand with dry weather. When this will change is anyone’s guess.  but I’m playing safe and have added a silage field back into the rotation.

It’s too tall to graze properly but it should add another three or four days grazing and give the driest pastures more time to recover and grow. There is currently 7 days grass in front of the cows to graze but after that its looking a bit patchy. The last few days has altered things dramatically and the grazed pasture are not recovering like they should.

If you looked at the farm you’d probably think it all looks green and lush and think I’m panicking. Maybe I am but the reality is beneath the surface. I’ve dug the turf up in various place across the farm and the soil is very dry. The next forty days will provide the longest days of the year and most daylight hours. Without rain that will crucify the ground and kill grass growth.

The calendar says May but the ground is looking like July.

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Posted in Grazing, The Farm, The weather | Leave a comment

When things go well

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This is what happens on those rare occasions when animals do what you want. Yesterday they ran through the mobile race like a dream, as we dosed them with wormer.

They then ran straight across a silage field as directed, finding the gate at the other end into the holding pen and waited patiently until we arrived.

Five minutes later we walked them quietly along the track, up the road and into the field.

The whole operation took less than an hour without mishap.


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Posted in Animal Health, The Farm | Leave a comment

Tardy turn out

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Rather frustratingly, there are still over 100 animals yet to be turned out. Whilst the cows here have been grazing for over a month now there is still two groups of heifers that are yet to be turned out, as my tenancy doesn’t start until the end of the month.

Whatever my feelings about this late start might be, there is little that can be done about it as the landlord insists he is following the rules laid down by the ministry. Which in this case, demand a months grace between sheep grazing during the winter and my heifers grazing during the Summer.

This leaves me starting the grazing season on the first of May, two months after the grass starts growing. This is way too late for my liking, so the bulk of the heifers have already been turned out onto cow pastures in late March. This in turn means that a larger area of pasture is needed which will taken from silage ground. Consequently silage that would have been made by the farm is made three miles away at my Summer grazing instead which extra requires tractors and trailers to retrieve it during harvest. Not ideal but c’est la vie.

Where does that leave the other hundred or so heifers? Well one bunch are still in a shed at the other end of the village and will have to be transported to the Summer grazing on May 1st and the others are in a building just down the road. There is a patch of grass next door to them that will keep them quiet for a week until they can join the others.


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Posted in Grazing, The Farm | Leave a comment