Thursday, 7 April 2016

Focussing On The Important Things

A fine view of the Clwydian Range from the runoff block

Well, here we are in April, and spring still hasn't arrived. Growth has been slow, averaging 15-30kgDM/Ha/Day. Looking back at last year, during the same period we recorded 55kg growth. This is a huge difference on a highly stocked farm such as ours. Instead of pregrazing at 2600+, we're going into 2100. Cows are on a 30 day round with 4.5kg concentrates and 4-5kgDM of silage. The same period last year there was no silage in the diet and we had started taking the concentrates out too. Fortunately milk yield is fairly steady at 2-2.2kgMS a day, but with the low energy density of the silage, milk proteins are low at 3.3%.

On the calving front we've sold a lot of late calvers and some empties we fattened overwinter. We're still calving 1-2 a day, with 10 needed to make a nice herd of 400 cows. We did consider milking more and stocking over 4 cows/Ha, but given the slow spring and low payout, instead we're happy to just consolidate the herd with earlier calvers.

Cows are spending up to 6 hours a day stood on the feedpad

But hey, if I wanted to moan about milk price and weather I'd spend a day at the local market!
Instead I want to talk about decision making in farming systems.

For me there is always a tension in farming between doing what we believe will generate a return, and doing what we want to do, to preserve out own enjoyment and sanity! This first practise I will call "margin chasing" and the second I will call "lifestyle". To make this clearer I'll list and categorise some farming choices and practises which I've had to make decisions around:

Margin Chasing
Rearing bull calves
Using beef bulls
Winter milking
Split autumn and spring calving
Milk recording
In house contracting work
Using less labour
More vaccination
High levels of reseeding and cropping
Rearing and selling surplus heifers
Long AI period
High breeding intervention
Complex cow diets
Animal focussed advise

Once a day milking
A large milking parlour
More labour
Contracting out all tractor work
Taking more holidays
More family time
Lax record keeping
No vaccination
No reseeding
No intervention

Be aware that this list relates only to myself and my own farm! I am NOT arguing that OAD milking has no margin or that high reseeding levels do! These are ideas I've considered and how I have chosen to categorise them in my on mind.

The key is always to strike a balance on your own farm. You could draw up and categorise a similar list for different farmers and you could guarantee that no two would be the same. Unfortunately in times of low prices farmers are forced or advised further down the Margin Chasing route putting at risk their own personal health. Before we take any decision or embark on a change of practise we have to ask what is driving that decision? Will the outcomes be positive for both business profitability and our own enjoyment and health?

This tension between profit and lifestyle is a topic I'd like to return to in the future.
But until then let's look forward to some improved weather and for a lot of us, finishing calving!

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