Every generation of farmer has had different opportunities and therefore different decisions to make, be it taking advantage of grants to establish a suckler herd, to improving grazing land by making fields bigger or by introducing continental cross cattle. Today as subsidies and markets change many are taking it all back to basics and simplifying the system to improve profit and lifestyle.
Will Evans, 4th generation farmer at Hendreseifion near Machynlleth, along with his wife Nia and 3 young sons, is taking a different approach to the farm than his father and grandfather, wanting to work smarter, not harder whilst aiming to bring a better balance to the family, work, well-being and the bank balance as government incentives lessen and change.
‘I like to think we weren’t lazy before, but wonder if we were busy without needing to be THAT busy’.
10 years ago Will received a HCC Scholarship, which took him to South America to see cattle finished off grass, even then, something was not sitting right with him, one being that Australia, America and South America took our Hereford genetics to grow beef and finish off grass, and we moved to continental breeds and finished on concentrates. This started some changes on the farm, a move away from Lim X Belgium Blues to a Stabiliser suckler herd, tweaks to the sheep flock, and time ticked on and they continued to do their best.
Eventually Will invested his time, joining the Farming Connect ‘Profit from Pasture’ course which introduced him to James Daniel and Rhys Williams from Precision Grazing, along with other independent expert speakers on grassland and soils. the course really opened his eyes to what could be done with pasture.
Filled with confidence in Precision Grazing, Will knew they were the right team to bring onto the farm to help make the big changes required. The initial conversation of where the farm wanted to go and how PG could help them get there, saw some pretty bold thoughts; get rid of the suckler herd, sell the machinery, use contractors and most importantly; keep it simple.
‘We thought we had already narrowed our costs down, introducing the Stabiliser cow, finishing off grass, however by taking a whole systems approach Rhys has helped us get the input costs down even further’.
It’ll come now… next year it’ll come good
‘We felt we were on stand still going, nowhere’
They started by reviewing the accounts using Xero accounting software, which meant they could really dissect the costs of each enterprise down to the last £1 and determine what was actually making money. That was the start, Rhys helped them to make a plan based on improving grazing management and pasture productivity to off-set some of their input costs.
Precision Grazing really have the farm and families interests at heart, they have moved us forward and we feel we are now getting the rewards from our their hard work with the finances and farm in a much healthier place.
In his wildest dreams Will never thought he could bring Kiwi X dairy heifers to a block of land 800ft above sea level. Quite the view, the trees growing on an angle show the extremes, traditionally set stocked with sheep and cattle; finding water where they could, now it has been converted into a successful paddock grazing system which is about to go into its second rotation.
The land had been rested for 2 months, which was longer than Will anticipated, so a good wedge had grown, but in hindsight this was invaluable during the dry summer we’ve had. Kiwitech fencing system was used, 3 strands of wire cutting the block in half, this semi-permeant fence provides power to feed a pair of temporary electric fences used to create the 1-2 day paddocks, the size of which is varied according to pasture available. Currently the 125 R2 heifers require 0.7ha per day. A 5000 litre water tank is fed from the spring, and blue pipe goes all the way down to the lower paddock, with Kiwitech water hydrants feeding off it, to feed 2 paddocks with 1 Kiwitech drag trough, this trough holds 100 litres and fills quickly. Having a smaller area to graze means the stock can drink whenever they want, as individuals, as opposed to a herd going off to drink together meaning this small trough can be used (providing flow rate is sufficient).
The difference in the 1st grazed and last grazed paddock is impressive. The last paddock has been grazed, trampled and residue left, the 1st paddock has fresh new growth, having taken advantage of nearly 2 months rest and soil organic matter built up from the trampled grasses, which have taken advantage of the little rain we’ve had.
‘I’m so excited to see what has been done in 2 months, I can’t wait to see what changes will have happened by next year’.
And here is the problem, excited farmers, literally watching the grass grow and improve before their eyes, for the benefit of them, their family, the livestock and their business. A problem, why may you ask, because with this new found freedom of time and finances, they can really get serious about making other beneficial changes and take back control over their farm.
You can’t manage the grassland if you don’t have the right infrastructure
This system is an investment, it does take time and money, it takes help and guidance to get it right, BUT, the benefits soon become apparent. A system that works, makes life easier, is dependable, safe, saves money, improves the health & fertility of your livestock and means investment can be made elsewhere in the business.
Rhys said working with us will cost X – but we’ll save you or make you at least double that to begin with! – once you start it creates a snowball and you are benefiting all the time from the advice received.
Will decided to meet with Precision Grazing once a month, either in person or on-line, as he wanted to make big changes to the business relatively quickly, allowing them to adapt to the situation that is a likely reduction of subsidy payments and rising input costs.
Having someone to hold your hand through the process and be accountable to, has been key in this process, from initial big ideas, setting up the paddock system, sharing data and taking the business forward, Rhys from Precision Grazing has been an integral team player, always wanting the best for Will, his family and farm business.
Another benefit of being part of Precision Grazing has been joining the discussion group, they’ve been benchmarking their figures, and being able to see where you can get to is inspiring Will and others, whilst being able to learn from each other and see what has worked and what hasn’t. The language used is also changing, looking at soil biology, as opposed to fertiliser, kilos and pounds per hectare, not pounds per hd. Focusing on pasture first changes the way you look at things and opens your eyes to new systems and a new way of thinking.
Any job needs a reward, but that reward has been missing from farming for many years. Here is a system that you can reward yourself with a healthier bank balance, a better way of life, but it all needs to be earnt and worked at. Will knows how lucky he is to live here at Hendreseifion, the farm, the lifestyle, but he believes as farmers we need to stop taking it for granted;
‘You can’t just have it or be it, you have to work at it to be here and work the land and doing what we are doing is earning our place here’.
It does need to be financially viable; it needs to be worked at, smarter and simply, and this is what Precision Grazing can help you achieve.
Hearing Will say he has the love of farming again was so great to hear, taking pleasure from moving cows through the paddock system, and rearing an animal to the high spec the owner wants them, is making him very happy, coupled with a clear vision of where he now wants to go and how to create a healthy and sustainable business has bought the joy back into farming.
But this joy has been lost by many, continued stress the strains, feeling helpless, but as farmers you can take that power back, you CAN make positive changes to your business, you CAN change your mindset and you MUST so you can have a healthy, future proof, business.
Precision Grazing is a company that wants the best for you, that can see your business through fresh eyes, here is a company you can have confidence in, and who will back you as far as you want to go. As Will said there is no shame in getting rid of the suckler herd, no shame in making decisions that are best for you and your business and there is certainly no shame in asking for help. Reaching out to ask for help, having someone who wants to have your back is vital in the process, by taking that first step, picking up the phone, with that action you are taking back your power, and giving yourself the freedom of time and money.
In the world of holistic grazing the aim is to move livestock daily, rest the swards and allow the herbs and grasses to put down deep roots. Movement by hooves help break up gapped soils, muck and seeds, movement is key to a healthy sward. Rest is critical to allow the sward to recover, to allow it grow tall, to break the worm cycle, allow dung beetles, insects, birds and pollinators to come in a thrive in this diversity, and finally, rest will enable the roots to penetrate deeply into the soil, creating strength, water infiltration, nutrient uptake and mycorrhizal communities, a whole network is created.
Movement, rest and roots isn’t just for swards, it’s for humans to.
Daily movement is SO important to our body, mind and soul. Keeping our bodies moving, keeps it strong and in good condition, it helps our mind, keeping depression and mental health issues and it helps regulate our gut, or first brain, helping us feel strong in body, mind and soul.
Rest. Not just getting 8 hours of sleep a night, but taking a rest day, or a nap for even ½ an hour can be life changing. I recently listened to a ‘We can do hard things’ podcast with Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry. She speaks of the importance of rest, how it heals us, lets us dream and become creative. Modern life has made us hustle and grind, to become just another number on a pay-roll, to forget our dreams and desires, to keep us in a place of exhaustion. If we do not take ourselves off the wheel of exhaustion and must do and must keep up and must do more…. We will never make the changes we so desperately wish for. Think of when you are on holiday, all the dreams you have, the ‘what ifs’, the desires to change your life, are because you have rested, you have given yourself the ‘gift’ of time, time to take it easy, to lounge, to rest your eyes, to stare and the sea, to just be.
When did you last rest? Take a listen to the podcast and let me know what you think.
Roots, family, community are the core to what makes us human. Humans need humans, and yet, in this modern time of all the technology to link us together, we have never been lonelier. When did you last feel rooted to your land to your community? Deep roots allow us to feel strength, better health, diversity, greater communication, the sharing of ideas, understanding of how we are all different but yet work together for community good.
Modern society has pushed us down individualism, be independent, self-reliant, go go go! And yet, we have a mental health crisis, we have youngsters who don’t know how to talk to people, we have elderly people who can go weeks without seeing or speaking to another. We have fracture the very essence of what makes us human.
When did you last move your body?
When did you last take a rest?
When did you last create community of tribe?
Put some music on and move to the beat….
Turn off your phone, TV, radio, all the distractions, sit and close your eyes and rest….
Go outside, find some grass, take off your shoes and socks and walk slowly, barefoot, and be rooted to the ground beneath your feet…. Thank me later
Thoughts and words written by Sian Mercer – www.myruraltribe – Inspired by nature, books, podcasts and conversation.
Trying to make himself redundant from his own business is what Philip Hughes is trying his best to do with the help of a paddock grazing system and Precision Grazing consultants James Daniel and Rhys Williams.
Philip is running a diverse family business; sheep, beef, a thriving caravan park and his new ventures of anaerobic digester, data centre and soon to be growing pharmaceutical crops. To ensure all are successful, they need to be well run with a simple business plan that his (expanding) team can take the lead on whilst they perform financially, socially and environmentally. Aiming for redundancy will allow Philip to further grow and diversify the family farm.
Once a traditional welsh hill farm, with suckler cows, store cattle, a Welsh hill flock and lowland Texel flock, set stocking, feeding cake and creep feed saw them doing their best and just getting by. But then in 2019 two things happened, they learnt there would a new subsidy regime and tax went digital.
No more receipts being sent off to accountant in an old shoe box, the different livestock enterprises were inputted into Xero accounting software, figures analysed, costs seen and the figures were sobering, suddenly they could see what the subsidy was hiding, they were making a loss, they were spending £3 external investment to make £1 turnover which was financial madness. Things needed to change, and quickly.
Sarah, Philip’s wife encouraged him to attend the Farming Connect Master Grass programme which was facilitated by James Daniel from Precision Grazing, this 2 day intensive course was the start of turning the farm business around, to a place where they could make a profit before subsidy.
On his return home Philip bought some electric fence and trialled it out on a small part of the farm, and the changes were quick, the pasture recovered quickly but he knew if he wanted to get to the next level, he would need help to get there.
Moving to rotational grazing is a fundamental change to a farming system that has been generations in the making on our family farm; it is a massive change, and I genuinely wouldn’t have made the changes without the external help of Precision Grazing.
Rhys Williams (Precision Grazing) helped design the paddock grazing system on the Ffridd and lowlands of the farm, working together with Philip to create a plan, which is reviewed each month on Zoom or in person, along with the grazing & pasture management and business performance budgets & plans. The result, more forage than they knew what to do with! For instance one block of land that once held 120 ewes now holds between 180-200. They are working towards doubling the farm’s output through extra pasture production whist eliminating the need for purchased inputs.
Furthermore the pasture is of much higher quality, lambs have increased daily liveweight gains and now B&B Aberdeen Angus X dairy calves have been introduced into the system to increase stocking rate and improve the soil biology even more.
Having water in the right places is key. Water and fences are an investment, there is no getting away from this, but it makes life easier and the job doable and the achievements greater.
Challenges were faced in the start of this journey, but good changes came from them. Under and over grazing, poor grass quality, too much grass and scald were frustrations, but with the help of Rhys they overcame them as they got in sync with the system, and now the rewards far outweigh these initial challenges.
A simple system that everyone understands makes the system work.
Bringing the family and shepherds on board has helped create a simple system that they all understand and can buy into. Communication has increased and improved the farm business, now a daily team talk in the morning and a 1hr once a week in the office conflab ensures everyone is heard and can feed into the business with their ideas and knowledge, this has been a game changer and has benefited the business more than that hour would have by carrying out physical farm work, so much so Philip will be increasing this to a 2hour office time.
It is key to have a detailed measuring plan – if this is neglected you get ½ of what it can present.
Precision Grazing provide the tools to help implement a simple system, Philip uses an excel sheet to input animal numbers and demands, plus grass metered data and information on each paddock. Grass metering the farm once a month is key, not only does it get you into your farm it confirms what you know but also shows the improvements which is a massive boost. Philip was very aware of rotational grazing systems that have been adopted into many dairy farms, but before meeting Precision Grazing he did not have the confidence or knowledge to introduce it in to a beef and sheep farm with multiple mobs on such varying land types. With the help and guidance of Precision Grazing he now has the knowledge and confidence to work this type of system.
Soil sampling and liming are key to good grassland.
Soil samples are carried out each year with lime spread in the September so it is ready for the crops uptake in the spring, seeing optimum investment in the pasture and swede crops. Before starting rotational grazing and inputting AD, the farm historically spread 20.10.10 as a standard fertiliser and soil PH was in the low 5’s, and Index 2-3 for Phosphate. Now soil PH is around 6.5 and phosphate index 1, and the grass keeps growing, showing that the soil biology has woken up, is alive and doing its job.
The farm has historically been low production, set stocked leys but with the guidance of Precision Grazing he is now implementing a 2 Track approach;
Track 1 – Improve the grazing management by using Precision Grazing. Apply digestate to improve the soil biology and nutrient content and leave a profitable and productive farm.
Track 2 – Rejuvenate pastures by seeding new grass leys in a 7 year rotation along with swedes and Redstart (hybrid fodder rape and kale which keeps growing) by direct drilling (to keep carbon in the soil). New grass leys are more cost effective than buying cake. Swedes are costing 3.5p per ewe per day, which is a massive saving on winter feed costs and will offer 80% DM with the remaining 20% DM received from silage. At the moment new grass leys are based on a Rye grass, timothy, red & white clover mix, but Philip is interested to try herbal leys and this is where the advice from Precision Grazing is key, they are learning and gaining knowledge and expertise which they pass on through their consulting work.
What will be really interesting is can we get to the quality of grass and farm performance that we need with good management alone or do we need to rejuvenate with new seed mixes – time will tell.
Can you put a cost on changing and transforming a business? As consultants they keep expanding and changing the thought process to keep us moving forward and evolving our business, and you can’t put a number on that!
Among the “hard to quantify benefits to the business is the Prosper From Pasture discussion group which Precision Grazing facilitate on behalf of Farming Connect. A network of people coming together to share their data, farm figures, the good, the bad and the ugly has shown Philip what can be achieved. When he joined, Hendwr was at the bottom of the league table, and now with the help and encouragement of others he is improving and in a better place. Learning from external speakers and having someone to pick up the phone to has opened many new doors as being the only one in the area paddock grazing can be lonely, but the discussion group has stopped that happening.
Having a Precision Grazing ‘pasture first approach’ means control has been taken back by the farm business. Suddenly the external pressures are not there; the high feed and fertilizer prices etc. which means that money can be spent where they want it to be.
I feel more in control and therefore more relaxed knowing what the plan is, and I can see a way through to the future. I want to hand the farm over, to whoever that is, in really good shape; financially, productively with enhanced biodiversity and using this system will ensure that happens.
Get the infrastructure set up quickly – boundary fences, paddocks and water
Get to grips with measuring and planning as early as possible – use a simple excel sheet
Get to know your farm – walk it with you plate meter
Communicate with your team – get them on board and buying into the system
Keep it simple – farm for your farm.
Just do it! Try it on a small block of ground, grow your confidence and knowledge and once you have that you will keep on going.
The benefits of having extra team members through working withof Precision Grazing is so beneficial. Change is hard but you don’t need to struggle, help is there with expertise, knowledge and guidance plus a whole network of other farmers who have been there and are getting the T’Shirt.