Cattle are feeding well and lambing is under way at Deer Park Farm, but the shadow of bovine TB refuses to go away. Olivia Cooper reports
Martin Howlett’s hopes of starting 2007 free of TB were dashed on the second day of the year, when vets discovered another reactor, 10 weeks after the first positive test.
He will now need two clear tests before movement restrictions can be lifted, leaving his summer grazing agreements in limbo. “The landlords want to know if we’re going to be taking the ground this year – and we just can’t tell them. It’s been very difficult working around the linked holdings, even though the SVS vet and COBRA inspector have been so helpful.”
But with all three of the reactors having tested negative in previous tests, Mr Howlett is concerned the TB test isn’t thorough. “Two of the three reactors should have been picked up in a tracing test but weren’t – isn’t it about time we used something more accurate?”
Accuracy in the meat trade is something of a moot point in the Howlett household, after an inquiry was called at Jaspers’ abattoir into a Welsh Black steer which had six, rather than four, teeth. “The passport showed it was four days under 30 months old,” says Mr Howlett. “The BCMS has got a very clear database, so why are we still relying on the vagaries of dentistry? Is the Meat Hygiene Service suggesting that there is fraudulent activity going on?”
Mr Howlett will now have to wait up to two weeks before he discovers whether the animal will be allowed into the food chain or disposed of at a loss of £690.
Although he has to work hard to finish the native breed cattle in 30 months, the three steers sent to slaughter last week came in at R4L and O+3 grades and weighed between 310kg and 350kg. “All the cattle have responded well to the ration this year so we’ve been able to pick winter-finished cross-breds earlier than normal.”
Maize silage has been exceptional this year. Belouga and Leeds varieties, drilled together in the same fields, tested at 37% dry matter, 10.3% crude protein and 11.3MJ/kg of metabolisable energy (ME).
The first cut silage was also pleasing, with a digestibility (D) value of 68%, ME of 10.9MJ/kg and high sugar levels of 81g/kg. “We’ve found that layering the maize silage, first and second cut grass silage and wholecrop barley in the same pit is working very well,” says Mr Howlett. “It gives us the option to feed each one individually, or mix them to a higher protein value.”
Meanwhile, the 286 ewes and ewe lambs have started lambing, and three sets of triplets are on the ground. “The scanning results have been disappointing, with a lambing percentage of 147% compared with a more normal 170-175%,” says Mr Howlett.
The dry summer has apparently affected most flocks in the region, with average lambing percentages down by 20-30 points. “All we can hope is that the singles and twins will grow away faster for an early market.”
On a more positive note, Mr Howlett is hopeful that his Higher Level Stewardship Scheme application will be accepted to start on 1 February. “We have scored the necessary points and have been provisionally accepted.”
If successful, the farm will receive £6000 a year under the environmental schemes. “There are costs involved to cover land maintenance, but this should allow farm enterprises to stand alone on profit. It’s just unfortunate that the HLS requirements are so tight that the average farm will struggle to qualify – that’s not what it was meant to be about.”