Cornwall Annual Field Day

Cornwall Annual Field Day

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A great Grassland Society tradition takes place in Cornwall, whereby each year one of the four Grassland Societies there takes their turn at hosting the annual County Field Day. This year, that task was the privilege of South East Cornwall Grassland Society, an area with a mixture of farm types extending from the inland edge of Bodmin Moor to Looe and Fowey on the South-Cornish coast. The event took place on 19th April, visiting two farms in the Callington – Saltash area.

Dupath Farm, Coombe family

A truly mixed sheep and beef farm with a touch of potatoes and diversification to boot, any farmer would have struggled to come away from this visit without at least one, if not dozens of transferable messages. Peter Coombe and his son Adrian were keen to make the point that nothing stands still for ever, explaining how the business had moved away from potatoes towards sheep, beef and importantly grassland, and how the balance of control in the family run enterprises is shifting from one generation to the next. This ‘out with the old, in with the new’ message was juxtaposed against the quirky curiosity ‘Dupath Well’ located beside the farmhouse; a 15th century structure with a unusual granite-block roof still in near pristine condition. Legend has it that the well was constructed by a lady in memory of two ill-fated brothers that loved her. Without being trite, love, was also evident in what the family are doing there today – attentiveness to detail, willingness to improve, and commitment to making it work.

The farm extends some 154 ha (380 acres), of which c.25% is rented, with predominantly freely draining medium loam soils. At 152 m (500 ft) above sea level the average rainfall is around 1,524 mm (60 inches).

The sheep flock consists 380 North Country Mules and 100 ewe lambs, with 9 Charollais and 1 Suffolk ram. Several years ago Dupath became one of the Healthy Livestock Initiative’s sheep focus farms, working closely with vets to implement a range of health monitoring and improvement measures. At Dupath in particular they stove to increase profitability by reducing losses at lambing. At the event their vet explained how more often and regular contact with the ewes through use of an efficient race system with built-in EID, has allowed Adrian to take a more proactive approach to issues such as foot treatment, worm management, long-term nutrition and selective culling on health grounds. What it boils down to, it was emphasised, is that the flocks health status positively relates to its economic performance, with healthier lambs gaining weight more rapidly, thereby being sold earlier whilst the highest prices can be commanded. Today the Coombe’s feel that the input of their vet on the sheep side is well worth the investment and an integral part of their management tool-kit, a change in attitude from a decade ago when the flock was viewed more as a rotational element in the, once more lucrative, cycle of potato harvests.

The cattle enterprise includes two elements – Beef animals sourced from market finished on the farm and sold direct to slaughter, as well as dairy calf contract rearing. The former has also benefited from increased herd health awareness, with all animals being BVD and EID tagged on arrival. The latter, a relatively new occupation, sees Adrian rear batches of 60 calves at a time over a 12 week period. A milk machine is used to achieve better growth rates, helping to do so in several ways. Firstly the pattern of feeding can more closely mimic that of suckling a cow than by using a milk bar. In addition the machine records individual calf feeding information through EID compatibility, meaning that Adrian can identify potential health issues without having to invest as much of his own time in direct observation.

Bonyalva Farm, Andrew’s family

Clive, Miriam, Robert and Sonya run 160 Holstien cows, with a further c.110 followers (all ages), at Bonyalva, a 117ha (290 acre) holding, growing mainly grassland with some arable. The herd’s milk record averages 8,795 kg, at 4.45% butterfat and 3.32% protein. With a rolling 12 month calving index of 378, emphasis is currently being put on attaining two defined calving blocks in spring and autumn.

Making as much quality forage as possible is imperative to the operation, and dual purpose leys are reseeded regularly to maintain productivity and value. 65 ha (160 acres) are taken for first cut, with two smaller cuts later in the season. Some whole crop silage is also made from the total 39 acres in arable.

The winter diet includes TMR and cake in the parlour, with the ration including 35 kg grass silage and 1.4 kg hay. Grazing is also important and the autumn calving cows have already been out since mid-March. In summer all cows will be out both day and night, with access to a small amount of buffer feed.

Investment into a new parlour and stock housing was highlighted as a priority, with Robert explaining how the new 14/28 parlour (2011) and new cubicle house have made managing the herd a lot easier and more effective for everyone, including the cows.


Cornwall Competition Winner

The Cornwall Silage Competition Winner was also announced as Mike Johns, Portreth, West Cornwall, who now has the opportunity to go forward to the next round of the BGS Grassland Farmer of the Year Award.


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