Congratulations to the Bryer family. Not for the first time they have won the “Yield from Forage award” from the Somerset Grassland Society. They have been near the top for milk from forage in the society over the last twenty years indeed coming out on top 4 times. Their family farm is on the edge of Sedgemoor in central Somerset. With much of the farm designated as a SSSI and working with land that regularly is under water this has not stopped them from recognising the importance and making the most of forage, both grazed and conserved. One example of this is that cows are strip grazed to make the most of the grass and to help control grassland weeds on the SSSI fields which cannot and have not been sprayed or reseeded since 1981.
Continuity and consistency. Two words that could be used to sum up the Bryer family farming ethos. Not always easy to achieve but certainly something they aim for. Charity Farm is very much a family farm. Run by Barrie, Rosemary and their daughter Becca.
So how do they get 4,000 litres from forage?
Let’s start with the silage. The aim with first cut is to take it around 15th to 20th May. Depending on how much first cut silage is made some second cut will be clamped or if it’s not needed round baled. The acres set aside for first cut get 60 units of N per acre. Slurry is spread via an umbilical cord to avoid unnecessary soil compaction. They try and drill the maize on or around the 10th of April, not this year though. The aim is to harvest before the first of October. The farm benefits from several silage pits designed to be long and narrow. This allows for flexibility of feeding with virtually no waste during ensiling or at feed out.
Looking at the current analysis for the maize silage, dry matter of 29.5%, starch of 29.4% and ME of 11.3 Mj/kg , The grass silage with a dry matter of 29%, crude protein of 15%, 73 D value and 11.7 Mj/kg. Both silages on analysis look good on paper but as the say “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” making consistently good forage is key to getting maximum production and in the Bryer’s case it is the cornerstone to getting 4,000 litres from forage per cow per annum.
The dairy cows at Charity farm are Friesian type, bred to be graziers to make the best possible use of grazed grass during the summer months and this seems to give them a terrific ability to eat and convert forage efficiently. Looking at the cows there are an awful lot of deep bodied predominately black cows. The dairy cows busy converting grass to milk.
As we said in the introduction much of the farm is designated as a SSSI. One advantage of moor ground is that it rarely dries out. The flip side of this type of land is that you don’t always know where the cows will be grazing next because some fields soon becomes water logged. The Bryer’s have some slightly higher ground with better quality grass on it which usually provides the silage grass. This area of the farm is prone to drying out so silage needs to be taken as early as possible before the grass disappears. The farm does not lend its self to extended grazing because of the ground conditions.
The winter diet consists of 50/50 grass and maize silage with usually 1kg of Hipro Soya plus minerals and a maximum of 6kgs of a sugar beet-based diary cake feed through OOPF. Sodium Bicarb is on offer ad lib all year round. Stock feed potatoes are fed when available.
Farming on the flight path of thousands of starlings as many of you can sympathise with certainly presents its own challenge for a large part of the winter. This is one of those occasions where the rule book goes out the window and I quote “Our preventative measures are not the norm of good feeding practice”. To stop the starlings making Charity farm their drop-in centre the Bryer’s feed only grass silage during the daylight hours and maize silage and soya at night, sheeting the maize pit down tightly during the day. They have lost cows in the past due to salmonella when mixing forages and having starlings all over the feed. This practice takes time and makes quite a lot of extra work but over the years has proved its worth. When the starlings have gone the grass and maize silage are still fed separately, but without the extra work of sheeting down the maize pit daily. This begs the question the feeding of dairy cows, “is it a science or an art”? Round bale silage and or hay is on offer to be taken as they wish.
The cows are milked through a herringbone parlour and cubicle housed. Cubicles are bedded with straw, there is no added straw in the diet but it is surprising how much they eat from the cubicles.
Being a family farm the Bryer’s all have their routine jobs to do, Becca does the evening milking, Barrie milks in the morning and Rosemary feeds the calves. Becca is in charge of the feeding, breeding and medicines. Of course, this doesn’t do their working day justice but it gives you a flavour.
Running through the whole of their farming practice is the constant attention to detail. It all seems simple, aim to make the best possible forage, avoid waste and keep it consistent. Of course, it’s not easy but it can be done. 4,000 litres form forage from an average of around 8,000 litres. What a terrific achievement.
I’m not sure that I have done the Bryer family justice, trying to put into words what on the face of it seems to be a simple system. Believe you me it is a system that has been refined over the years, whether it is simple or not it most certainly is extremly effective.
With no plans for expansion a comment was made “we have sufficient for our needs”. A refreshing sentiment. Under pinning the Bryer family farming ethos they have said “we intend to leave the farm in a better state than when we first started farming here back in 1981”.