National Grassland Management Competition winner announced

National Grassland Management Competition winner announced

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Grassland Management title returns to Wales

Sheep farmer Neil Perkins of Dinas Island Farm, Pembrokeshire has won the National Grassland Management Competition for 2012, run by the British Grassland Society and supported by DLF-Trifolium and GrowHow UK.

The competition aims to find the UK’s top grassland farmer and draws entrants from local grassland societies across the country. Seven regional winners were whittled down to three finalists and the winner announced at Livestock 2012 at the NEC in Birmingham this week. He received the much coveted trophy and a cheque for £500.

A National Trust tenant, Mr Perkins runs 1600 Lleyn ewes and 400 replacements on 242ha (600 acres) on the scenic West Wales coast. After visiting New Zealand in 2005 on a Nuffield Farming Scholarship, he completely changed his system to one that relies heavily on grazed grass.

The main farm consists of ten 10ha (24 acre) blocks which have been split into two with temporary fences. Seventy-five ewes are turned into each 5ha (12 acre) paddock after lambing indoors. By early May the field is divided into quarters and the stock rotated around the 2.5ha (6 acre) blocks. Lambs are able to graze a block ahead through creep gates.

Grass is measured with a plate meter weekly and surplus grass is controlled with a flying flock of singles or taking light silage cuts.

Judges impressed

The judging panel of Elaine Jewkes of GrowHow UK and Tim Kerridge of DLF-Trifolium , led by head judge SAC sheep specialist John Vipond, were impressed by Mr Perkin’s farm the moment they stepped out of the car.

The stock and grass are constantly measured and monitored, and the quality of the swards, silage/finishing leys and ewes and lambs was clear to see.

“Neil is passionate about his work and has strived to establish a farming business which is not reliant on subsidies which he can enjoy,” said Dr Vipond. “The system works beautifully and is efficient and profitable. It ticks all the boxes and he and his wife Lynda are deserved winners.” 

Runners up

The two runners-up, Northern Ireland beef producer Sam Chesney and dairy farmer Matthew Senior from Somerset, were also commended for their efforts by the judges, who remarked on the high quality of all three finalists.

Mr Chesney runs 150 Limousin suckler cows on his 70ha (173 acre) farm on the Ards Peninsula. He aims to keep grassland management simple, grazing 40 cows and calves on a rotational paddock grazing system, where each block is grazed for three days and then rested for 21 days.

Improved grass quality through reseeding has increased liveweight output per hectare to 859kg compared to the Northern Ireland average of 465kg. Concentrate feeding has also reduced to 758kg per cow.

Mr Chesney also believes that having good grass in front of the cows improves fertility and the calving index for the cows in 2011 was 353 days.

Mr Senior has been farming the 140ha (355 acre) Eastfield Farm since 2009 as a share milker. The unit runs 200 pedigree Jersey and 120 Friesian x Jersey cows with followers.

The cows are grazed to maximise milk yield and quality from forage, using a 12-week spring block-calving system. Cows achieve yields of 4,159 with 2,752 litres from forage and 2,403 litres from grazed grass.

Grass growth is monitored weekly and grass quality samples taken fortnightly with the results entered into a grass budget program.  Red clover ryegrass swards are used as a three-year ley to improve soil structure. Forage rape is sown as a break crop and used for summer buffer feeding and outwintering.

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