Soil Health Is Top Of The Agenda For Leicestershire Dairy Farm

A thriving Leicestershire dairy farm has seen improvements in productivity due to a focus on soil health, thanks to the help of an agronomy provider.

A proactive view on forage crop management and soil health is helping to drive the productivity of a thriving Leicestershire dairy farm, with support from Agrovista.

Following a change of approach in 2012, Sludge Hall Farm’s herd increased from 100 to 600 Holstein Friesians. Part of this step change included a refreshed view of not only dairy cow management, but forage too.

Farm Director, Andrew Hill of W C Hill & Sons, said: “Historically, the farm was a mixed enterprise with dairy, sheep and arable. After some consideration, my cousin John and I decided that dairy farming was our true expertise, so we chose to expand and dedicate ourselves to that side of the business.

“We came from a place where we were complacent and rarely bothered to replace a forage ley as long as there was grass there for the stock to eat. But having invested in the herd as well as a new rotary parlour, we knew we had to start taking home-grown forage seriously too.”

Addressing soil issues before they become problems
Now operating with a total of 1200 cows including milking, dry and youngstock, maximising the potential of forage both in terms of content and quantity, is pivotal to the success of the business.

Working alongside seed and agronomy providers, Andrew, John and the team are now proactive when it comes to feeding, treating and replacing leys, viewing grass as a ‘crop’. Regular soil sampling and mapping takes place with problem areas targeted specifically, rather than a blanket approach.

“We no longer underestimate the potential of forage as a crop,” said Andrew. “We started working with agronomist Ollie Johnson from Agrovista around three years ago and he’s changed our perspective.

“We’re proactive and forward-thinking instead of reactive, which makes a real difference. Before we might have done a basic soil sample once every 4-5 years. Now we sample a problematic field up to twice a year using a broad-spectrum test to ensure we’re moving in the right direction.

Because we view forage as our crop, soil management is just as important for us as it is for an arable farmer. And it’s showing already, we are seeing the benefits.”

This year, Sludge Hall Farm is operating with a mix of 510 acres of grass for silage, 150 acres of forage maize, 70 acres of whole crop oats, alongside 100 acres of permanent pasture.

Working with a soil health and agronomy expert
For agronomist and soil specialist Ollie, this has meant adjusting timings and recommendations in order to successfully support the demands of a high-performing dairy unit.

Ollie said: “Although the way in which we manage a forage crop is different, the basic principles of soil health remain the same whether it’s livestock or arable farming.

“Soil sampling has proven that actually, it’s the pH that is a problem here at Sludge Hall Farm. With a high pH, the availability of phosphate is low and most of it gets bound up quickly before the crop can take it up. This means the full nutritional value of applied slurry isn’t being achieved.

“To overcome this, we’ve introduced Phosphorus Liberator, applied with glyphosate pre-drilling. This innovative product unlocks soil-bound nutrients, including phosphorus, making it available to the crop.”

Highly variable soils from light silt to heavy clays, means no two fields at the farm are the same, with some in-field variability. Following the use of electromagnetic (EM) scanning, fields can now be segmented by soil type, enabling targeted sampling for enhanced accuracy.

“Soil nutrients have a direct impact on animal health and nutrition, so accurate soil sampling is really important,” said Ollie. “High potassium levels interfere with magnesium availability and as a result, the forage ration is magnesium deficient despite high indices within the soil.

“To avoid hypermagnesemia within the herd, magnesium is added to the ration as part of the concentrate blend as well as a foliar application where appropriate. This is a perfect example of how livestock nutrition and good agronomy should work hand in hand.

“The changes we are making at Sludge Hall Farm demonstrate Andrew’s willingness to adapt his approach, it’s refreshing to see and be a part of.”

For more information about grassland and forage agronomy, visit www.agrovista.co.uk/professional-grassland-agronomy.

Contacts:

Janine Heath, Marketing Communications Manager, Agrovista UK Limited Tel: 07471997886
Email: janine.heath@agrovista.co.uk

Robert Harris, PR
Tel: 07768 402850
Email: robert@roberthcomms.co.uk

Contact Info:
Name: Robert Harris
Email: Send Email
Organization: Agrovista UK Limited
Phone: 07768 402850
Website: http://www.agrovista.co.uk/professional-grassland-agronomy

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