Tony Renwick of Arches Farm

Published 21 June 13

Forage for Knowledge farmer contributor Tony Renwick of Arches Farm, who milks 300 autumn calving crossbred cows, on a 71 ha grazing platform, in Uckfield, East Sussex, has developed a system that aims to make the most of grass when he has it, and avoids an expensive excess at the wrong time of year, which could jeopardising quality.

"We are careful about how much fertiliser we put on the grazing area as we don't want to be swamped with too much grass at this time of year, when we're drying off the cows. I don't want to have to take silage off the grazing platform," explains Tony.

"But it can also be a bit of a juggling act as we don't want to be in a position of not having enough grass due to really dry or wet conditions. At the root of it I'm keen to utilise all the existing grass on the farm rather than unnecessarily spending money growing more."

The cows at Arches Farm are now on their seventh rotation and in order to maintain quality and get intakes Tony mows the grass before grazing.

"The grass is mowed in the morning for the afternoon grazing, and in the afternoon for the next morning's grazing," explains Tony. "It's great for weed control. It helps with those soured patches that have been dunged on and means the cows utilise as much as possible of the grass we've grown.

"We moved to a proper block calving herd in 2005, as this gives a higher volume of milk through the winter months, suited the natural grass growing ability of this farm and is more labour efficient for our system. I find having one group, all doing roughly the same thing, throughout the year makes real sense.

"We have been milking once a day (OAD) since the second week of May as we have a pretty high stocking rate and OAD helps with the dry conditions we can get in Sussex as the cows don't eat as much. It also helps the cows relax a bit as they prepare for drying off and importantly helps us have a break before our busy season," says Tony.

The cows are dried off in the middle of July, are dry for six weeks, and calving starts on the 28 August.

"Again we milk once a day for the first five weeks after calving as I find it gives the cows, and particularly the heifers, a more relaxed start to their lactation. It means we see a lot less negative energy balance in the cows, the beneficial effects can be seen throughout the rest of the lactation," Tony explains.

"It also gives us a chance to concentrate on calving during the very busy weeks of late summer, early autumn."

Tony continues; "Over the winter the cows are self fed 50:50 grass:maize silage and 3kg/head/day of wheat feed, which we top up with the expensive cake in the parlour!

"As for many others last year was quite a difficult year for us". Our silage didn't perform as well as we'd wished for over the winter and litres were down. We were lucky in that we escaped the flooding many suffered with but it was still quite difficult at times.

"This year I'd say we are a good three to four weeks behind where we would normally be with grass growth, although quality has been good. First cut was about 10 days later than normal and although it looked to be good quality it wasn't that heavy. I'm hoping second cut will bring a bit more bulk into the clamp," he adds.