Meet the Forage for Knowledge contributors - James Muir

Meet the contributors

It’s been a tough year for grassland managers. Growing half of his normal dry matter has tested James Muir’s ability to adapt and build resilience into a 400-cow spring-calving business.

The business

James Muir and his wife Lucy share New Buildings Farm with Lucy's parents, Steve and Lesley Brandon. The business covers 486ha, four farms and two dairy herds.

The farm

Altitude: 100 m

Annual rainfall: 800 mm

Soils: heavy clay

170 ha grazing platform in 52 paddocks; total 227 ha

Pretty flat land

Housing in cubicles from late November to early February

4 FT staff + 1 calf rearer

The cows

400 spring block calvers calving from 8 February for 11 weeks; heifers start 24 January. Production 6,600 litres or 594 kg MS from 850 kg of cake. New Zealand crossbreds weighing 530 kg. 134 calves plus 92 in-calf heifers bred to sexed semen.

As a long-term grazing unit, what sort of grass can you grow?

“It’s normally a good grass-growing farm and we grow 12–13 tDM/ha with our best paddock at 13 tDM and worst 7 tDM; although in 2019 we had some paddocks growing 17–18 tDM/ha,” says James. “We get nice spring growth, which is perfect for breeding in May. It gets a bit tighter usually in June when it’s drier. We grow a decent amount of grass.

“My father-in-law set up an excellent infrastructure over 20 years ago so we have got tracks in all the right places, multiple gateways and we can turn out in the first week of February and not house until the 25th of November.”


What’s the grazing season been like this year?

“We opened the clamp in the first week of July and haven’t stopped feeding silage since. It’s been a terrible year! Our concentrate use is 1.2 t/cow and so far, we have only grown 6.5 tDM/ha. The last time we had drought was in 2018 when we had a dry June, but then it rained in August and we had a fabulous back end. It hasn’t come this year and we’re only growing 12 kgDM/ha/day. This farm can grow over 100 kg in May and this year in April we were growing 74 kg/ha, which went down to 50 kg on the first of May. It’s still quality: normally 12 ME all year.”


How are you going to recover?

“With a lot of hope!” he says. “We don’t overstock our farm, at 2.5 cows/ha, but are tight for forage this winter having eaten half of a silage clamp already. We are adding fodder beet in the coming weeks to get us through the pinch and have sold cows and put youngstock on outlying land at our other farm. We can keep spring cows out until November, but it depends on grass growth. We are now trying to build some cover ready for spring 2023.”


Options to cope with future drought?

“This year we have planted red clover for our autumn-calving herd and started sowing mixes containing PRG, white clover, Timothy and plantain to get deep rooting. If the weather keeps like this, we need to adapt.”


Grazing goals?

“To get back to 850 kg/cow concentrate use and to yield 6,500 litres while maintaining milk solids. Grow the grass, maintain the business. And replicate on our new 300-cow autumn herd what we do on the spring herd. We are feeding maize to this herd and 1.4 t of cake, currently yielding 6,300 litres and 559 kg MS.


What’s the key to being resilient?

“A strong family. We’ve seen it before, though not to this extent, and my father-in-law has years of experience. The key is to know your business and understand what you need to grow and what you need to be doing. It’s been a really tough year. We are positive people and will adapt. We have a good team of people working across our farms, they have adapted and worked hard this year to stay focused to achieve the business goals.


“It’s also important to talk. Go to discussion groups and meet people; everyone is in the same situation. There are always challenges on the farm. We are not perfect; we listen to people and learn every year, adapt and improve efficiency.”