21 July 1995

Abundance a problem

Frequent seas mists, which are a feature of Bronmiods coastal climate, made all the difference to grass supplies over the past, almost rainless month. Bob Davies reports

DESPITE having only one half-day of drizzle in four weeks, Bronmiod has not been short of grass. "If anything, the problem has been how to utilise abundant herbage efficiently," says Owen Jones.

The grass bounty underlines the fact that Bronmiods extended area has been seriously understocked since 600 premium-earning empty old ewes and ewe lambs were sold off at the end of the retention period.

"We now know that a liquid feeding system works well here, and that, with the extra land we bought, there is enough keep for around 1800 breeding ewes and their lambs. So we will retain all the best ewe lambs from this years crop, and buy-in young in-lamb Welsh Mountain ewes to optimise stocking.

"This will mean buying extra quota units to cover replacement ewe lambs, but overall flock productivity will increase, and grass will be better managed next spring and summer."

Plentiful grass allowed an early start to be made on winter fodder conservation. The first 2ha (5 acres) cut produced 36 high density, high dry matter big bales. Another 8.8ha (22 acres) is ready for cutting as soon as other work permits.

All silage will be chopped to reduce wrapping costs. The total pick-up, baling and wrapping charge this year is £3.60/bale – 40p up on 1994. However, the decision to use string rather than bale netting, as employed last year, is saving another 40p.

"The arrival of thundery showers meant it was worthwhile applying 0.5t/ha of a 20:5:15 compound on 8ha we have shut off for a silage cut at the end of August."

Conservation has been somewhat forced on to the back burner by higher priority work. This included the direct reseeding of the field that grew fodder turnips last year with a long-term ley, and shearing. All but 30 ewes, which were missed during the gathering on tussocky marsh land, were clipped during one evening and a blisteringly hot day.

The gang of five shearers charged £600, and worked so fast that Mr and Mrs Jones, farm worker Gerallt Jones, and two casual helpers struggled to keep them supplied with sheep, and wrap the fleeces. Handling the ewes showed they were in unexpectedly good condition after the difficult spring.

As soon as the ewes recovered from shearing, they were dipped using the non-OP chemical Robust, which was recently licensed for scab control. For some lambs, especially those grazing lower land in the village, the short delay was too long to avoid blow fly strike.

"Fortunately, we spotted the problem early, so relatively few actually had maggots. Not using an OP also meant that we could dip very soon after shearing, so other work like silage making had to stop until we had finished."

Ideally Mr Jones would like to stop dipping altogether. He has high hopes that the development of a new generation of pharmaceuticals, some of which were tested on local farms, will allow the control of scab and blow fly strike in ewes with a single injection. If this is possible he would then use a pour-on product to protect lambs from maggots.

Injection might cost more, but would be better than dipping so many ewes through antiquated facilities. If the treatment also controls worms, it could be part of a product rotation designed to prevent resistance to anthelmintics.

Despite the advanced age of many of the 38 suckler cows on the farm, only one calf of 20 born so far this year did not survive. The plan is to sell some of the older cows with calves at foot at the end of the summer, and buy younger females to fill the full 40 head quota.

In future where the cows and calves graze will not only be dictated by grass growth. In recent weeks the local authority has erected seven new stiles along the mile or so of previously little used footpaths that cross Bronmiod, and is encouraging walkers to use them.

"We have one cow that nobody would be safe near for the first two weeks after calving, and others that would not like strangers. If many more people are going to use these paths we will have to be very careful."

No livestock have been sold in the past month. When enough lambs were ready to make up a load for the Spanish and Italian markets, the price dropped, so they were held back. Unless there is a total market collapse, the first 150 lambs are now due to be sold today (Friday) at Gaerwen.

The lack of sales means that the Joness overdraft has again edged above the agreed limit, but they are not yet under pressure from their bank manager. When the cash flow does improve, Mr Jones plans to recruit a part-time book keeper to handle basic office work, livestock record keeping and VAT.

The decision follows a VAT inspection. No significant problems arose, but, because the books were not up-to-date, a lot of extra work was needed to prepare for the visit during a very busy period.

Farm worker Gerralt Jones pours the recently-licenced non-OP chemical Robust into Bronmiods dip for routine scab control.

Its a wrap! Owen Jones is well pleased with his first cut silage, which has been helped by the misty conditions.