How the culture of a Notts farm benefits from a focus on poultry
Growing five different crops to save money on expensive purchased feed for 72,000 layers is helping a farming family reduce their carbon footprint, improve soil health and tackle the black grass problem.
Plus, integrating layers with field crops at Sherwood Farms helps the Parker family manage risk, resulting in a more sustainable business.
See also: Analysis: Could lupines solve the challenge of disruptive crops?
Father and son James and Michael Parker, along with Michael’s uncle Andrew, run a 72,000-bird egg-laying unit just outside of Hickling, a village eight miles northwest of Melton Mowbray. They sell eggs at the local wholesale market, restaurants and shops.
They have a mix of free-range and enriched colonies on the farm, which has had layers since the 1960s.
However, feed costs have risen, not helped by soybean meal reaching almost Â£ 400 / t last May, although the price has eased somewhat since.
Having a mill and a blending plant, the family was already growing grain for layer hens, and soaring soy prices prompted the decision to grow their own protein as well.
It was not only economical, they also want to be more sustainable and less dependent on imported soybeans. Soybean meal represented about 18% of the ration.
And last season, lupines first entered the rotation at Sherwood Farms, bred for their high protein content of 33-35%.
Michael explains that wheat contains only 11.5% protein compared to highly professional soybeans at 46%. Beans are also a valuable 22.5% protein, but they needed something higher.
In addition, lupines do not need any processing like soybeans, which makes them more convenient than growing their own soybean crop.
Last season the Parkers grew wheat, winter triticale, spring barley, beans and lupines, with two-thirds of the ration now grown on the farm. This means that the arable side benefits from a much more varied rotation.
The first harvest of lupines produced 28.5% protein, and although it was a little below target, it still replaced 12.5% ââof the soybeans in the 3,000 tonnes of feed used in a year.
This season, they plan to double the acreage of the lupines to increase the level of inclusion, although James points out that there is a maximum limit due to its alkaloid content.
The family cultivated Dieta, which is a white type lupine and produced an average of 2.8 t / ha, with a field of over 3 t / ha. It was a bit lower than expected, but Michael pointed out that they were sown directly on April 20 and had not germinated for a while as conditions were dry.
He said they should have been given a pre-emergent herbicide, but it was too dry. They therefore had to rely on the more expensive post-emergence options of Lentagran (pyridate) for broadleaf weeds and Centium (clomazone) for grasses.
No fungicides, growth regulators or slug pellets were needed, so input costs were only Â£ 100 / ha.
- Area: 630ha
- Crops: Winter wheat, spring barley, winter and spring beans, winter triticale, spring flax and lupines
- Soil: Goes from heavy clay to clay and sandy loam
- AHDB Monitor Farm since May 2019
For wheat, the family grew Firefly, the surplus being sold for a small group 3 biscuit premium. Due to its reduced yellow rust number, Extase is the variety for this season, with 253 ha in soil.
Winter triticale is the second cereal because it behaves more regularly than a second wheat on their soils. James points out that it has a slightly better amino acid profile than wheat, which will therefore benefit diapers.
And the extra straw yield comes with a bonus, being sold to nearby dairy farms, producing milk for local Stilton creameries.
Spring barley (Planet plus a little Laureate) is also cultivated, the rest being sold for malting. This year he gave a good yield of 8 t / ha.
For winter beans, they grew the Target variety, which gave good yields averaging over 6 t / ha and spring beans were just behind at 5.9 t / ha.
âSpring beans were the crop of the year,â says James.
They invested in the crop, spending Â£ 20 / ha on trace minerals, Â£ 100 / ha on herbicides and Â£ 32 / ha on disease control.
But Michael believes the good yields are due to the fact that they were sown behind a subsoiler, which loosened the soil and allowed excess moisture to drain away.
âThe other crops suffered from the excess humidity.
Benefits of rotation
One of the main benefits of growing lupines and beans is that they fix nitrogen in the soil. Indeed, lupins are more effective than beans, at 230-240kg / ha against 180kg / ha.
The Parkers hope to see the benefits in wheat yields eventually. âThat’s a nice bonus in a year of high fertilizer prices,â says Michael.
The lupines were harvested on October 7th and they noted much less crop loss than those typically seen for beans, as the pods clung to the seed. But the downside was that they took a lot of drying because they were protected by the green pods. Therefore, they were cut at 22% humidity and dried.
Last season they had 83ha of beans and 23.5ha of lupines. This is higher than normal, due to the rainy fall of last year which led to the cultivation of spring beans in place of winter wheat which was not sown. Normally they would have 40 to 50 ha of beans.
Michael is aiming for a rotation of winter wheat, winter beans, winter wheat, spring barley and then either spring flax or lupine. This diverse rotation with two spring crops is helping the family tackle a black grass problem, which is now improving.
In addition, the family gave up rapeseed in 2020, which is considered the weakest link in the rotation for the grass, as the weed has benefited from uneven crops, settling in the most open plots.
Instead, they grow flaxseed, which makes the soil more friable, and they’ve also used a lot less slug pellets since the crop fell.
Benefits of fertilizers
The arable part also benefits from layer manure, which saves on the purchase of fertilizers. They apply 2,100 t of manure each year, which equates to 40 t of nitrogen based on a previous analysis of manure availability figures and the Fertilizer Manual.
This is quite a saving, especially with ammonium nitrate prices exceeding Â£ 600 / t.
Manure is used to garnish the second grain and spring barley when it has emerged. They have a good spreader with twin discs, so it can be evenly distributed in the spring.
One of the advantages of having a mixed farm and growing your own poultry feed is that the business has a negative carbon footprint with a recent calculation suggesting farm-wide sequestration of 47,488 t of carbon dioxide equivalents per year.
They are currently studying the possibility of selling the credits to benefit from their carbon references.
Compost improves soil health
The Parker family owns a composting business, which has been used for 17 years to improve soil health on their light land farm.
Viewed more as a soil amendment, the compost was applied in the spring on their lighter, more sandy farm near Nottingham, which is mostly sand on gravel. It had low soil indices and organic matter levels and 17 years of use brought levels up to 6-7% organic matter (loss on ignition).
âThis allowed the soil to retain moisture better,â explains Michael Parker.