Making the best use of available resources has been a key focus for Anglesey-based producer Ceredig Evans during the past few years. He’s made management changes to optimise the use of slurry on his 192-hectare unit, and has committed to take the same approach to grassland and silage production.
Ceredig runs a 350-cow herd, plus 300 followers, in partnership with his parents Ifan and Ann, and wife Sara at Llanfachraeth. The pedigree Branwen herd averages 9,300 litres, at 4.3% butterfat and 3.3% protein, on twice-a-day milking. The herd calves all year round and is housed during the winter months and grazed throughout the summer. “All cows are out during the day with just the high-yielding group coming in at night if the weather is less than ideal,” explains Ceredig. “We have high rainfall here and grow a lot of grass on Anglesey. We use a rotational grazing paddock system to capitalise on this,” he says, adding that they also grow maize and wheat for wholecrop on the unit.
“We also pay close attention to soil health and grassland management. The whole farm is routinely soil tested every three to four years, and there is a nutrient management plan in place.”
Grassland includes Italian ryegrass leys on the outlying fields, which are typically cut for silage, and permanent pasture closer to the main unit for grazing.
Four cuts are taken each year, weather permitting. Sara measures and monitors grass growth using the AgriNet app, as well as a plate meter every week, to keep track of the grazing platform. “Since we started measuring grass growth about four years ago it has become a really important part of our management,” says Ceredig.
In 2022 the Evans family stepped measurement up further to include soil temperatures. With help from ForFarmers’ Dyfrig Hughes and Farming Connect, sensors were installed across the farm and a longrange wide-area network aerial was fitted to one of the unit’s sheds. These provide data on soil temperature and moisture, and in 2022 led to Ceredig being able to apply fertiliser and take first-cut silage about two weeks earlier than usual. The result was his best quality silage yet. “We’ve never been able to achieve 12 ME before,” he adds.
Slurry use during the growing season is key to managing soil health, and recent changes prompted Ceredig to look more closely at his waste-management plan. “We extended our slurry lagoon in 2022 to meet the NVZ regulations in Wales. It was a big project to increase lagoon capacity from 1.2 million gallons to two million, as well as lining it,” he says.
This, as well as increasing costs of inorganic fertiliser and the need to reduce the unit’s carbon footprint, led him to consider ways to make better use of the nutrients he already had on farm. “With 650 head of cattle on the farm, we have a lot of slurry to spread. And around four tonnes of sawdust bedding also goes into the lagoon each year.”
He agreed to try ManurePRO, a biological-based slurry treatment, recommended by Lallemand Animal Nutrition’s Lientjie Colahan. He began adding it to slurry in October 2022 at a rate of 1kg per 100 cows every month. “It’s a simple process. The treatment is mixed into a bucket of slurry before being added to the lagoon,” explains Ceredig.
“It made sense to try it as the product reduces nitrogen losses from the slurry, which is great from a soil health point of view. But it will also reduce the smell, which has to be a consideration with our close proximity to a neighbouring village,” he says. “The treatment promotes more ‘good’ bacteria, helping to improve the ‘ecosystem’ of the slurry and the soil.
“Deciding to use it was much the same as my choice to use a silage additive. We make good silage with an ME around 11.7 MJ/kg and have used the Sil-All 4x4 additive for several years to preserve it. I was of a similar mindset with this slurry treatment.”
Ceredig has also started treating calf and dry-cow sheds with ManurePRO. It is early days but he is pleased with the results so far and is confident the investment will increase the level and value of retained nutrients, and help with farm-waste management in the future.
“The main change is the consistency of slurry, with only a minimum crust forming on top, which makes it easier to handle and spread. We haven’t seen anything growing on the top of the lagoon, as we usually would, and it definitely appears to be generating less heat.”
Spreading the treated slurry, in accordance with NVZ rules and the unit’s nutrient management plan, has begun. “It all ties in with our commitments to our milk buyer Arla too, as improving sustainability includes a focus on soil health and reducing inorganic fertiliser,” says Ceredig. “It’s too early to say exactly how it will impact our bought-in fertiliser bill, but I’m confident it will reduce it and that I’ll be ordering more slurry treatment product next year.”