FUW members hold successful animal health, on-farm technology and land management demonstration day

How do you make your farm business more efficient, what role can grass play in this and just how do you produce more forage and better quality forage and convert that into meat? These were some of the questions posed by Farmers’ Union of Wales Montgomeryshire members, John and Sarah Yeomans and their family.

Facing around a 57 percent drop in farming subsidies the family are keen to find ways in which to make the family business run more efficiently and in a bid to answer some questions, the Yeomans family opened the gates to their farm, Llwyn y Brain, Adfa near Newtown, to share their farming experience with fellow farmers on what has worked for them and also what has been less successful, over the past three years.

Speakers at the event included Grassland Consultant Chris Duller, Oli Hodgkinson of Trefaldwyn Vets, Nick Rider of OPICO, Justin Rees of Kiwikit, Brent Gibbon of DowAgroSciences, Ben Wixey of Germinal (British Seed Houses), Richard Gower of FarmWizard, James Cheadle of Elanco and Ieuan Davies from Agrimin.

The demonstration afternoon, which was well attended by industry representatives and farmers alike, provided an excellent opportunity to see just how the Yeomans family are trialing different farming methods for example incorporating new crops, such as red clover and Redstart, into their rotational grazing systems and what measures they take to maximise livestock health, to make the business more profitable.

Much focus was placed on the benefits of rotational grazing, pasture rejuvenation, making the best use of forage, cattle and sheep health, parasite control, coccidiosis and trace elements, and using EID to reduce worming costs.

Grassland Consultant Chris Duller, who has been working with the family for nearly 20 years, has calculated that the 115 hectare business needs 906 tonnes of dry matter to feed all of the livestock on the farm per year. They produce 6.6 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year and current feed costs run at 51 pence per 1 kg liveweight. Their current fertiliser costs run at 18 pence per kilo liveweight produced.

Speaking to visitors at the demonstration event Chris Duller said: “We have been experimenting a bit and are for example sward lifting and harrowing rather than ploughing the fields here at Llwyn y Brain and focusing on re-seeding and soil improvement. We have increased the use of clover and forage crops, and are trying to make better use of the land up on the hill. All of this has been coupled with more targeted use of fertiliser, and trying to improve management of the soil to help its structure and of course trialling the rotational grazing system.

“The first year of rotational grazing went well, last year was probably the best, but this year the late spring and prolonged periods of wet weather have played havoc with grass growth so not all has gone to plan. First you have no grass and then you all of a sudden have too much. However, in order to improve you have to try new things.

“What we must remember is not to grow more grass than we can utilise, or it becomes too costly. A farm needs to know its feed demand and then the grass has to be managed properly for it to be a cheap food source for livestock. It is worth remembering that most farms waste 50% of the grass grown.”

Justin Rees from KiwiKit, who has been advising the family on their solar electric fences to make the rotational grazing work better for them, said: “John needs to try to measure the grass every week with a plate meter across the whole farm to gauge how much grass will grow to estimate how much dry matter will be available compared to the demand. Doing that would allows us to better manage decisions for grazing. What we are also seeing here with the rotational grazing system is which paddocks are more efficient than others > the fields that are doing well are much greener and will naturally produce better forage for the livestock. If you can see a patchwork of grass in all different shades of green then rotational grazing is working for you.”

This year the Yeomans family have started to use a red clover crop to try and finish lambs which have grown frame but not finished on the rotational grazing. In addition they have added Redstart, a rape/Kale hybrid, and more plantain, red and white clover on the hill, which has been done in conjunction with their grassland consultant Chris Duller and Germinal, and the rotational grazing system has been set up with KiwiKit solar electric fencers.

John Yeomans said: “As a family we try to find more efficient ways in which to run our business – sometimes we get it right and at other times we don’t. It’s a constant learning curve for us. We like to trial new technologies to help us improve as much as we can and therefore we are now using EID equipment to make decisions about when to worm our lambs.”

During the afternoon FarmWizard demonstrated one of the aspects of their phone app that has been used to help target wormer use. When lambs are weighed the app speaks the lambs’ daily live weight gain and any lambs gaining over 200g per day have not been wormed.

Looking at animal health on the farm, James Cheadle from Elanco explained that Coccidiosis is caused by infection by protozoan parasites called Eimeria spp. which parasitize the lining of the intestinal tract, with E. zuernii, E. bovis and E. alabamensis being the most common and pathogenic.

Infection causes a loss of absorptive capacity of the gut with consequent diarrhoea and possibly dysentery. Outbreaks of disease are commonly seen 3-4 weeks after mixing groups of calves.

Explaining what they have been doing to deal with the problem, John says: “In the past we had lost a small number of calves over several years so of course we had to do something about it. We are now testing every 2 or 3 weeks by looking at fecal samples with Trefaldwyn vets and now only treat when the problem appears, which helps build strong immunity in the calves in order to allow them to build up natural resistance.”

“As a business we strive to be as economical and efficient as possible to maximise our output and increase profit. We go through trial and error to find out what works for us and can only encourage others to try new tactics in order to try to become more profitable. We hope that everyone enjoyed the visit and was able to take information away with them that is helpful to their own holdings. I would like to also thank our grassland consultant Chris Duller, Iwan Owen from IBERS, Trefaldwyn vets, Elanco, Zoetis, OPICO, DowAgroSciences, Germinal (British Seed Houses), Agrimin, Sainsbury’s, Dunbia, Foxley Farm Supplies, Patchwork and KiwiKit for their continued support and guidance,” added John Yeomans.

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