Healthy, Comfortable And Clean -
"We believe that our woodchip corral is going to make the difference between keeping suckler cows profitably or not keeping them at all," says Bill Harper, South West NBA Chairman.
With the farming industry facing such uncertain times, investment in fixed costs such as buildings for beef production could be a risky business, but farmers also need to achieve commercially viable quantities of beef by taking advantage of economies of scale. Bill Harper, South West National Beef Association Chairman, has saved costs by successfully constructing a woodchip corral, which he stocked with 50 SWISH and Black Limousin suckler cows last winter. "The cows on the corral were comfortable, healthy and fit. We were able to keep the calves with the cows until weaning in December, avoiding the stress of housing and weaning at the same time. In the spring, cows calved on the corral very well and early calvers were kept on the corral with calves until turnout." Bill and his wife Suzanne, who are focus farmers for the Grassland Challenge Bude Beef Focus Group, have been so impressed with the cows' cleanliness and comfort on the woodchip that they are currently in the process of constructing another for use this winter. Their current woodchip corral is 600 m2 with a 300 m2 concrete pad adjacent to it and Bill plans to increase the stocking rate to 60 cows.
Tanalised boarding with 2 inch gaps protects the cattle from excessive exposure and helps to keep the chips in place, with a wide entrance and exit along one side of the corral. Not only does the woodchip save costs in construction compared to a building, but can save £40 per cow on straw costs and the associated labour. The woodchips do need to be topped up every few years to keep the 12-15 inches of depth for maximum filtration.
Over the last 5 years the lack of labour and benefits to animal health are the two main reasons for the increase in uptake, yet building a corral needs careful planning. The correct site is vital to ensure that the corral works effectively. The site needs to be exposed to allow wind to dry the woodchips and the rain to wash dung down to where it can be degraded by bacteria. In addition to this, consideration to location of roads, public rights of way, open water and field drains is needed to be taken into account as well as the need for planning permission established. The developer must apply to the local authority for a determination as to whether prior approval is required.
Following their popularity the Environment Agency have just completed a preliminary study into the environmental effects of woodchip corrals. Findings were generally positive and identified improved cleanliness and comfort of the stock, with cost savings in labour and the use of straw as major benefits. However, as with all stock yards, effluent must be drained to a storage facility and managed carefully and clarification in the form of standard design guidelines are urgently required. Further research is also needed to identify those measures that will facilitate good performance of woodchip stockyards such as type and size of woodchip and its replenishment and subsequent safe disposal after use.
Woodchip corrals, when set up correctly, are environmentally acceptable and show a definite cost benefit, in terms of investment, straw and labour and animal health. Many farmers have found these to be a cost effective option. To provide farmers with an opportunity to discuss these issues in more depth, Bill Harper is organising 'The Woodchip Corral Event' at Way Farm, North Tamerton, Devon on Thursday 22 September 2005, which will be attended by a range of speakers:
• John Laws, IGER Senior Research Scientist, 'Woodchip Stockyards in the UK'
• Tim Bailey, Technical Adviser, Environment Agency,
'The EA Perspective'
• Chris Bow, Working Woodlands, 'Site investigations'
• Caroline Harrison, Working Woodlands, 'Timber Resources and Specifications'
Alan Cottle will be demonstrating a wood chipper and there will also be established and new woodchip corrals to view. The event is open to everyone. It is being organised in conjunction with the NBA and the Grassland Challenge Project. It is free to NBA members and Grassland Challenge members; otherwise an entry fee of £5 will apply.
For further information please contact Laura Biddick of Grassland Challenge on 01579 372296.
The Objective One Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has invested in Grassland Challenge through the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF).
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