07 December 2023
An approach to grassland management described as “transformational’’ is enabling a Pembrokeshire beef farm to grow and finish cattle without any concentrate feed.
Paul Evans and Risca Solomon started farming at Campbell Farm in April 2022, a 120-acre holding near Wiston which had been farmed by Risca’s parents.
The couple set about stocking it with a pedigree herd of Charolais beef cows and dairy cross beef cattle, bought as bucket-reared calves from local livestock markets for rearing and finishing.
The system they established relied on feeding bought-in concentrates, and in winter 2022, they were spending £2,000 - £3,000 a month across 75 commercial cattle and the offspring of the 14-cow pedigree herd.
“What we were making didn’t even cover the feed bill let alone the bedding, water and all the other costs,’’ Risca recalls.
It was time for a rethink and, on the advice of their accountant, they were encouraged to make better use of the grass at Campbell Farm.
“Our accountant mentioned the Farming Connect Prosper from Pasture programme,’’ says Risca.
This programme is designed to help farmers become better grassland managers.
Risca and Paul contacted their local Farming Connect development officer, Susie Morgan, and, they had a one-to-one surgery with grazing consultant, Rhys Williams, of Precision Grazing.
“It was brilliant,’’ says Risca. “In my main job as a behavioural analyst I am used to working with graphs and charts so applying that to grassland management all made sense to me, that you can’t manage what you don’t measure.’’
The couple applied for 80% funding through the Farming Connect Advisory Service for Agriplan Cymru to produce a technical report, a ‘step by step guide’ on how to establish the grazing infrastructure and manage the grassland.
They set about subdividing fields with electric fencing, to create smaller paddocks, and followed Agriplan Cymru’s advice on establishing water infrastructure.
They were given advice on when to buy and sell cattle to maximise grazing and to avoid buying feed.
Risca is in charge of weekly measuring during the grazing season and uploading the information to an app to create a grazing plan.
She says there is no complicated science behind the system they are following. “We have learned that grass grows grass, it is as simple as that,’’ she says.
“The more solar panel, as in leaves, a grass plant has the better the regrowth whereas previously we would graze it to within an inch of its life.’’
Rotational grazing also means there is less selective grazing so grass utilisation is better.
Cattle would usually be housed on 14 October but it was 7 November this year and that was only because the weather was very wet. “We were able to graze later because we had the grass and even when it was wet there was very little poaching because of the rotational grazing,’’ says Paul, who moved cattle daily during that period.
In previous years there would have been tack sheep winter grazing the farm but that has stopped. “We want to have the grass there to be able to turn the cattle out in mid-March,’’ says Paul.
Feed budgeting helps him to work out how many bales of silage the cattle need to see them through the winter.
Regular weighing of cattle, since the business invested in a crush and weigh cells, has been useful too and is likely to mean more targeted use of wormer treatments. “When there are one or two in the group that might be thinner than the others, we will dose those rather than blanket treating everything,’’ says Paul.
Through the Farming Connect Prosper from Pasture Entry Discussion Group, Paul and Risca are also learning more about the rooting depths of different grass varieties and soil health.
“It has helped us think more about a regenerative approach, rather than having a short term quick fix by throwing a bit of fertiliser on perhaps. We are thinking more long term.’’
They have taken advantage of Farming Connect’s funded soil sampling service which has helped identify one field with a nutrient status in need of improvement and others which don’t require any inputs.
Although there has been a cost to installing the grazing infrastructure, Paul and Risca calculate that the savings on feed and fertiliser in the first year alone could cover this.
Risca says the guidance they have received through Farming Connect has changed the way they farm. “It has been transformational,’’ she says.
For further information on how you can access specialist advice through the Advisory Service visit www.gov.wales/farmingconnect or contact your Local Development Officer https://businesswales.gov.wales/farmingconnect/contact-us/your-local-de…;