Although we are all conscious that home grown forage is the key behind successful farming and profitability, I am becoming increasingly concerned that if traditional beef and sheep farmers do not alter their forage management philosophy – and soon – some, unfortunately, could literally go out of business.

Margins are there to be made, but only if the home grown forage potential of the farm is maximised to its full. Beef cannot be successfully fattened off silage that has been taken from long clapped out fields of grass, whilst profitability cannot be realistically achieved if the feed lorry is beating a regular path down the farm lane. Bought in feeds are essential to every farm, whether it be beef, dairy or sheep, but the more professional of these feed companies are continually encouraging farmers to improve upon what they are growing on farm – both in quality and quantity – with the purchased feeds acting as a complement – not the other way round. Margins have become far too tight and stringent for purchased feeds to provide farmers with a bit of a ‘get out of jail free card’, and still expect to remain profitable. I am pulling no punches at all – the message has to be clear and strong - and I make no apologies whatsoever if this article appears to be hitting a bit heavy this month. The very survival, let alone profitability, of some of you could be at stake at the moment and you really have to focus on what the farm can successfully grow – year in, year out – manage it really well and maintain attention to detail. If you don’t, then I’m afraid that there will only be one outcome.

Roly Nancekivell and his mother Eilleen (D W Nancekivell & Sons), are farming Heatham Farm, Kilkhampton in North Cornwall. It comprises 300 acres plus a further 180 acres which is off-land and rented – the total being split between grass (380 acres), forage maize (15 acres) with the remaining 85 acres in various forms of winter cereals.

This is a traditional beef and sheep farm with 90 Pedigree Limousin and Limousin Cross suckler cows, 160 fattening cattle, young stock plus 630 ewes which lamb between January and March. Limousin bulls are sold onto neighbouring dairy farms from where approximately 80 calves per annum are then bought back and fattened off at 24 months. All beef is sold to St Merryn Meat Co.

Up to 1,800 lambs are fattened each year and are sold to Randall Parker.

As with a number of family run farming enterprises in the Westcountry, Heatham Farm plays host to a number of visitors throughout the year where Roly’s wife Ruth operates a thriving B&B business.

There is a strict rotational policy on the farm in that all land has a covering crop during the winter thus providing an on-going source of feed for out wintered ewes and lambs and also providing a sound environmental practice as soil run-off has been eliminated.

Any under performing grass fields will be ploughed down for winter cereals and once harvested, winter barley will be followed by a winter forage mixture which will then be followed by forage maize, whilst winter wheat and oats will be followed by a grass re-seed. Maize is always followed by winter wheat.

The winter forage mixture which is made up from a blend of Samson Stubble Turnips, Interval Rape and Keeper Kale is broadcast at the rate of 2.2 kgs per acre and is fed from January right through until the end of March and despite one of the coldest winters for some time, frost kill was kept to an absolute minimum with both the rape and kale providing protective cover for the all important stubble turnips.

Forage maize is the only spring sown crop on the farm and goes in behind the winter forage mix – usually during the first week of May. The farm has been growing maize for seven years now and although the acreage grown would not be huge, it is certainly an extremely important crop as it has proved to be the ideal crop to provide home grown starch – especially by-pass starch - and also where fattening is concerned as dry matter intakes have increased and finishing times shortened. The farm first grew maize in 2004, starting out with Crescendo, followed by Crown and, for the past couple of years, they have used the variety Beacon which is early and has a high starch content. Last year, Beacon yielded over 15 tonnes per acre at 31 per cent dry matter, 30 per cent starch, 71.6 D Value and 11.4 ME. Grass is the key crop on this farm and is duly treated as such – as a crop. Although the biggest proportion is over five-years-old and could be described as being permanent pasture, the tight management throughout the year restricts weed grasses and broad leaved weeds as much as possible and acceptable levels of dry matter production can extend to over 6 years in some cases. The farm usually re-seeds about 25 acres a year and follows winter wheat with the two main mixtures coming from the Monarch Range - namely Multigraze and Multicut – both of which contain a high level of tetraploids which then contribute toward a consistently high sugar production – further features being excellent disease resistance, drought tolerance and winter hardiness.

During the winter, beef are fattened off using a home grown blend of grass and maize silage, plus crimped wheat and oats – this mix being fed via a feeder wagon, with a typical mix for 90 cattle being two tonnes of grass silage, 800 kgs of maize silage, 300 kgs of crimped grain, plus smaller amounts of hay, straw and yeast. Harpers Home Mix – the farm’s feed compounder – are currently producing and supplying a 40 per cent protein pellet, with Ruminant Nutritionist Pete Davis commenting that in times of high costs, it is imperitive that feed companies and nutritionists appreciate the need for every farm to produce as much of its growth performance as possible from home grown products and that their job was to enhance that performance by working closely with farmers to encourage them to grow the right crops for them, ensile them correctly and then provide them with the most appropriate feed in order to maximize production from both forage and stock.

Roly Nancekivell, although being extremely concerned over the general state of our industry, is also equally enthusiastic over its future. “Agriculture has to be the backbone of the country,” he said. “We all have to eat and we just cannot afford to import to the level that we have seen in the past. We have to become more self sufficient. After all, that’s exactly what we’re being told about our winter feed – we just have to produce more of it ourselves. “There are things that we do well, but we have to get even better – especially with home grown production and I have set myself a personal challenge to grow more protein crops, but the single and most important thing we have to do is to grow more grass and better grass complemented by more attention to detail with its management and feeding.”

Scale and animal welfare are vital for success.