Richard is running a family owned suckler to beef farm, supported by his wife Katrin and his father Joe. He operates a pedigree herd of Salers cows finishing all animals for slaughter except the top 5% of the male animals which are sold for breeding.
Richard and Joe believe that if a pedigree animal is not treated as it would be in a commercial setting, it will become a sub standard performer when sold for breeding. It is for this reason that they have been successful, treating the herd as a commercial suckler herd that has the potential to sell some breeding bulls as an added benefit. As well as adopting this approach they have focused on 3 key areas.
It is Richards belief that the levels of artificial fertiliser and the chemical control of weeds however small they may be are at a far greater level now than will be tolerated in years to come. He also believes that in a grass based system, fertiliser usage is the greatest variable cost to the farmer and that this cost won’t be decreasing in the future. It is for this reason that the past 5 years have seen a radical change to fertiliser usage, fertiliser utilisation and chemical usage on farm. He has changed his entire reseeding and grazing regime and this in turn has allowed him to greatly reduce fertiliser usage on farm. He is now using over a 12 month period per acre what other farmers of similar stocking rates would use to produce one cut of silage.
His goal is that in 5 years from now, to be purchasing no artificial fertiliser of any kind for grassland whilst maintaining his stocking rate and suffering no reduction in animal performance.
“Gone are the days where I look into a reseeded field of 100% Perennial Rye Grass (PRG) and feel that I have accomplished something”.
PRG is Nitrogen(N) hungry and a N dependent crop which is fine for feeding cattle but is unfortunately unsustainable due to the volumes of artificial fertiliser required if heavily stocking.
“In the same way other farmers will customise concentrate feeding regimes for cattle indoors, I am more than happy to customise them for grazing”. Richard has incorporated high levels of both red and white clover as well as different grass species and herbs such as plantain, chicory & yarrow. Reseeds are now including anywhere between 7 & 13 different varieties of grasses, legumes & herbs The approach now is that the N is in the air and to let the clover fix it for me for free. The chicory and the plantain are boosting protein levels and helping with anthelmintic reductions as well as helping to reduce compaction and free up soil for water and air to move freely.
This has all been done with no soil disturbance as I have purchased a direct drill in recent times. This in turn is keeping the most fertile soil at the top of the ground and allowing for minimal disruption to the soils ecological system. It is my opinion that if you can see where a machine has gone in a field it has caused too much damage to the soil.”
Richard has increased suckler cow numbers and finishing all stock, whilst at the same time reducing purchased Nitrogen fertiliser to 90kg per acre and not purchasing artificial P or K in the past 5 years at all.
Richards’ principles are that the performance will not be driven by the use of purchased fertiliser but from the spreading of organic materials and natural products that achieve the same results. I am achieving this by making clover fix Nitrogen from the atmosphere and by adding inoculants to the on farm slurry to make the Nitrogen easier for plant uptake and therefore more efficient. He has also started to spread gypsum which brings calcium for loosening soil activity and sulphur as well as humates which are a carbon based product which allows for Nitrogen uptake by grass to become 20% more efficient. He has also started to spread nitrogen fixing bacteria onto the fields along with a biological stimulant and a sea weed based additive which allows a wide wage of nutrients to be brought into the soil. Carbon sequestration levels on the farm have been increasing consistently throughout the past few years. This is because one of the main pillars of biological farming is to take Carbon from the atmosphere and get it into the soil.
DATA AND PERFORMANCE
“Data performance is probably the area I have been interested in for the longest time. There are animals in my herd that I can trace back for 9 generations”. However this is not just a hobby but also the fastest way that Richard can improve both maternal and terminal performance. Trends are easily detected when Calf Birth Weight, Weanling Weight, Cow Weight, Fattening Weights & Carcass weights are correlated with each other.
It has been allowing Richard to focus on cows that have smaller mature weights but that are still producing high quality fattening stock. It has also allowed him to target genetics that are producing low birth weights and therefore easy calving’s with no negative influence on final carcass weights. Correlating birth weights to weaning weights has allowed Richard to identify entire dam lines that are not producing enough milk as well as dam lines that are abundant in milk production.
“the animals that I referred to as my top cows 10 years ago would now be in the bottom half of the herd”
Joining this with the recording of docility and lameness as well as mothering ability at birth, teat size, teat positioning and fertility records such as calves per year and calving compactness have put Richard in a very favourable position genetically on farm. It has allowed him to increase stocking levels and profitability whilst increasing animal welfare and reducing inputs as well as labour hours per animal.
It is because of this work that Richard had the huge honour in 2018 to win the ICBF National Pedigree Herd award which is a replacement herd index competition. ICBF felt that it is the Richard Fortunes of this world that are bringing not only his own herd forward dramatically but can also be a benchmark to the rest of the country on how suckler farming can be made work.