Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Update from Yorkshire Strategic Farm

Following the launch of our network of our Farm Excellence Strategic Farms in September 2017,
we’ve caught up with Yorkshire based Guy Prudom to find out how the last few months have been and what challenges he’s faced. 

We hosted our first meeting at Northfields Farm just before Christmas on a very wet, snowy and blustery morning. I gave an overview of how the farm has developed from the 380 acre rented unit my father took on with 90 suckler cows, to the 1000 acre and 200 suckler cow farm that it is now. It’s not too bad but, when the weather is against you and you’ve not had enough sleep during calving, it can often seem like a challenge.

In early January, the team from AHDB and myself sat down to work out our key performance indicators (KPIs) for the project. These included:

1. Increasing the quality and utilisation of grass grown

2. Increasing cow output, including calves born and reared

3. Improving genetics of heifers to become a multiplier for the breed to increase output value

I also spent time in January getting to grips with my benchmarking figures for Farmbench. Note to myself: go through the VAT accounts at the end of every month and allocate to each enterprise. Something I tell myself to do, but fail miserably at. Thankfully, I’d kept records of our suckler herd output, so I have managed to crack it and it is been very rewarding to see calf mortality figures dropping and output per cow increasing.

February is vaccination month for the suckler cows. Mid-February we vaccinate the entire herd for leptospirosis, bolus the herd for trace element deficiencies and use closamectin pour-on wormer to reduce the risk of liver fluke and other worms. In the past we’ve vaccinated to protect against rotavirus, but this is quite expensive. So this year I looked back through last year’s calving records and only vaccinated the cows that calved in the first six weeks. This has been fairly stress free due to improving the cattle race by installing a backing gate.

We normally start calving around 7th March but not this year. Things started badly with a heifer calving a month prematurely, losing a cow and calf due to infection and then another calf that just did not want to live. A bad start to the calving season, coupled with the bad weather made things seem very depressing.

With the inclement weather we decided to split a shed using crash barriers, so if the wet weather was to continue at least we could have somewhere to put cows and calves under cover. As it happened this has worked really well.

Cows calved in ones and twos up until about 14th March when we got going with 4 – 6 cows and heifers calving a day. This makes life a lot easier as you get into a routine of going around the two farms where we are calving four times a day. 

The first cows and calves went out on about the 20th March onto some fairly plain wet fields. Rule of thumb is that they need 24 hours of dry weather outside and then they can cope with most conditions after that. It is amazing to go around them following 12 or 24 hours of continuous rain, sleet and snow and find them sheltered under hedges and behind stone walls quite content and warm.

Hopefully, by mid to late April I’ll be able to get out of the calving pens and start to look at the pastures. Thankfully, when I brought the cows in for winter there was still a good covering of grass. This has been my saving grace this spring as the cows have something to eat.

The beginning of March saw me taking stock of our silage and straw situation. Thankfully, we have more than enough silage but straw, on the other hand, was a different matter. An expensive phone call later to our straw merchant saw several wagonloads delivered.

Looking at the heap I had purchased and given several comments from senior management I thought I had over done things again. Sat writing this in mid-April I wished I had bought a bit more!

Our network of Strategic Farms will be holding meetings in the summer months and will be announced shortly. To keep up to date visit