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Updated: Oct 17, 2020

Ian Norbury, Dairy Farm, Mobberley, Cheshire

A decade ago, Ian Norbury came back to the family farm full time with his dad part-time. They had milked cows but then got into sucklers. The ethos needed to change in order to make money and Ian decided to go pedigree. Mobberley Angus and the beef he produces is making great strides. Ian has increased the numbers of cattle from 60 cows six years ago and is aiming for 150 suckler cows +followers to total 300 to make full use of the available land. Stock is born on-farm and stays until slaughter or sold as breeding stock. 

The Mobberley Angus brand is now achieving a good price and reputation for quality beef. Ian has recently started selling to a local butcher in Manchester who sells to local pub trade and chains and likes to know the provenance of the meat, the butcher is active on social media, which is good for everyone. 

It was on a farm open day in Cornwall that Ian saw the KiwiTech water trough – 

“This was life changing for my rotational grazing journey, it meant we could start using a back fence, as the trough can be moved to each new Cell of fresh grazing, whereas we had been relying on the concrete troughs left over from our dairy cow enterprise, which meant the cattle would walk over the grazed land to drink”.

Ian thought that the cows would trash this small water trough – not much bigger than a dog water bowl! So he bought one and ran it off the concrete water trough via some blue pipe – he was amazed by how it kept the group of 50 cows watered, this was a game changer! He has since upgraded to bigger troughs for bigger groups of 50 +, having the blue pipe with taps on it run around the blocks, for ease of moving – which is so easy to do. The biggest obstacle Ian feels to rotational grazing is infrastructure and ensuring water was the main thing, once this was sorted the game changed. 

“Our Mains electrical unit runs electric fence over 250 acres, is a PEL820 with a remote, this goes around all the fields and temporary fencing feeds off this to create the cells. The power is amazing, as it runs some double fenced lines as well”.

Starting with strip grazing, but the introduction of a back fence, started Ian's grass addiction! Within 24 hours of the field be closed you start to see re-growth – it’s like magic! 

“Electric fencing is addictive! It is like a Swiss Army Knife – there are so many ways to use it, and to come run power off it. It is so fast and quick to put up permanently and bring temporary fence off it and tidy and smart”. 

Pushing 150 cows and calves down a track with electric fence, Ian knows they won’t break through. He used the outdoor weaning method; cows and calves are split in the yard, then calves put into a cell, which is double fenced, a temporary fence is put alongside this 1m away and the cows are put into the adjoining cell. Each day the cattle are moved a paddock/cell apart, this is to keep them all calmer and it works. No break outs and less bellowing! The 1st year, he left 2 older cows in with the calves, in order to teach the calves to move into new blocks and keep them calmer – however the cows were naughty and their two calves were the escapees! 

Having permanent electric fence, fed off the mains, saves so much time, from setting up the field for forward grazing blocks, plus the hedge is better quality and offers more protection. 

Outwintering – Ian wants to find people that do this well, and learn from them, and wants to give it his best shot, not a half-hearted one, where it has potential to fail, when he didn’t do it right because he didn’t have the knowledge. If something works then it is a massive cost saving – and that’s how he can make money, by saving it! 

Ian is breeding for a smaller suckler cow – he wants a cow that is 650 kg, he does not need a 1000kg cow, as he wants a weaning calf of around 325kg – around half the weight of the cow. This cow and calf can utilise the grass, stay out for longer and do less damage to the ground and soil structure, whilst still producing an ideal weight with excellent confirmation and carcass quality – this is easier for them to achieve than a one tonne cow producing a 500kg calf, which would need to be finished on concentrates. Plus, retailers want smaller cuts for the changing consumer habits. 

With a tightened the calving pattern to reduce the spread of the average weight, this is easier to manage a group and get a good average weight. Pros and Cons, the con being the butcher wants a supply all year round! 

Condition scoring his animals is still relevant for Ian, especially at calving and weaning – they can have the weight but not the condition, so this is still an important skill to have.

Ian has been rotational grazing for 4 years.

  • He was finding it expensive making silage and conserving grass that then might not get used.

  • Your land is what you are stuck with.

  • How much grass can I grow to keep a number of cows

  • How to turn grass into money

  • Have a smaller cow to utilise the grass efficiently.

  • Maximise what you have got. 

“I wanted to reduce all the cost and do the beef job as cheaply as I can – to protect us from market changes and volatility. There is no control over the end price – only how you produce it – that is where you can take back control”. 

Setting an income he wanted to achieve, Ian then worked backwards from there on how to get it. Ian would be better off buying in store cattle than having the sucklers, BUT he likes his pedigree Angus and has a cow addiction! 

A grass habit to feed his cow addiction!  

Grass management is now at a point where it needs fine-tuning and he is hoping to invest in Precision Grazing on a 1:2:1 basis, so he has James Daniels individually as opposed to the being part of the Precision Grazing discussion group, which has been great to get him to this stage. Ian wants to go up and get to the next level with his rotational grazing. 

“The Precision Grazing discussion group gets you around positive people, who are willing and wanting to change things and try new things. They do not always work but you’ve got to try it”.

Ian has stopped going to the cattle market as he found it too depressing, he would rather join a discussion group, travel to farm visits and learn from others on social media. With social media – you have to show the good and the bad. When you only show the good, it is not an honest portrayal of the industry and might stop other farmers reaching out to you when they need help or a shoulder. Being honest gives others the trust in you, for them to be honest as well. 

Be Honest – it helps build trust! 

Learning from others is important for ian, he has been on lots of the AHDB farm days but now he is being selective about what he attends, making sure he can learn from the day and the other farmers in attendance, Ian is willing to travel to learn. “I will travel a long way to good people and to learn from good people” he adds.

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