If I were to sum up our philosophy in one word it would be ‘balance’. Balance in our livestock, balance in our time, balance of yield against profit and balance between production and environment.

I’ve been sitting here staring at my screen for a while, trying to decide what to write for my first ‘Farmer’s View’ as I don’t want to drone on too much about our day to day jobs or the weather – though each of these things are what consumes most of my waking thoughts.

It would be easy to unleash on the carbon tunnel vision currently besieging the supermarkets (our buyers) and policy makers, or in fact, the lack of clarity on policy all together. But I’m an upbeat kind of person and prefer to focus on the positives and the things we can control. It is more satisfying and the possibilities are endless.

We class ourselves as a commercial, low input, medium output farm. We aim to produce good quality, healthy store animals from grass, with stocking rate being a key driver of profit.

If I were to sum up our philosophy in one word it would be ‘balance’. Balance in our livestock, balance in our time, balance of yield against profit and balance between production and environment. And of course this delicate balancing act changes year to year.

One way we try to find balance is by pushing some boundaries around inputs and what impact this has on production. We’ve tried a few things this year and it is good to take time to look back on the growing season and evaluate what did and didn’t work.

Sometimes reducing the financial and physical inputs means a little more time and thinking spent on how to manage those changes. The financial risk is replaced by a management risk. It is easy to just keep throwing products at animals, but we think it’s worthwhile to step back and see what they really need.

One of our big focuses has been on reducing wormer use in the livestock and in particular the sheep. New Zealand vet and grazing consultant Trevor Cook has put the fear of God into me, explaining he has a number of kiwi clients where all 5 groups of wormer are now ineffective. Going out to a field of wormy lambs, knowing there is nothing you can give them that will work, is the stuff of nightmares and a real risk to the UK also.

As adult sheep should have some immunity to worms, for the last few years we have only dosed the most ‘high risk’ ewes just before lambing (triplets, gimmer twins, lean ewes) and no longer dose before tupping in November. A leader/follower rotational grazing system with the ewes and lambs ahead of the cows and calves helps keep pastures fairly clean. The cows clear out the worm burden in the lower part of the sward so the sheep come back into a cleanish pasture the next round.

Assisted by the dry, hot June, this enabled us to get all the way to weaning at 12 weeks without needing to worm the lambs. Weaning weights were slightly above previous years and dung counts showed low numbers at weaning. Not only did this save a handling and the cost of drench, it also reduces our risk to drench resistance.

Our calves get just one fluke and worm around three weeks after housing in November. As we are able to wean the calves and put them back to pasture for a few weeks, we’ve found we don’t need to vaccinate for pneumonia or any other nasties. We have also greatly reduced usage of minerals and boluses without having any obvious impact on conception or performance.

I gave the lambs a trace element drench at weaning but I’m still not entirely sure they needed it. As we know some breeds have sensitivity to copper, it may not be too much of a stretch to think that different genetics require different amounts of minerals and trace elements also? A complex topic that needs someone smarter than me to investigate!

In the end we just want more resilient and robust animals. As part of my Nuffield Farming Scholarship I visited some of the best livestock farmers in the world. As my travels took me across Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Iceland it became more and more clear that balance is key when breeding stock. When we focus on any one trait too much, we risk compromising the potential health of the animal. An interesting podcast I listened to the other day cited some early research looking at immune competence (health), with preliminary results showing that too much or too little muscle has a negative correlation on the disease risk to an animal.

One of the things we felt worked less well last year was not buying sugar beet pellets to mix with draff. Given last year’s eye watering price, we thought we’d see how the calves did without it. At the end of the winter we worked out we had just about broken even when comparing the saved cost of the beet against the reduced turn out weights of the calves. But we also need to factor in that they ate more silage and didn’t want to eat as much draff, which is a cheap and easy feed for us. On balance we’re better off with it and this winter’s beet pellets are already bought and in the shed!

As an experiment it was worthwhile though. Should calf trade prices slip in future, we at least know where we can save money if needed and what the cost implication of that would be.

So now it is time to take my own advice and get some more balance in my time. The last month or so has felt pretty hectic and though I know it is a case of ‘make hay whilst the sun shines’ I also need to make sure I enjoy some of that sun before it disappears with the Autumn equinox. With the Rugby World Cup to look forward to it’s a good time for some down time.