Archive: Season overview Jill Bathgate

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2014 was Jill Bathgate’s first year as a contributor to Forage for Knowledge and she feels she couldn’t have chosen a much better season to start moving her 145-strong Holstein Friesian herd to a more grassland-based system in Mid Lothian.

I’ve been so lucky with the dry weather, as I don’t have the infrastructure yet to help with access if things get wet. We have a few existing tractor tracks and they’ve been used well this year but, the rest of the time, access has been across grass. I have plans for a network of tracks and I’m hoping to complete phase one, the draining of an area and building a cow track, this winter.

DairyCo’s technical extension officer, Piers Badnell, came to visit on a Tuesday in March this year and the cows were out on-off grazing the following Thursday. It meant we had some milk from grass at a time of year we never would have before. We had to bring them in for a few weeks during a spell of bad weather in April, but flexibility is all part of the system now.

The cows have only just been housed, at least a month later than our usual housing date, and you can really see it in what’s left in the silage pit. The cows are looking good on it, too. I saw no real increase in yield when they came in and I think that speaks volumes about the quality feed grass can be, even in the autumn.

By analysing the grass throughout the season, I’ve really learnt what a consistently good feed it is. ME’s were in the 11.5 to 12 MJ/kg DM range across the season, and protein levels were consistently good. I can’t buy in anywhere near that quality of feed at the price grazed grass is.

We had a really nasty day last week and I brought the cows in. It then really perked up for a day or two, with the temperature nearing 16°C, and I’m kicking myself for not putting the cows out again. I think covers are quite high to take through the winter. I’m pushing my youngstock and sheep to take them down, but it might be asking too much.

One thing I will change before next year is the arrangement of our water troughs. We didn’t have enough troughs so I ended up making cows walk too far for water. Our fields here are 10ha and I’ve had to split them in a series of strips to allow for water access. My hope is more troughs will give me great flexibility next year.