System switch has stabilising effect on units; Organic hill farm hosts grassland open open day.
AN award-winning organic hill farming business in Gwynedd will host the final Golden Jubilee event being staged by the Federation of Welsh Grassland Societies (FWGS) this year.
Brysgyni, at Capel Uchaf, Clynnog, is in the Glastir Organic scheme - as is its sister farm Orsedd Fawr, Pencaenewydd, which won this year's All Wales Big Bale competition.
It's run by Gwyn and Delyth Parry and their four children, who rotation graze their 450 improved Welsh (Talybont) ewes and keep 60 suckler cows, mainly black Limousin crosses.
On Thursday, August 25, Brysgyni will be opening its gates for a FWGS open day.
It starts at 11am and includes a farm tour, which will incorporate a trip to neighbouring Maesog Farm, run by Gwyn's cousin Richard Parry, wife Rhian Parry and son Harri.
Maesog is home to one of Britain's oldest herds of Stabiliser cattle, and its success recently prompted Gwyn to review his own system.
"I see them every day, so I know how much they have improved over the years," he said.
"They are very practical and very cheap to run.
"We began converting to Stabilisers last year and hopefully we have some cattle to kill by the end of this year."
Harri Parry began his own switch to Stablisers in 1999 when it became clear his existing dairybased sucklers - mainly Friesian x Limousins - were not cutting the mustard.
He now has 210 Stabiliser cattle with followers on 725 acres spread across three farms, at Maesog, Crugeran and Bodnithoedd.
It's a sizable herd but genetic gains can be made much faster with bigger outfits: since the Stabliser was introduced, 30% more calves are being born from the same number of cows.
Harri said: "We're now making more money - or I should say, we're losing less money!
"We have a better cow for the job - one that eats less but which can really perform when you need her to on better grass.
"Input costs are down and output is up, with a 30% increase in kg/ha production since the early 2000s."
Much of this is down to three factors. Good herd health and grassland management are providing the platform for the right genetics to thrive: the goal being that heifers entering the herd will always be better than the cows leaving it.
All Stabiliser Multiplier herds are required to performance record, with the focus on superior maternal traits, and this chimes with Harri's belief that visual monitoring is not enough these days.
Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) are used to select the right animals for breeding and Harri continuously measures herd performance through weighing, body condition scoring and logging over-winter forage requirements.
"The most effective tool in our arsenal is the cattle weigh-scales," he said. "In any business, whether is making cars or selling beef, you need to make sure you are improving year-on-year, and the only way you can do that it by objective measurement."
The herd calves in two blocks, in spring and summer. The nonrearing half is kept on restricted land while the other half is able to run with the bull on more grass. This enables the bulls to be used more efficiently by producing more calves per year.
Tight calving means the farm is able to carry more cows.
"Around 90% of our herd will calve within the first two cycles," said Harri, who also has 320 Lleyn and 550 Lleyn x NZ Suffolk ewes.
The herd calving pattern has also freed up land for arable crops such as barley and oats which are incorporated in the bull finishing ration as well as providing straw at housing.
The farm includes Aber High Sugar grasses in its re-seeding rotation, supported by constant soil sampling.
"We don't rotationally graze like a dairy system but we don't set stock either," said Harri.
"Cattle and sheep are moved around continuous according to the conditions, with dry stock rough grazed and calves given priority grazing."
At 700-acre Brysgyni, however, rotation grazing is being practised by Gwyn and Delyth Parry.
They have sub-divided a series of smalls fields - between four and five acres each - for their 450 organic Welsh ewes, which are removed from each when the grass has been grazed to 2cm.
No fertiliser is used but by soil testing every three years, and ensuring their pH and phosphate levels are correct, the Parrys achieve all the flock's production from grass.
One cut of grass silage is taken in mid-June, usually between 80 and 90 acres.
"It's a bit more work but we have more grass, the pastures have improved and we are getting greater productivity," said Gwyn.
Visitors to the FWGS open day on August 25 may also be able to see Brysgyni's two self-catering cottages, shepherd's hut and solar PV panels. All are welcome.
Following the open day, Harri Parry is inviting farmers to visit his Crugeran farm, near Sarn, LL53 8DT.