A new farm technique that is cheap to install and maintain, saves work in the winter and is good for animal welfare was discussed at a recent field day. Bill and Suzanne Harper of the National Beef Association and Laura Biddick of the Grassland Challenge hosted over 200 people to a day looking at wood chip corrals with leading experts. Over 170 farmers were able to discuss construction details, hear about the environmental aspects and also watch a new corral being filled with chips at Way Farm, North Tamerton, near Holsworthy.
"We are looking for a low labour, efficient farming system; it has to be easy care, where the cows look after themselves," explained Mr Harper to field day attendees. A woodchip corral is an important part of the Harpers' farming system. A corral is a layer of wood chips overlaying the subsoil or soil. The cattle then stay outside on the corral through the winter rather than being housed in traditional buildings.
The wood chip corral is cheaper to construct than traditional buildings at £80 to £130 per cow, excluding farm labour. As most of the corrals have only been built since 2000, how long the corrals will last is still uncertain. The corrals do not require straw for bedding, or the chores of spreading the bedding or scraping out of manure saving both cost and time on farm.
Construction and environmental aspects of wood chip corrals were described to farmers by John Laws of the Institute of Grassland & Environmental Research (IGER) and Ken Smith of ADAS. From a recent survey of wood chip corrals, Mr Laws found that the effluent from the corrals was similar to that of dirty water. Some manure appeared to be retained and treated in the woodchip, however the remaining effluent is best captured in a dirty water system. This isn't necessarily a problem said Mr Laws as it can be sprayed back on to the land with an irrigator. To capture the effluent from the corrals, a lining or an impenetrable soil layer is needed below the woodchip.
The key principle in designing a woodchip corral is to avoid overloading areas with manure explained Mr Smith. Stock should not be fed on the corral, but rather on a separate area with a retaining lip to prevent slurry running back into the corral. Corrals should be sited away from trees and have wide gateways to avoid stock gathering in particular areas of the corral. Size of the woodchip is also critical and is a compromise between small chips, better for stock comfort and large chips which are better for absorbing effluent.
For those debating whether to put in a corral, the plan and design is vital for its success. This should be followed by the correct management to ensure efficient filtration of dung and urine. In terms of the environment, Tim Bailey of the Environment Agency (EA) invited farmers to contact them for information on possible pollution risks to groundwater and suggestions on how to avoid them, at the planning stage. There is still a lot of research to carry out on corrals, but improved animal health and leaner carcasses from cattle, not to mention the capital, labour and bedding savings are some of the benefits.
For further information please contact Laura Biddick of Grassland Challenge on 01579 372295.
The Objective One Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has invested in the Grassland Challenge through the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF).
Anyone considering a new horticulture, food and land based industries project is advised to speak with Maria Ford, at Government Office South West – 01752 635015 – before commencing development as there are now only limited funds available due to the successful uptake of funding by the agricultural sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
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