Cornishman goes for grass

South West Farmer: James Willcocks, right,and his local Monarch distributor Andy Berry, with Lola, a prize winner at this year’s Royal Cornwall Show James Willcocks, right,and his local Monarch distributor Andy Berry, with Lola, a prize winner at this year’s Royal Cornwall Show

I know that one or two of you out there may feel that I am becoming a little repetitive but I think that I’m on a bit of a ‘’roll’’ at the moment – and as the ‘Juggernaut’ has finally been freed from a giant morass of sticky mud, the tyres have been inflated, engine checked over and fuelled up – and just in case those very nice people at HM Revenue and Customs have a mole on the mailing list of South West Farmer – especially in the Hartland area - that would be white diesel. The ‘Juggernaut’ initially refused to move, steadfast in its desire to remain totally aloof from any livestock farmers intent to try and make a little profit from its undoubted potential, but finally, after much grunting, pushing, shoving and coercing, it groaned and slowly creaked forward to the point that now, some six years after I started my own awareness campaign, its speed has built up to something miles per hour with farmers now starting to realize that that big green carpet out there that covers a huge area of the farm, that’s there first thing in the morning and still there last thing at night, still offers you the best opportunities for increasing profitability.

I know that you’ve all guessed by now but just in case you had a really heavy night last night, your head’s still thumping, you’re grumpy as hell and the cat is still giving you an extremely wide berth, that big green ‘Juggernaut’ is grass.

James (JJ) and Kiki Willcocks (J & A Willcocks & Son) is one such farming partnership who long ago recognized the merits and values of home grown forage, especially that of grassland and even though they have been steadily improving the quality of their grass over the years, they readily admit to still being some way off maximizing its true potential – a goal that they are constantly striving towards.

Set in the Camel valley between Bodmin and Wadebridge, Tregleath Farm is quite sheltered and lies on a free draining loamy soil which permits a mid February turnout in most years – with daytime access to grass up to the end of October and even into November in some years and with winters tending to be 120 days at worst, it is easy to see how moderate this farm can be. The total size of the farm is 570 acres which is split between 120 acres of forage maize, 120 acres of mixed wholecrop spring barley and spring triticale – the remainder of which (330 acres) is down to grass and with that figure representing 58 per cent of the farm, that in itself states how important the grass crop is to this particular farm.

The grazing area of 140 acres lies immediately adjacent to the farm and is made up of paddocks and grazed on a 15 – 21 day system – a plate meter being used to determine the precise time when to move the cows from one paddock to another. 25 units of ‘N’ are applied every 3-4 weeks from the end of February right through until the end of September. The remaining 190 acres of grassland are grazed early on in the year but unstocked toward the end of March when 50 units of ‘N’ are applied in preparation for the first cut of silage which is usually taken around the 14th. May in order to optimise quality – subsequent cuts being taken every 6-7 weeks until September, when these fields are once again opened up to grazing. Total nitrogen usage would be 200-225 units per acre – depending on length of season.

Tregleath Farm plays host to the award winning Treluggan Herd of Pedigree Brown Swiss with prizes being obtained at the Royal Cornwall Show for the past two years and ‘’Treluggan Supreme Twinkle’’ being the Reserve Supreme Champion at this years Stithians Show – good milk yields, easy management, longevity with excellent legs and feet being some of the main characteristics of this particular breed. Norwegian Red, NZ Friesian and Jersey bloodlines are also being used which results in an animal more suited to this particular farming system. There are 500 head of stock on the farm at the moment with the herd carrying 270 cows plus 230 followers/herd replacements. All heifer calves are naturally retained for eventual herd replacements with all bull calves being taken by David Merryn – a beef farmer near Buckfastleigh in S Devon.

Being in a moderate area, the farm will produce lots of extremely good grass in the spring, but because of the climate, grass growth and quality can be severely curtailed from late June to the end of August and although the cows are buffer fed maize and grass silage all year round, it is vital that supplementary grazing crops are planted in early spring in order to take the pressure off ensiled and potential winter fodder. This year, an area of Interval kale was planted in April and offered to the cows on 30th. June where they graze for a maximum of 1.5 hours a day in order to prevent milk taint and any possible dietary upset – there being enough to graze until mid August. Next year, it is planned to sow even more kale in order to extend the grazing well into September, but the sowings will be split into three and probably spread over a month in order to maintain quality. A crop of lucerne is also planned for August/September sowing this year.

The herd is currently averaging between 7,500 and 8,000 litres – depending on the quality of forage – with milk from forage being approx 3000 litres. Milk quality is good with butterfat currently at 4.2 per and milk protein at 3.35 per cent. The farm’s predicted production this year is 2.2 million litres and is currently being sold to Trewithen Dairy with the contract having started on 1st. April this year.

The current DM intake is 21 kgs per cow/day of which 16.15 kgs is forage – 6.2 kgs, I’m delighted to report, being grazed grass and even though it’s mid July, the amount is probably due to the recent spell of wettish weather. Other significant forage contributors would be 2.25 kgs Interval kale, 4 kgs maize and 3.2. kgs wholecrop triticale/spring wheat.

The farm’s target for the forthcoming years is to improve milk from forage without compromising overall yields, quality or condition of the herd – the chosen route being to use a variety of forage crops that complement the current system – the main one, of course, being grass. Grazing swards will be improved by re-seeding at least ten per cent per annum with other pastures being improved in the short term by over-seeding. James Willcocks is a keen advocate of the Monarch range of grass seeds having started to use them over three years ago as a direct result of strong local recommendations – tending to stick with just two mixtures. Graze and Cut is a five year general purpose mixture and with 60 per cent tetraploids plus 1 kg of blended white clover, has been found to be ideal when renewing grazing land with permanent pasture being used on the later and predominantly cutting land, and, following minimal cultivations, this mixture will also be used to re-seed immediately after the Interval kale.

A blend of Italian Ryegrass is sown immediately after forage maize, cut in late April and immediately put back into maize once again.

‘’Maximizing yield from grass when it’s at its optimum performance forms part of the overall plan and care must be taken outside of peak performance periods when it’s easy to over estimate its value and consequent yields and maybe health could be affected,’’ said James.

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