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Alan Montgomery

6 September 2002

Alan Montgomery

Alan Montgomery runs

a 300ha (750-acre) mixed

farm near Downpatrick, Co

Down, Northern Ireland.

As well as cereals and

potatoes, the farm supports

a 130-cow suckler herd,

950 breeding ewes and

1000 store lambs

FOLLOWING several weeks of relative inactivity, seasonal work dictates that the pace quickens.

Harvesting has made steady progress, however, I was annoyed at having to let our contractor move on after combining oats because wheat and spring barley were not quite ripe. A feature of current arable returns is the sizable proportion of income generated from straw sales.

The Ulster Farmers Union is assessing production losses due to the awful weather. Rainfall has been 150% of average, falling constantly rather than in heavy bursts as in central Europe. Were I a Brussels bureaucrat I would have little doubt about where to target financial aid.

Another of our aging silos has had its floor replaced and a side wall strengthened. Second cut silage was taken at the end of August. Zero grazing and poor growth in some areas mean this winters tonnage will be well below average.

A kind autumn would not go amiss. This would aid forage rape growth and reseeds sown after winter barley. Were it not for these following crops, winter barley yielding 5.6t/ha (2.25t/acre) would be dropped. New leys will allow us to put some long leys that have lost their vigour and have a high weed content into the arable rotation.

New rams are required each year and I have been active at the various breed sales. Scrapie genotyping is a dominant factor of late. Some breeders have chosen not to blood test while others have their rams results readily available. With no clear directives from our administration and many producers not fully understanding how this serious condition could devastate the UK sheep industry, urgent work is required.

Our newly purchased rams have been active already. Two batches of ewes have been sponged and received 650 and 500 units of PMSG to lamb post-Christmas and mid-January, respectively. A control batch of 20 in the second group received no PMSG to give me a rough guide as to its effect.

My right-hand man Marty is recovering from routine surgery. Several weeks of rest and recuperation are required. Ive had great difficultly in keeping him away from his work – a quality seldom found in this day and age. &#42

Despite recent surgery, Alan Montgomerys worker Marty is keen to be back out on the farm.

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Alan Montgomery

12 July 2002

Alan Montgomery

Alan Montgomery runs

a 300ha (750-acre) mixed

farm near Downpatrick, Co

Down, Northern Ireland.

As well as cereals and

potatoes, the farm supports

a 130-cow suckler herd,

950 breeding ewes and

1000 store lambs

READING the June columns of my fellow contributors most have struggled, like ourselves, with the continuous abysmal weather.

It appears the only difference between summer and winter is the number of daylight hours and a few degrees in temperature.

Silage harvesting, which normally takes 3-4 days, was spread over two weeks. Spare a thought for contractors contending with big crops of wet, stemmy grass. For many, this season will be a financial disaster.

Fortunately, on our farm, ground damage has been kept to a minimum. We have left a 3ha (7.5-acre) low-lying hollow for the round baler when conditions improve. Fertilised aftermaths are slow to recover, the only saviour being they have not dried out like concrete.

Eighty yearling cattle reluctantly left the comfort of their housed accommodation on June 27. They are now on our flat, heavy meadows where grass is out of control.

A requirement for two consecutive dry days to shear means ewes remain unshorn. As conditions do not favour blowfly strike and scratching posts have helped prevent sheep from rolling on their backs, there is no immediate pressure to shear.

Subsequent to last month and our request for an additional 5p bonus on U2 and U3 lambs at the expense of a 5p deduction on the R4Ls, our negotiations were successful.

Fine, in theory, until we hit a run of 4L carcasses, brought on by a combination of the cold, wet weather, single lambs and creep feeding. Lamb creep feeding has become a feature of this farm in recent years. All lambs born before mid-March receive a home mix of 60% oats, 20% beer shreds, 15% soya and 5% mineral, costing about £100/t. It is fed at 0.5kg a lamb a day on walk-in creep feeders. With a coating of hydrated lime on the ground, this system works well.

The late Harry Ferguson, pioneer of the first Massey Ferguson tractors, would be devastated by the news that Agco is to cease production at its Coventry plant. Another victim of UK manufacturing being sacrificed on the global market. Sadly, the people that could do something about it suffer from apathy. &#42

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Alan Montgomery

17 May 2002

Alan Montgomery

Alan Montgomery runs

a 300ha (750-acre) mixed

farm near Downpatrick, Co

Down, Northern Ireland.

As well as cereals and

potatoes, the farm supports

a 130-cow suckler herd,

950 breeding ewes and

1000 store lambs

THE easy care lambing trial has been a fascinating affair this season.

Ewes now in their fifth season have become bigger and fatter than the ideal. Being run as a separate flock means they are probably getting preferential treatment. A rogue male lamb somehow impregnated 12 ewes before he was discovered and several ewes aborted their lambs after being weighed just before lambing.

Lambing the rest was spread over the whole of April with no more than five lambing in one day.

Plastic mesh shelters of different shapes were erected in half the outdoor area where one-third of the ewes lambed as part of ARINIs easy care lambing project. The other half of this field held a further one-third of these ewes, which lambed without shelters, while the remainder lambed indoors.

Unfortunately for research workers, ewes hardly used the shelters to lamb in, as the weather was so good.

Lambs were weighed, sexed and tagged and moved to a replicant post lambing field where they joined ewes from the indoor batch. Shelter use was again recorded. Its use was markedly greater here, although some may have been due to young lambs shading from the sun.

There are significant savings in feed costs when comparing outdoor and indoor systems. But the prime aim of this study has not produced the savings in labour required to make outdoor lambing a more attractive option. Absolute minimal supervision coupled with a quick method of moving sheep post-lambing is needed to make the system viable.

All six farms in the study have been issued with faecal egg counting packs. We have recently spent half a days training in their use. All ewes were dung sampled four weeks pre-lambing and again at the pre-lambing weighing.

They were wormed using doramectin at lambing. Worm samples will again be taken four weeks post lambing, along with a random sample of 20 lambs at monthly intervals during the grazing season. Worm numbers of different types will be recorded and dosing will be carried out according to threshold levels. &#42

Fine weather has been great for lambing, but not so great for a research project running on Alan Montgomerys farm.

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Alan Montgomery

30 November 2001

Alan Montgomery

Alan Montgomery runs

a 300ha (750-acre) mixed

farm near Downpatrick, Co

Down, Northern Ireland.

As well as cereals and

potatoes, the farm supports

a 130-cow suckler herd, 800

breeding ewes and

1000 store lambs

ALONG with many parts of the UK, we have been enjoying the best autumn weather for many years. Recent grass growth has been well above the seasonal norm and, with ground conditions still firm, utilisation is excellent.

Potatoes are in store and drilling was completed by the second week of November. September reseeds are off to a flying start and some will be ready for a light grazing by ewes and lambs in January.

The 60kg/acre (24kg/ha) of nitrogen top dressing in mid September of canola – forage rape – should produce sufficient growth for the early lambing flock. So why do I have this feeling of impending doom?

Half the calves have been weaned and housed. We were able to turn cows back outdoors to an area of rough grazing. Younger calves will remain with their mothers until the weather breaks. Cows are being supplemented with excellent quality oaten straw and a mineral.

First cut grass silage analysis, apart from having a low dry matter, is good (see panel). Since moving to a contractor several years ago silage quality has improved enormously. If contractors would resist taking short cuts through cereal crops we would make serious progress.

I have been digesting my copy of The Vision for the Future of the Agri-Food Industry (N Ireland). Its observations and recommendations are all embracing and far-reaching, but the real test will be in their implementation by all parties involved.

This farms long-term future has never been discussed in detail with my two sons who are currently at university. But I will take the liberty of providing some early answers to farmers weeklys Next Generation Survey from my younger son.

He does not see himself entering full-time farming for another 5-8 years. The advantages of farming he lists are having responsibility, decision making and being his own boss. Disadvantages would be poor pay and unsociable hours.

My son is studying a financial course and is not influenced by the recent farming crisis. He lists his fathers attitude towards his job as happy.

As this will be my last article until January, I wish everyone a peaceful Christmas, with better things to come in 2002. Heres hoping. &#42

Canola – forage rape – should provide plenty of feed for Alan Montgomerys early lambing flock.

Grass silage analysis

&#8226 DM 21% &#8226 D-value 76 &#8226 pH 3.7 &#8226 ME 12.1 &#8226 Crude protein 13.1% &#8226 Ammonia 7%

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Alan Montgomery

2 November 2001

Alan Montgomery

Alan Montgomery runs

a 300ha (750-acre) mixed

farm near Downpatrick, Co

Down, Northern Ireland.

As well as cereals and

potatoes, the farm supports

a 130-cow suckler herd, 800

breeding ewes and

1000 store lambs

OUR caseous lymphadenitis contact ram has had another clear clinical examination from a veterinary official.

One more check without mishap and restrictions on him and the rest of the flock will be lifted.

My investment in him will be wasted this season, as ewes and ewe lambs will be tupped before he comes out of isolation. It is a small price to pay, but what remains to be discovered is how, in this age of movement permits, it took six weeks to trace him to our farm.

The Institute of Animal Healths admission that they may have tested cattle brains mistakenly during their work on BSE in the national sheep flock proves what most of us have suspected for some time. They are academically brilliant but bereft of common sense.

All-important consumer confidence has taken another knock with the uncertainty. Fortunately, lamb prices have risen this week in the wake of another government farce.

Still on the subject of sheep brains, the first phase of the national scrapie plan to eliminate scrapie from the national flock is under way. By using genotyping, terminal sire breeders will be able to produce rams that are RR, resistant to scrapie; R1, totally resistant; or R2, predominantly resistant. Hopefully, this work will be flagged up and used as a disease-free marketing tool.

With ground conditions worsening, steers and heifers were housed on Oct 19, just a few days earlier than average. Silage and straw stocks are plentiful, although with current straw prices I would prefer to be selling. Calves, with their protective pneumonia vaccination administered, will remain on cows a little longer.

Farming has been interfering with my social life. Winter cereal to be drilled and ewes and rams to be batched for mating left me reluctantly declining a hospitality ticket for the Ireland vs England rugby match in Dublin. With the benefit of hindsight it was probably a good move as it would have been well into Monday before any productive work could have taken place. &#42

With ground conditions worsening, steers and heifers have been housed on Alan Montgomerys farm.

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Alan Montgomery

5 October 2001

Alan Montgomery

Alan Montgomery runs

a 300ha (750-acre) mixed

farm near Downpatrick, Co

Down, Northern Ireland.

As well as cereals and

potatoes, the farm supports

a 130-cow suckler herd, 800

breeding ewes and

1000 store lambs

FOLLOWING my writings on the upgraded farm quality scheme, we have been visited by an inspector. With some insight into what was expected from our farm, I was fairly confident of meeting the criteria.

I was lulled into a false sense of security when after a 15-minute walk through the yards, the inspector commented on the farms tidiness and contentment of livestock. The 1.5-hour questionnaire was a different matter, as farming practice and recording was brought under the microscope.

It soon became apparent that things were not going well and I felt shattered and drained by the end of the visit. We have six months to produce photographs or documentary evidence on the rectification of three major non-conformances.

The first non-conformance was having no record of purchased feedstuffs in the required format. Secondly, we were deemed to have no suitable run-back area for sheep on root crops and finally the farm is not registered with the Department of Environment for spreading used sheep dip.

Number one will be easily rectified as we home mix using mainly our own cereals. Number three is possible, but will cost in excess of £300. Lack of grass run-backs will pose the greatest difficulty, as in certain fields they are not available.

I believe transparency about farming practice is necessary to maintain consumer confidence. However, I cannot help but feel these schemes are all competing against each other for the same markets. Hence the need for each scheme to appear superior to its rivals.

A much more serious matter is a suspected case of caseous lymphadenitis in a pedigree ram, sourced at a premier show and sale in early August. He has been closely scrutinised by a government vet and is showing no symptoms of the disease to date.

However, it can take up to four months for swellings to appear and they are not always obvious as they can grow internally as well as externally. The offending male has many more checks to go through before he is in the clear. &#42

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