Looking back at the highs and lows of a farming project

Simon Bainbridge.
Simon Bainbridge.

LAST month marked almost the end of the second year of Northumberland’s Monitor Farm programme.

The project started at Donkin Rigg in 2010 and in that time has presented itself to its appreciative followers, keen to learn from its trials and successes.

Throughout the last 21 months, industry experts have advised and checked on progress.

Simon Bainbridge, who farms Donkin Rigg, has been looking back on the highs and lows of the year and assessing what the farm and the project have achieved.

He said: “I feel that one major achievement of the Monitor Farm project is the continued interest in it by the farming community throughout the North East. We have been most impressed that there has been such good attendance at all the Monitor Farm meetings.”

During the last 12 months, the topics of discussion have included soil fertility, grass varieties, cattle and sheep EBVs and cross breeding, shed ventilation, renewable energy, trace elements, grassland aeration, lamb selection, the Racewell sheep handling system and sheep and cattle software for EID, winter feeding and winter housing. Satellite meetings included suckler herd management and the dos and don’ts of tup purchasing.

A typical farmer, Simon’s highs of the year are in the main weather dependent.

The early spring rescued the farm after the snow. Livestock was turned out early, and the farm had a good lambing.

Then came the autumn and the weather held up. It was mild and relatively dry and the stock continued to do well.

Looking to the red clover which had been an early disappointment last year, he was much happier: “The red clover yielded much better this year. You have to be patient as it takes at least a year to establish.”

Weather also features in Simon’s list of lows.

He said: “Thanks to the early snow, we ran out of feed by Christmas which increased the feed bill.”

However, this was the perhaps the least of his worries.

One unwelcome New Year gift was the confirmation of scab on the holding on January 1, 2011. Then lung worm resulted in the death of a number of cows due to secondary infection.

Simon is now considering lung worm vaccine and or a suitable worming treatment next summer.

Finally, his undersown grass under the oats and pea mix failed. The oats and peas grew so well that the grass was smothered out and it went flat.

Simon’s lesson? “A lower seed rate of the oats and peas and lower fertility is required for future years,” he said.

The farm’s achievements happily outweigh the lows and sometimes help to overcome them.

Simon is happy to report that the scab outbreak led to contact with his neighbours.

“We got all the neighbours together to discuss the scab problem and agreed a treatment going forward to eradicate it from the area,” he said.

He completed the final autumn calving as his herd will now be all spring calving.

He said: “This will suit the animals and the farm. We will be breeding our own replacements, and calving the heifers at two years with a nine-week bulling period, we will make quick genetic progress.”

The lambs have been tagged with EID, in order to improve management and make better use of time.

This has been done in conjunction with the Racewell handling system which has been invaluable in the management of the trace element trial, the results of which will be available early the New Year.

Finally, Donkin Rigg has been involved with the Farmax trial, a New Zealand software programme for pasture management.

This high-tech solution is intended to help you get the most out of your farm and to get the best fit for your cattle and sheep system.

Simon is enthusiastically looking forward to the next year of achievements.

“I’m trying a few different breeds of tups, using the EID tagging and Racewell to identify what is best. Watch this space,” he said.

“As far as the whole project is concerned, I am thoroughly enjoying this opportunity. Without the focus and guidance of the project and its advisers we could not have achieved nearly so much.”

Northumberland’s Monitor Farm project is organised by English Farming and Food Partnerships, EBLEX, Alnorthumbria Vets and the North Northumberland Agricultural Training Association, with generous funding from One NE through Landskills NE, managed by Lantra on behalf of One North East, it is part of the Rural Development Programme for England, funded by the European Fund for Rural Development and Defra.

Commenting on the project so far, David Hall, EFFP regional manager, said: “It is very encouraging to see that Simon has implemented a number of the changes to his farming practice the group has suggested and with the project running over a longer period farmers’ have the opportunity to see the impact of the changes on the farming business.”

Events are planned and delivered by the steering group of Simon Bainbridge, Ian Craiggs, James Herdman, Neil Howie, Alan Jackson, Michael Jordan, Gus Nelless, John Naylor and John Macfarlane.

Anyone interested in attending monitor farm project meetings can call Helen or Sandra on 0870 6091840 or 01904 771213 or email brpevents@eblex.org.uk