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Stackyard News Jun 2011

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The Biological Future of Fodder and Forage for Farms

The year’s first on farm meeting of the Donkin Rigg Monitor Farm took place earlier this week with a look at Forage and Grassland, topics at the heart of the farming timetable at this time of year.

Sponsored by Farmway, speakers at the event included:-

  • Richard Tolson and Briand Dugdale FarmWay’s Forage specialists

  • David Long, Production Manager of Barenbrug UK, the specialist grass seeds breeding company

  • George Hepburn – Soil Fertility Services Limited

The evening began at Rothley East Shields with farmer Simon Bainbridge giving a roundup of recent activity on the Monitor Farm including:-

  1. Cattle - Spring Calving has been much more straight forward. Next year he plans to leave his new Hereford Bull in for a very short period of three weeks, for the autumn calvers to accelerate the transition from autumn to Spring Calving. One initiative which is working very well is the addition of Cosecure, which he is using for all stock over 100 kilos.

  2. Sheep –Lambing was a delight and as near perfect as possible. A local outbreak of Sheep Scab has been controlled successfully and this was down to one key factor - the coordinated approach from local farmers and vets.

    Simon has received a 40% grant on a Racewell, Shedding Race and EID System. Sheep will be tagged at cutting time allowing him to simplify his lamb selection.

  3. Forage - The first week of June will see the cutting of the Red Clover. When establishing a crop, he was keen to highlight that one lesson he has learnt is that sowing in September for a summer cut the following year really is too late. It would have been much better to sow in the Spring to ensure that the crop really establishes itself. On Rothley East Shields there is a lot of reseeding required as the pasture is getting tired.

Richard Tolson underlined the key role of understanding the fertility of the soil that forage grows in.

Simon’s presentation was followed by a farm walk at Rothley East Shields with first hand advice, information and guidance on producing top quality grass fodder and grazing, from experts in their field.

George Hepburn of Soil Fertility Services Limited stressed the importance of testing soil, forage and silage. The mineral content of soil and herbage needs to be measured in order to tailor make a product for specific requirements; at Donkin Rigg this practice has resulted in noticeable improvements.

He reiterated to those attending that: “You cannot manage your soil unless you know exactly what is in it and going forward, you must take note that the future of farming really is biological.”

He went on: “The importance of soil testing and Forage/Silage testing is crucial as is the ability to react to these results and not just put on a standard application of compound fertiliser. You must check pH for lime and slag requirements; don’t overdo P & K (with FYM). And always remember the importance of biology within the soil. Remember, if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

David Long has been working closely with Simon Bainbridge of Donkin Rigg, to ensure that their forage is best suited to the land and purposes required. Working with your supplier in this way was David’s first message: “You will be better able to select the correct mix for your farming enterprise, if you do.” He went on to consider the importance of what he termed “the soil platform”, and how important it was to understand its features and sometimes failings. A good supplier will measure the mineral content of your soil and your herbage and tailor a product to the specific requirements.

For most UK farms, the vast majority of long term grass leys sown are based on perennial ryegrass. This is the ideal species for conditions of high fertility, where big yields of highly digestible forage are needed, such as dairy farms. But in conditions like Donkin Rigg, where a more extensive, lower input system is the norm, and especially in an organic system, where you are reliant on clover and muck for the nitrogen, then other species must be considered.

The mixture sown at Donkin Rigg is called Barmix. It is a mixture of Tall Fescue, Timothy, Cocksfoot with Perennial Ryegrass and Red and White clover. Although slow to establish, Tall fescue will yield considerably more than ryegrass. It has a higher protein and fibre content than ryegrass. It also has a massive root system making it more tolerant of drought. Cocksfoot is another deep rooted, drought tolerant, species, which grows very early in the spring, to give early bite for lambs. Timothy is a very palatable winter hardy species, used widely in colder climates. It also has good drought tolerance.

The white clover is included, as usual for long term nitrogen fixation, but David’s firm also includes Red clover into Donkin Rigg’s ley. He said “We use it to boost both growth and nitrogen fixation over the first couple of years. It will be eaten out by year 3, but it will allow the white clover to build up to the point where it can maintain the sward.”

Richard Tolson and Brian Dugdale also underlined the key role of understanding the fertility of the soil that forage grows in, and the many factors that affected its growing power. They explained in detail the root system of a plant and pointed to areas where soil compaction was occurring. With roots concentrated above that level, the good six inches of soil below, full of nutrients, was of no benefit to the plant because of the compaction.

The proposed solution was to use one of two pieces of machinery: soil aeriators, or sub-soilers, if the compaction was very deep. Simon gave a demonstration with his soil aeriator and Tony Drummond of Lemmington Hill Head demonstrated a sub-soiler.

This was an event specifically tailored to those attending and John MacFarlane one of the Monitor Farms Project Mangers summed up the success: “Once again we exceeded the expectations of the Farmers who attended. The original aim of the monitor farms project was to demonstrate best practices and to look at cutting edge techniques. This was certainly the case. What was demonstrated, generated a lot of interest in forage and Grassland management and gave everyone tangible advice to take back to their own farms.”

“This year our aim is to focus on specific subjects at each of the monitor farms events, linking them to the farming year. This approach ensures that the audience is relevant to the subject.”

The Northumberland Monitor Farm Project is organised by English Farming and Food Partnerships, EBLEX, Alnorthumbria Vets and the North Northumberland Agricultural Training Association, with generous funding from One North East through Landskills NE - managed by Lantra on behalf of One North East, it is part of the Rural Development Programme for England, (RDPE) funded by the European Fund for Rural Development and Defra.

The Next Monitor Farm meeting will be held at Donkin Rigg on Tuesday 28th June, Louis Fell of George F. White will focus on Renewables and Kate Phillips from ADAS on the practical supplementation of trade elements in cattle and sheep.

Anyone interested in attending, should preregister with Helen or Sandra on 0870 609 1840 / 01904 771213 or

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