Even my eternal optimism is being seriously challenged by the weather we have had in the first week of October. We have 80 acres of knee-high grass waiting to be cut for a third time, to make silage. We have 200 acres of wheat stubbles untouched since the combine clawed its way around the fields for the wettest harvest I have ever witnessed. And, now, we have had to bring our cows indoors for what promises to be a long and expensive winter. The Indian summer I had hoped for, has failed to materialise – is it true the Chinese bought it along with most of the rest of the world’s natural resources?
If things do improve in the next few weeks, we may be able to let some of the cows back out for a last round of grazing before we finally succumb to winter. But, even if we do get some pleasant sunny days, grass growth will inevitably slow down and we will become increasing reliant on the precious stocks of grass we have conserved as silage. The grass we have stashed away in this form has been made well – we have managed to hold on to a high proportion of the protein and energy in the grass. This silage, along with the wheat we did manage to harvest, will go some way to reducing the need to buy in expensive feeds this winter. But, unfortunately, the milk price will barely cover the costs – especially when you add in straw for bedding at around £80 a tonne.
Looking back at what we were paying for the various inputs required to sustain winter milk production 10 years ago, it appears the price of fuel, fertiliser and feed have since trebled in price. If only the milk price had done the same, we would now be on something close to 60 pence a litre. But, the reality is we still have not managed to get up to 30 pence yet. Please forgive the gloom that is descending on this farm and many others at this time – it only strengthens my resolve to ensure that we make the very best possible use of the grass that nature will surely deliver us next spring. Despite the challenges of 2012, the optimist in me can see light at the end of this tunnel reflected by the dew on fresh grass, sparkling in the morning sun.