Friday, 24 June 2011

Stop Trashing Our UK Countryside & Our Farms




I spend hundreds of hours driving through this pleasant & green land. One can’t help but see & feel the beauty of this Agricultural (industrial) landscape that is rural Great Britain.
However over summer this beautiful landscape is ruined by the disgusting sight of “out of control” Ragwort on the Motorways, public roads, the rail network & even in the towns & cities.
It makes me feel sick inside. It seems nobody gives a damn!
Ragwort is a noxious weed. Who is responsible?????
Common Ragwort used to be rarely seen because farmers would not tolerate it. Even the Daily Telegraph reported
“The change from rarity to infestation (….of Ragwort) reflects a fundamental change in Britain: from a society with a strong rural culture and understanding to a country dominated by urban values”
Ragwort can be highly dangerous to grazing animals including cattle. Every Ragwort plant has up to 150,000 seeds which can remain viable for up to 20 years. Seeds can be blown in the wind up to 100 m.

Natural England is responsible for enforcing the Weeds Act 1959 & the Ragwort Control Act 2003.
Why are they doing absolutely nothing about this outrage?
There is an army of bureaucrats snooping in the name of GB’s farming’s red tape, so why aren’t they waging war on those public authorities allowing ragwort to grow out of control. Ragwort is a serious threat to pasture based grazing farms.
Who's responsible for roadside weeds? The control of roadside vegetation, including common ragwort, is the responsibility of the Highways Agency in the case of motorways and other trunk roads, and the local highway authority, e.g. County Councils, in respect of all other public roads.
The Weeds Act 1959 provides for the serving of a notice on the occupier of land when ragwort is present and is deemed to be a nuisance — the offence occurs when there is a failure to comply with such a notice.
The presence of ragwort, however dense, is not a problem in itself unless it is in danger of causing a nuisance by spreading to neighbouring land. (I think this is an appalling weakness in the regulations)
The Ragwort Control Act 2003 defines an infestation as being of high risk when it is present and flowering or seeding within 50m of land used for grazing by horses and other animals or land used for feed or forage production. At 50-100m distance the infestation would be classed as of medium risk, and of low risk when at a distance greater than 100m.
I suggest you complain
Telephone: 0845 6003078 or 0114 2418920 Website:
Telephone: 08457 50 40 30 website: DON’T TRASH OUR FARMS
Why in England do people regularly trash the landscape with litter? I don’t understand the mentality of the litterer! Day after day near my village (& probably your village & your farm) litter is dropped from passing cars & vans.
Do these people realise that not only do they trash my (& their) living environments but they put at risk farm animals & farmers. Dairy cows are curious creatures that will play with trash not realising that plastic can endanger their lives. Farm machinery will change a beer can into dangerous metal for farm staff & dairy cows. By walking regularly sadly you see the local area trashed daily…by whom? Well does the fact that a very high percentage of the rubbish includes: - beer & coke cans, McDonalds, cigarettes & the Sun Newspaper give us any hints??????? The countryside & the landscape is one issue but farms are OUR OFFICE, OUR WORKPLACE & OUR HOMES……STOP littering OUR FARMS.
Current UK Pasture Measurements

Pasture growth still very variable dependant on rain. Some spring like growth in Northern Ireland & the south of England. Eastern counties struggling still. However big improvement generally with pasture growth & average Farm Cover. The grass based organic farms have slow growth rates & relatively low covers. Some organic farms have NOT yet cut any silage off the grazing platform.Keep grazing rotations long as we are now entering summer with soil that is still dry for this time of year.

TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
Portaferry,Nth Ireland,AFC 2130, growth 71kgs/ha/day, after 2 weeks of rain
South Ayrshire, Scotland, 2324, gr72, soil temps 15.3 degrees

Dumfries, Scotland, AFC 2080, growth 64

North Wales, AFC 1950, gr 44, demand 55

North Wales, AFC 1970, gr 67kgs

Cheshire organic, 2100, growth 30

Shropshire organic, 1764,gr 33 (ouch) cutting lots but growth now

Shropshire, 2100, gr 65, so magic day is here again!!!!

Derbyshire, AFC 2231, growth 58, demand 61

Staffordshire, 2415, gr 64, de 49, reasonable rain last 10 days

East Staffordshire, 2160, growth 50, cutting 9% of farm today

Nottingham, growth 40, demand 60 feeding maize rain showers okay til mid July

Oxford, 2350, gr 40, 30 day round,grass Q not good, still cracks in dry soil

Gloucestershire, 2137, gr87, demand 63, 20% of platform taken out for silage

Dorset AFC 2300, growth 122

Dorset organic, 2100, growth 39, topping

Dorset, 2427, gr61, 45 day grazing rotation

Dorset, 2350, gr 75, milk, M/solids & cow condition all improving since rain

East Sussex, 2004, growth 65, grass in some order now

Devon, 2250, gr67, demand 50

Devon, 2250, growth 64

Cornwall, AFC 2100, growth 85

Flensburg, Northern Germany,organic, AFC 1890, growth 49, 32 day grazing rotation, some rain & improvement in situation

Friday, 17 June 2011

At Last it has Rained on Pasture Based Dairyfarms in the UK

It has rained! Photo I know this either doesnt look like a drought or I am putting mouth watering images on the blog..actually it was taken on the Somerset levels which is very heavy low lying country...but it does look seriously good doesnt it! Many of the pasture based dairy farms this week received 20-30mm of rain. It is a huge relief for everyone that it has rained. Hopefully we will get much needed follow up rain.
Most parts of the UK & many areas within the EU have had a long prolonged period of very dry conditions with very little rain. Look at the Spring 2011 graph for rainfall on the Metoffice site below.
It is very important that pastures get time to recover.
There are three important points to make now about grazing management:- Grazing rotations need to stay long until pasture plants have had time to let the parched root systems to recover. Photosynthesis needs water. Photosynthesis is the chemical process driven by light that converts CO2 to plant sugars & carbohydrates. However this process requires water. During the dry months the pasture plant root reserves (read carbohydrates) have been run down. Once water is again available the pasture plants are able to regain strength & build up root reserves. Once the roots have recovered energy reserves fresh leaf growth follows. If you don’t allow the pasture sward this “recovery time” or as Alan Lauder calls “Strategic rest” after rain you will impact severely on total pasture production. This is a timing issue. Carbon Grazing is an Australian concept from a very low rainfall area of Queensland but the basic principles are applicable here after a long unusual dry period.
The second point is another really important grazing principle….when growth is slow grazing rotations need to be long. This is a feed budget issue associated with ryegrass plant growth to the 3 leaf stage. To keep the pasture grazing wedge intact you must keep the grazing rotation long until we are back to a normal season.
The last point to make is that after rain the dry matter % of pasture will fall. Pretty obvious perhaps but this will alter pasture plate meter readings. Photo-Brent Stirling from Cropmark NZ checking heading on a Matrix field in England. In fact the DM% changes daily dependant on sunshine, cloud cover, wind & rain.
Andre Voisin was a French born intensive pasture grazing researcher. He pioneered the concept of the S growth curve which is well known to all pasture based dairy farmers.
Today there are farmers like Abe Collins in the USA who are now pushing this concept even further with Holistic Grazing concepts. Joel Salatin has many videos on YouTube that promote a similar approach to grazing & grass fed food.
Regardless of who you follow of these new pasture grazing gurus they are all working on the same basic principles of pasture growth & pasture resting…..its the timing that is being debated worldwide…..long may the debate continue!!
Chicory & Plantain Herbal Pastures Talking of timing………….the timing for grazing of chicory & plantain pastures is critical to the success of those pastures. The first grazing must NOT occur until there are fully 6 leaves per plant (again this is about the plant building root reserves/energy storage). Now that we are in the growth season for these herbal pastures you must keep on top of them to stop flowering & stem elongation. Target pre grazing covers should be 25-35cm & post grazing residuals should be 5-10cm. Cows will readily graze lower than 5cm but this must not be allowed to happen.At pre grazing heights of 25cm assume total yields of 3000kgDM/ha. A post grazing residue of 5cm will mean the cows have harvested 1500kgsDM/ha. To stop the chicory bolting pre grazing heights of 50cm should not be exceeded. Current UK Pasture Measurements

Pasture growth still very variable dependant on rain. The dissappointing thing is the cold air temperatures & lack of sunshine. Average Farm Covers increased slightly this week post rainfall.
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
South Ayrshire, Scotland, AFC 2380 & pasture growth 85
Dumfries, Scotland, AFC 1900, gr 40, demand 45 constant rain but very cold
Cumbria, 2225, growth 62
Derbyshire, 2151, gr35, demand 65, 17mm rain
Herefordshire organic, 2214, gr45, demand 40 rain during week 36mm
Somerset organic, 1900, gr 25, demand 33 rotation 35 days
Dorset 2450, gr80 & demand 45 good rain but grumpy cows???
Dorset organic, 2100, growth 39, Silage fields now back in rotation,reygrass heading
East Sussex Organic, 1508 cover, growth 23 up on last week, lots of rain
Devon, 2220, gr55 feeding silage
South Kilkenny, Ireland, AFC 2039, gr55, demand 49 cover increased this week
Fish Creek, Gippsland Victoria,Australia AFC 2700, growth 32 approaching calving

Friday, 10 June 2011

My NBF (New Best Friend) Charles Darwin

I have a NBF & I've discovered Charles Darwin had a fascination with earthworms. What an extraordinary man & to my surprise what a relatively easy read. I found his words drew me into what is really a story of today about climate change, importance of soils to humanity, importance of pasture based farming. A great read & its! Charles Darwin was absolutely besotted & totally absorbed intellectually by earthworms.
“It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as these lowly organised creatures “ & “Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind, agriculture, as we know it, would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible”(Charles Darwin 1881)
Not only did Charles Darwin intensely study earthworms at Maer Hall in Staffordshire (home of his Uncle Josiah Wedgewood) & at his home in Down House in Downe Kent but his sons Francis & Horace were roped into counting & observing worms (for at least 15 years)
....imagine that today! I urge you to read some of this amazing (but easy to read) book….I suggest you try pages 129-137 for starters.
Darwin outlines his trial where he spreads quick lime & then coal cinders onto the pasture at Maer Hall. He then observes for an amazing 21 years how earthworms cover up & eventually bury the two layers, which are to become his measuring markers. “The average annual increase of thickness for the whole period is 1·9 of an inch” (4.8cm/year). He was in effect growing top soil! Year on year the earthworms are growing the the book there is a diagram illustrating the new depth of topsoil after 21 yrs. This is incredible but so important to every pasture based dairy farmer....this is the engine room of your business.

Darwin estimated that a healthy English acre ought to have about 2,500,000 worms, turning out 18 tons of casts a year.There should as a rule of thumb be at least 25 earthworms per square spade full of top soil under pasture

In a pasture based dairyfarm is it accepted that the quantity of “livestock” under ground in the soil needs to be the same as the kgs livestock above the ground.So if you want to increase the number of cows the implication is that you must increase the "soil livestock" too, otherwise it wont be in balance eg you wont produce the extra pasture either as a result of not looking after the soil. This is of massive importance. Fiona Hillman (Wyegraze DG) in her very good Nuffield study 2007 on earthworms emphasizes the need to provide this "soil livestock" with food, water & air in a healthy soil environment. Fiona writes in her Nuffield report that :- “It has been estimated that with a healthy population of endogeic and anecic earthworms, 1100 miles of burrows could exist per acre, if undisturbed”

Hence her Darwin quote that :-“The plough is one of the most ancient and most valuable of man’s inventions; but long before he existed the land was ploughed, and still continues to be ploughed, by earthworms”.We've got to stop ploughing & look to alternative technology!
Pasture based dairyfarmers are really “carbon” farmers. The pastures capture the sun’s energy through photosynthesis. The target annual pasture production is in excess of 10TDM per hectare in the UK. Dairy cows efficiently harvest the pasture to produce high quality milk, but that’s only half the story. Approximately 30-40% of the plant energy (carbohydrates) is fed through to the massive root system (a huge store for carbon). Much of this root material eventually ends up feeding a diverse soil biology including our friends the earthworms. The term “Carbon Grazing” is a concept of a very observant farmer in Queensland Alan Lauder. Alan in his book “Carbon Grazing” says that “Rural producers have to manage their pastures so that all life in the soil is fed”. This is a really interesting comment but directly associated with carbon & soil organic matter. Fundamentally we need to shift our focus from cows & pastures to our soil & once we get there we need to zoom in on carbon. We cant forget cows or pastures but our profits & long term sustainability will depend on how successfully we as pasture based dairy farmers manage carbon & the carbon cycle on our farms. In his conclusion Alan writes that “Changes in the way we farm must be linked to changes in the way we think”
Current UK Pasture Measurements
Pasture growth still very variable dependant on rain. Becoming quite serious in souther England, Germany & Brittany France
Keep grazing rotations long....a NZ visitor this week said hang in there as NZ had a very similar spring early summer then it turned & they had a brilliant autumn.

TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

Northern Ireland, AFC 1987, Growth 65kgs, lots of rain & hail but cold

South Ayrshire, Scotland, 2269, gr 39 & demand 77, soil temp 14.3, expecting better growth

Cheshire organic, 2000, gr 20, demand30,feeding 3.6kg conc, mowing silage fields

Oxford, 2250, gr42, demand 38, rotation 32 days still very dry & grass heading

Gloucestershire, 2063, gr48, 12mm rain over week milk holding well

Somerset Organic, 1900, gr 25 currently raining heavily so growth should increase
Dorset, 2223, gr27, rotation 50 days pasture quality poor

Sussex organic, 1486, gr16. good rain this week....excitement!

Cornwall, 1930, gr43, demand 60, may go OAD early if no rain

South Kilkenny Ireland, 1969, gr35, demand 46

Northern Germany organic, 1970, gr45, demand 47, cows on OAD

Brittany, Finistere, France, AFC 1700, virtually NO growth, Looks like an Australian farm....what do you mean Erwan?

Summer of 2005 a distant memory in Brittany...did it really look like this????

Saturday, 4 June 2011

"The Nation That Destroys It's Soils Destroys Itself" Roosevelt 1937

2.2 Million Tonnes of top soil are lost each year from UK agricultural soils.PASTURE FARMING HAS THE ANSWER. President Roosevelt 1937 made his statement about soils after the 1930s & the Mid West Dust Bowl, but have we learnt the lesson....Topsoil loss is a serious issue in the UK TODAY.
The Governments response (now archived by Defra) was a Soil Strategy Plan
The key issues identified in the degradation of UK soils are topsoil loss, compaction & the loss of Soil Organic Matter. Under good dairy pastures & sound grazing management is usually a healthy soil environment. Permanent pastures encourage build ups of Soil Organic Matter & healthy soil life. However all that happens on UK low input dairy farms does not favour a healthy soil. E.g. excessive use of Nitrogen, poor drainage, poor use of manures or cultivation/ploughing.
In this new carbon environment we need to change our ways.” We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein. During & post WW2, Winston Churchill ordered as much of the UK that could be ploughed should be so that arable crops could be grown to feed the nation. The response & the efforts of farmers fed the nation, the right call at the time. Ploughing & cultivation however increases the potential loss of topsoil & destroys the soil structure & certainly speeds up the loss of soil organic matter. These are serious issues to be addressed by the arable industries but pasture farmers need to take heed too.
One aspect of soil management the pasture based dairy farmers can modify is cultivation & ploughing. With increasingly intensive farming there has been a tendency for topsoil structure to weaken as organic matter is used up and not returned to the soil. Weakly aggregated soils disintegrate under the influence of heavy rainfall and soil particles become mobilised. In recent years cultivation has been extended more and more to sloping fields. The combination of weakly structured soils and sloping fields provide ideal conditions for soil runoff.
The loss of precious Soil Organic Matter is likely to be more serious. When soils are cultivated they are exposed to the air & the oxidization of SOM increases. The dry soil surface & lack of plant cover makes this worse. We have to find ways of direct drilling pastures & winter crops so we can leave the soil intact. In Australia some innovators have developed the concept of “Pasture Cropping” for wheat. Have a look at these YouTube videos
How can we in the UK adapt to ideas of young Darren Doherty out in Victoria, Australia?
We need to STOP PLOUGHING MR CHURCHILL. We have direct drilling technology (not new) & we can subsoil to deal effectively with compaction.
Properties of healthy soils
We need to see ourselves as CARBON FARMERS everything we do should consider the impact on carbon. Soil health is a relatively new concept because we have tended to do soil tests only to measure the available minerals for plant nutrition. We still have a situation in the UK where few “Standard Pasture” soil tests include Soil Organic Matter %. Why?
Soil characteristics that contribute to a healthy soil include
• protected soil surface and low erosion rates
• high soil organic matter
• high biological activity and biological diversity
• high available moisture storage capacity
• favourable soil pH
• deep root zone
• balanced stores of available nutrients
• resilient and stable soil structure
• adequate internal drainage
• favourable soil strength and aeration
• favourable soil temperature
• low levels of soil born pathogens
• low levels of toxic substances.
Direct drilling of winter crops does work we need to work on the technologies & timings to be successful. See the winter crop below that was successfully direct drilled (actually into very dry soils). Why is SOIL ORGANIC MATTER % tests NOT part of the standard soil test in the UK?
A very good question WHY NOT? If you are getting a pasture soil test done PLEASE INSIST that the Soil Organic Matter % is included…..Start monitoring SOM%
Current UK Pasture Measurements

A mixed bag this week as some areas have responded to recent rain while others have not. Growth in Scotland looks very good as does North Wales & Lincolnshire but southern areas struggling. Several indications of pasture quality slipping with the onset of ryegrass heading. Several NZ varieties of ryegrass which are classified as late heading in NZ become mid range heading in UK.
The weekly task of texting me the current pasture information has brought out the comedians....thanks guys for your weekly help. Please text me your humour & your pasture data.
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

South Ayrshire, AFC 2524, Growth 93 soil temp 15degrees C
Dumfries, 2105, Gr 63, Demand 49, rain on & off, wet knees when measuring pasture (only kidding!)
Nth Wales, 2076, gr66 still dry despite rain OAD doing very well
Shropshire organic, 1892, gr 19, no rain, too hard to dig spear thistles
Shropshire, 2000, gr 8
East Staffordshire, 1900, gr 37
Lincolnshire, growth up to 96kgs compared to 40 last week, good rain & warmth.
Herefordshire org, 2263, gr44, demand 48, pastures heading
Gloucestershire, 2115, gr 47, difficult to text as mid rain dance!
Somerset org, 1850, gr 27, de 36, rain needed
Pembrokeshire, 2108, gr59, premowing silage ground
Pembrokeshire, 1932, gr 50 just cut silage
Devon, 2250, gr 45, grazing silage & feeding silage
Cornwall, 2030, gr 43 feeding 5kgsdm silage, rain please
South Kilkenny, Ireland, 1981, gr50, demand 46
Winton, South Island NZ, AFC 1900, growth 20kgs, outwintering on foddercrops