Meet Forage for Knowledge contributor Sam Alexander

Friday, 24 July 2020

Sam Alexander is managing 340 Kiwi crosses in mid-Wales in her first year as a grassland manager.

The business

Crynfryn Bychan Farm in Ceredigion, mid-Wales, belonging to Bendigedig Farms, a company jointly owned by Matthew Jackson and John Furnival. Farm manager Sam (Samantha) Alexander has been in charge since April this year, with help from one full-time and one relief staff member.

The farm

  • Altitude: 200 m (600 ft)
  • Annual rainfall: 1,325 mm (53”)
  • Soils: Clay loams

It was a beef and sheep conversion going live in March 2019, with full reseeds to create a 60 ha grazing platform. There is no clamp and round bale silage is bought in from local farms.

The cows

There are 340 Kiwi-cross cows, with all bull/beef calves sold to a local rearer. Heifers leave the farm at weaning to be contract-reared off farm until returning to calve at two years. The herd is a spring block, starting on 1 February. Annual average target is 5,000 litres at 4.5% butterfat and 3.6% protein from 900 kg of cake flat-rate fed in the parlour. Turnout is from 10 February and cows graze until mid-October. Milking is in a 24/48 Waikato and cows are housed in cubicles but calve on an outdoor pad.

What’s the grazing season been like this year?

“OK,” says Sam, but she admits it has been a curveball, between super-wet with massive downpours and drought. It’s also her first full season as a grazing manager. “I’ve learnt lots; it’s all about applying knowledge from the textbook, keeping an eye on the weather and making decisions early. I made sure that I’ve walked paddocks at least once a week and sometimes twice. What I’ve learnt is to make decisions quickly, be flexible and make sure there is enough feed in the bin if I’m going to up concentrates!”

Big challenges have been early heading dates and managing the dry spell with a high stocking rate of 5.6 LU/ha. And every round brings more rejection sites, which require some managing. However, with new leys across the whole platform, Sam is already seeing differences in growth rates between paddocks: “We had about three weeks of drought in May and went down to 45 kg DM/ha/day growth rates and had to put silage in and up cake rates. But on the 25 June, we were growing at an average 135 kg DM/ha/day and four fields were growing 200 kg DM/ha/day.”

What are your plans for autumn?

“I’m pre-mowing a few paddocks, or going into slightly lower covers to improve sward quality. In August, I’m going to plan the autumn rotation,” says Sam. “We’ll dry off around 10 December for six weeks. This spring, cows were calved in a 12-week block, next year I’m aiming for 10 weeks and it would be really nice to get to nine weeks.”

Goals for the next one to five years?

“The Forage for Knowledge group has been really useful because I’m not in a discussion group and it’s great to get other people’s opinions. I’d like to be a really good grassland manager and although I walk the grass weekly, I really need to take my samples more often for analysis!”