As snowdrops emerge, a farmer’s thoughts turn to grassland plans

With spring coming soon (we all hope), thoughts turn optimistically to grassland planning. For many farmers, last year’s relaunch by AHDB of the Nutrient Management Guide (RB209)  has renewed interest in making best use of slurry and FYM’s plant nutrient content.

One family riding this wave are the Halls at Hale Hall Farm in the Fylde area of north west Lancashire. At a YFC meeting in November, Matthew Hall explained how better slurry management has helped them reduce bought nitrogen use from 270 to 150 kg/ha (in units/acre, 215-120), at the same time growing more and higher quality grass crops for silage and grazing alike. The cost saving is in the region of £75/ha (£30/ac).

The changes they made started out in 2016 with a desire to eliminate past problems of crusting and poor flowability in a new slurry lagoon. Just because most slurry stores develop a sludge base, liquid middle and crust on top, this is not inevitable.

Not all stores need lots of diesel burning before they can be emptied and nor do they have to annoy the district’s residents with a foul smell for days on end. Instead, it is possible to maintain a free-flowing liquid consistency throughout, at the same time as reducing smell and retaining maximum plant nutrients.

The secret is trillions of vigorous friendly bacteria that digest the slurry’s fibre content, which otherwise floats to the surface and forms the crust. These bugs also capture free nitrogen, sulphur and other valuable plant nutrients, turning them into bacterial biomass. Farmers who understand how a cow’s rumen works can readily see the parallel.

So instead of pungent greenhouse gases like ammonia and hydrogen sulphide escaping into the atmosphere, they can be captured by friendly slurry bugs in what turns into a high value, easy flowing, liquid plant food. They also aerate the liquid and make it much more friendly to soil microbes when spread than much more typical anaerobic and septic slurries.

For seriously crusted stores or to use as a start up pack for an empty slurry store, there is also a higher strength CrustBuster version, which is how the Halls started.

Such is the high nutrient value of their treated slurry that urea fertiliser is used for first and second cut silage only. Third cut is fed by slurry only. Matthew Hall pointed out to visitors that slurry analysis – free to SlurryBugs users – helps make best use of treated slurry.

The all year round calving herd has about 170 cows in milk. On twice a day milking, impressive annual yields are 9,500 litres/cow at 4.2% butterfat and 3.4% protein.

Also in 2016, the Halls started using EnviroBed cubicle bedding in a bid to eliminate teat necrosis (open sores) and scabby lesions on udders suspected to be caused by the digital dermatitis pathogen. Not long after the change, teat condition and cleanliness were back to normal, udder sores had cleared, and cows became generally cleaner from back end to front.