Elliscombe Farm, near Wincanton, Somerset, is a family run business and until recently both of my parents played a very active role in the day to day running of the farm. Sadly Dad passed away earlier this year, but we wouldn’t be where we are now if he had not decided to buy the farm back in 1976. Since then the farm has trebled in size and there has been quite a bit of diversification ranging from contracting, renewable energy and, most recently, conversion of redundant farm buildings into business lets, all of which helps the business move forward.
We were renting a neighbouring farm until 2015 when the opportunity arose to buy it. Although this was a big commitment, it was made easier by converting all of the farm buildings into commercial lets. Despite our initial concerns over finding tenants they were all occupied within 12 months and now house a diverse selection of businesses including a chocolate maker, quad bike sales and repairs, dog agility classes, car mechanic, a stone mason and a ground care business to name just a few. All of them are good tenants so, apart from a bit of maintenance on the site, it pretty much looks after itself and doesn’t detract too much from the day to day running of the farm.
This can’t be said of the contracting side of things which can be a bit challenging at peak times, but made easier now that the cows are milked through robots. Of course there is the added advantage of being able to make our own silage when we want and not be in a queue waiting for a contractor, as no matter how good they are the weather always has the final say and is something which is out of everybody’s control.
Elliscombe is predominantly a dairy farm with a herd of 260 Jerseys which have been milked through robots for the last 12 months which, despite a few problems, has been a success. It’s actually been more of a problem keeping them out of the robots than getting them in!
Pre robots the cows were milking very well, averaging 7,150 litres. This has risen to 7,525 litres, which, although only a relatively modest increase from before we made the switch, has been achieved with slightly lower feed rates. The current ration provides m+18 litres at the feed fence with the rest being provided through the robots at 0.5kilo /litre up to a maximum of 10 kgs. Although the highest feed level is not widely used, there are some cows giving in excess of 40 litres, and last winter we even had a couple breaking above 50 litres, but these were certainly the exception.
Not wanting to house them all of the year we took the decision to let them out to graze for a few hours this summer. Although the visits to the robots dropped slightly the milk stayed pretty much the same and a saving was made on purchased protein. It was nice to see them laid out in the sun but still walking back of their own accord to be milked.
A great emphasis is placed on trying to achieve as much milk as possible from home produced feeds so grass silage is cut reasonably early. However, we are also trying to strike a balance between rocket fuel and having enough fibre in the TMR without having to feed an excessive amount of straw. To help with this one cut is usually cut a bit more mature so there is at least a percentage of silage with a higher NDF value in the mix. This all helps to achieve a higher butter fat content which is currently 5.88 % with protein at 4.35%. A fair proportion of our concentrate is from home produced crimped maize and wheat. Crimped maize will outperform the wheat so we aim to grow enough maize for the entire year.
We first tried crimping around 7 years ago when this persistent rep turned up from Kelvin Cave Ltd (David Warner, we all know the type!!). He wouldn’t leave until he persuaded me to try crimping some of my wheat. Although we were sceptical it turned out to be a great success so he’s still allowed on the farm! We now crimp maize and wheat which is harvested by Andy Longman with a tracked combine and then run through a crimper and treated with CrimpSafe which, despite alternatives we’ve tried, still seems to give the best preservation in my opinion.
With the cows now fully settled into robotic milking the aim, moving forward, is to reduce feed costs further. With some excellent forage in store and crimped maize currently being harvested, this should be easily achievable. That said, there is a fine line with Jerseys between keeping costs down and seeing the ‘wheels falling off’ in terms of fertility and yield by pushing things too far.
This year has been excellent for producing an abundance of high quality grass and maize silage. Hopefully next year will be similar but a bit less rain at maize harvest time would be great – or just wishful thinking!!