Well, what a summer! Normally we’d be watching the weather forecasts looking for a couple of days of nice weather to get silage done – this year, it's more like watching the forecasts in the hope of some rain to encourage the grass to grow after it’s cut. And it seems that the weather forecasters have as much trouble correctly predicting rain as they usually have predicting sunshine!

Been a busy few weeks here, getting both third cut of silage and wholecrop winter wheat lifted. The grass shot almost as soon as it came again after second cut but had still bulked up pretty well. We went for a minimal wilt though lifting most of it the day it was cut as we were worried about it drying out too much given the conditions.

The winter wheat showed quite a lot of variability even within fields, with some patches having almost died on their feet. The riper fields were cut first so they ended up at the bottom of the pit and so get the benefit of the continued rolling as the 'greener' fields were added above them. The pit was finished off with a layer of grass which in addition to helping with sealing the pit also discourages the crows from trying to peck through the sheets.

With the weather set to remain dry we’ve decided to get a digger in to take out a couple of knowes. While not a very cost effective method of gaining more workable ground, there is also benefit from not having to work round them all the time. And this should be the ideal time to tackle them as hopefully the dry ground should limit the risk of compaction from the trailers.

On the topic of cost effectiveness: one of my other tasks recently has been preparing a budget for the year ahead. While clearly there is a need for fiscal discipline in any business, when looking at a budget there are some real problems. While some things are pretty easy to estimate going forward (labour, electricity) there as some larger ticket items where it is all purely guesswork. Take for example the largest items in our output and input columns: milk sales and concentrate costs.

While we may have a rough idea where the milk price is going in the next few months, looking ahead six or 12 months is pretty much impossible. And being out by a couple of pence can really create quite a surplus or more likely quite a hole.

And then there are concentrates. Not only is there the price to think about but also how much will we need? How good will the forage be, if we can get it at all? And how long will the cattle need housed over winter? These are huge variables that can easily swing things from black to red. Even worse when you’ve a summer like this: we never imagined a few months ago that we’d need to feed the grazing youngstock supplementary concentrate to maintain their growth rates because grass had pretty much stopped growing due to drought!

With hindsight our decision, a few months ago, to continue to house the lower yielding cows overnight, while grazing them through the day, seems somewhat fortuitous. It has meant that they’ve been able to keep up their dry matter intakes by having access to the buffer all night when their appetites haven’t been suppressed by the high temperatures.

Much as it has been a lovely change to have a dry summer hopefully things will revert back to “normal” soon as otherwise I think most people’s forage plans and budgets for the winter ahead will be in disarray. Although the medium term forecast isn’t looking overly promising.


John, his brother Stuart and their mother Margaret, own and manage the National Milk Record’s (NMR’s) top Holstein production herd at Drum, Beeswing, Dumfries. Their 309-cow herd retained the top spot for the second year and also increased production by 15kg of fat and protein to give an average of 961kg and 583kg of milk to 13,662kg.