Updating the farming year

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AN update on how Northumberland’s Monitor Farm has fared over the nearly non-existent winter will be given at the first meeting of the year next week.

The meeting, on Thursday, March 1, at Morpeth Rugby Club, will cover farmer Simon Bainbridge’s usual Donkin Rigg update and details about his recent study trip to New Zealand.

Alnorthumbria Vet Group’s John McFarlane will provide an update on the Donkin Rigg land trace elements trial and a presentation will be given by Kate Phillips, principal livestock consultant of ADAS, on the results of grass, blood and soil samples taken last year.

The project is aimed at improving efficiency and productivity and sharing successes (and failures) with farmers in Northumberland and beyond.

As a result of such a mild winter, the farm is in a good position heading into spring with feed levels looking promising.

Stocking levels are around 1,400 ewes and 150 suckler cows. The autumn lamb sales were good and Simon still has approximately 400 left to sell with lambs being finished off on grass due to the unseasonably high levels. Keeping the lambs longer was part of the overall strategy of the Monitor Farm and, as Simon says, it is fantastic to be feeding his own stock with his own fodder.

Prices have been comparable with last year with Suffolk Hampshire cross prices peaking at approx £100 a head and hill lambs at £83 a head.

Forage yields last year were tremendous, which set up the farm well for the winter. In conjunction with the exceptional winter weather, Simon estimates a saving on the cost of feed, fuel and labour in the region of around £40,000.

Last year was the second full year of organic conversion for Donkin Rigg. Deferred grazing closed at the beginning of November and now has in the region of 1.5 tonnes of dry matter per hectare. Within the next couple of weeks, the ewes will be put out onto this ground until lambing begins in April. Ewes were scanned last week and at 201 per cent, the farm is gearing up for a busy lambing period.

The in-calf heifers to calf at two years are looking exceptionally well. Many cattle from the farm are being sold to Dovecot Park for Waitrose and as a result Simon has been invited to take part in a farm trial for Waitrose meats, focusing on home-grown protein.

Simon decided to make the transition to 100 per cent spring calving a year earlier than he had originally intended. Calving will start on April 18 and the aim is to have as compact of a calving as possible, calving 19 heifers and 71 cows.

Simon will cover this in more depth at the meeting.

Farmax, a New Zealand farm business system for pasture management, is proving to be hugely beneficial at Donkin Rigg. This was something that was discussed in detail during Simon’s trip to New Zealand. Other topics covered were measures being taken to eradicate TB, cow efficiency, sheep efficiency and cutting edge grazing. Some of this research will be touched on in March.

Now heading into the third full year of the Monitor Farm, Simon said: “I have definitely reaped the benefits of both my own personal and professional development as a result of the numerous mentors and support networks on board the Monitor Farm scheme. Donkin Rigg would not be the farm it is today without the trials and input from cutting edge technology and professionals in their field offering advice.”

The project is organised by English Farming and Food Partnerships, EBLEX, Alnorthumbria Vets and the North Northumberland Agricultural Training Association, with funding from One North East through Landskills North East – managed by Lantra on behalf of One North East – it is part of the Rural Development Programme for England.