14th March 2024

GrassCheck GB success: the story of Oakwood Mill Farm with Giles and Stuart Henry

Located in the Scottish Borders, Giles and Stuart Henry farm 220 hectares which is split into 110 ha of in by fields and 110ha of hill in an organic system. With an average rainfall of 1000ml and some parts of the farm being 1100 ft above sea level (in by-fields range from 400-800ft) growing grass can be challenging. Giles started doing more from grass almost 30 years ago, when he started outwintering his cattle on the hill. Traditionally this was grazed only in the summer. Flipping the system around means Giles can defer the hill grazing saving up feed for winter months when feed is expensive.

Stuart, Giles’s son, recently joined the business after working as a racing car mechanic, this took Stuart around the world but he is happy to be home farming with his dad. Stuart’s experiences have cultivated an adaptable mindset and he is well used to thinking on his feet when challenges arise.

The cattle are the business’ main enterprise, Giles and Stuart run mainly Luing cows where they breed replacements using Luing bulls and then use Aberdeen-Angus bulls for the rest of the herd. They are seeing an improvement on performance for the crossbred calves due to hybrid vigour. They sell their native finished beasts to Dovecote Park where they are getting the organic premium.

Giles became a GrassCheckGB farmer back in 2019, and has been using this data to aid grassland management decisions along with Farmax software. From March to October each year, plate meters are used in every field, every week and data submitted to AFBI, where the information is shared across the industry. Giles also sends off forage samples and forage mineral analysis every two weeks which acts as important information for feed budgeting. The business has also been inputting performance data, grass measurements and financial data into Farmax for the last 6 years. This allows for scenario planning so that if they need to change anything the impact of this can be understood. For example, if they were to buy in more cattle of differing stock classes, the detail, the business has already gathered can help show how the farm can best manage this and ultimately, if it will be more profitable or not.

There are still challenges which the business faces, especially in the Autumn months when there is a peak in the number of mouths to feed as grass growth slows at that time of year. Having the ability to foresee this with Farmax, and by continually measuring grass, these sorts of challenges can be mitigated and addressed in plenty of time to ensure it does not cause feed deficits in the system. Often this is mitigated by supplementing barley so growth rates are not affected.

Giles and Stuart are now growing 25-30% more grass than 14 years ago when Giles started changing the system away from set-stocking. Grass growth in the last few years has remained consistent at Oakwood Mill despite the extremes we are seeing in weather patterns, especially in summer months. The quality of grass is also improving which has given their business options to adapt and reduce input costs. For the last couple of years they have been able to finish animals destined for slaughter before their second winter (17-20 months of age), quite often from 100% from forage, due to these improvements.

Giles notes “Being a GrassCheckGB farmer and walking every field, it is amazing the changes you see even in a week. It is very simple but makes a big difference to our system and noting where each sward is at, taking particular notice to the amount of clover and chicory.”

“I am part of the GrassCheckGB community group too which gives a different point of view of the challenges other farmers are having across the UK. You can share ideas and learn from others.”

If you want to learn more about GrassCheckGB and how it can benefit you please contact:

Ellie Wilson, Project Support Officer at CIEL

Mobile 07983853636

Email: Ellie.Wilson@CIELivestock.co.uk

For more information on any of the content in this article please contact:

Gemma Wark, Cattle and Sheep Specialist at QMS

Mobile: 07388959616

Email: gwark@qmscotland.co.uk

You can also visit the GrassCheck GB website: https://www.grasscheckgb.co.uk...

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