Archive Article: 1996/05/24 - Farmers Weekly

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Archive Article: 1996/05/24

24 May 1996

I ATTENDED one of New Zealand consultant Mark Blackwells grassland meetings the other day and took along my home-made 20-year-old rising plate grass meter.

This is the posh way of describing an electric fencing stake with some grooves cut in it 1cm apart. It slides through a length of light-weight gate tubing braced to a square foot of tin at the bottom.

Mark was so amazed to see this compared with his own state-of-the-art model that he took a photograph of them together – the old and the new.

It gave me a chance to calibrate my tool against his and now I know how many kg/ha DM my set-stocked area is producing.

One of the problems with set stocking early in the season is getting the grass under control, especially if turnout is delayed because of wet conditions.

Mark suggested that with the amount of grass available the cows could eat their fill in about three hours, so why not bring them back into the yards and cubicles with no buffer feed. We did this on a couple of wet nights with no ill effect – but we made sure they had adequate magnesium.

Then the cold winds came and dried things out a bit and we were able to follow the dairy herd with a large group of dry cows and heifers to get each set-stocked field in turn down to 3-4cm. I hope when the weather warms up this will encourage tillering and improve summer grass quality.

I have been busy this month conducting a survey of farmers using Easy Calver dry cow rolls.

I sent out nearly 200 copies of a questionnaire which I hoped was straightforward enough to enable it to be completed as soon as it arrived rather than being in a pile to do tomorrow – and tomorrow never comes. I included a stamped addressed envelope and an offer of one free bag of rolls as incentive.

We received 40% replies within a few days, which I am told is an excellent response. But I did wonder how many of those who have not yet replied crossed out the address and used the stamped envelope for some other purpose.

The replies were encouraging. Nine out of 10 farms reported reduced or substantially reduced milk fever and seven out of 10 reported much easier calving producing healthy calves full of vitality.

Milk proteins were more difficult to assess. But most reported increases and 99% said milk proteins were similar or better.

Ninety-five percent said the cows got back in calf easily and, believe it or not, seven out of 10 farmers reported increased profit.

Fields for set-stocking with milking cows have been grazed down to 3-4cm with dry cows and heifers at Liberty Farm to encourage tillering.and improving summer grass quality.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/24

24 May 1996

WANTED: One crystal ball with a proven track record. Mine must be on the blink – it cannot tell me if it is going to be months or years before beef recovers fully.

With the above guidance, we have decided to cut concentrates down to 1kg a head a day and are thinking of reducing it to zero on some cattle.

The risk associated with such a decision is that we may end up with a shed full of hat racks. The positive thought is that instead of selling 30 animals a month well have more animals in the pipeline to be finished at, one hopes, heavier weights and higher prices. This will require substantially more silage, the consequence of such action will have to be overcome later in the year.

At the time of writing, May 11, the first grass analysis gives 18% dry matter, 77% D-values, 3.7% sugars and 27% crude protein. If the bitterly cold weather would relent, a few warm, sunny days would see nitrogen used fully and silage making could begin.

Redrilling on our heavy soil is not to be recommended. For the first time ever we have had to replant 30 acres with spring rape. Luckily we have had showers almost daily and a full crop has emerged quickly.

NFUs North East and North West regions arranged a two-day visit to Brussels on May 7/8. Policy advisers and a group of farmers, including myself, were lucky enough to be invited and had a fascinating insight into how Europe should work and also into why it sometimes does not.

My thanks to the NFU for the chance and for all the hard work, both in the UK and in Brussels. Without its guidance both the EU and UK governments would have been at a loss. Things at present may not be perfect but without the NFU it would have been an even greater disaster.

If my crystal ball is to prove correct we need some action and we need it now.

Cutting back on concentrates will reduce Don Wilkinsons beef sales from 30 to just 10 a month and allow stock to be finished at heavier weights.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/24

24 May 1996

Over 750 ewes and their lambs were sold high in the Cotswold hills at Soundborough Farm, Andoversford, Glos, last week. The offering of mainly North Country Mule crosses was on behalf of R I &#42 Wills. Top price was £83 per couple; average was £25.45 per life. The farms rams will be sold in the autumn. (Tayler and Fletcher)

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Archive Article: 1996/05/24

24 May 1996

Auctioneer David Fisher (right) and farmer David Hopley inspect the grass sward at Corner Farm, Ellesmere, Shropshire, shortly before the recent sale of seasonal grazing and mowing rights. Prices for the 30ha (75 acres) averaged £284/ha (£115/acre). With limited grass in some areas, farmers are already thinking ahead to next winters fodder supplies, says Mr Fisher of Wright-Manley.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/24

24 May 1996

WE seem to have had a very hectic period but have achieved all we planned very much on time. We did have four wet days at the end of April (which seems ages ago now) and took the chance to blitz the manure in the cow yards which was building up to become a potential problem. Usually we can manage ourselves, but on this occasion we brought our contractor in with a JCB Fastrack and two 15t trailers. He was able to clear the manure as fast as we could get it out. The more I see of the Fastrack the more impressed I become. We have had it on demo a couple of times and I am becoming convinced there is a place for one on this farm.

That rain in April was critical for our cereals and despite the continued cold and frosty nights, the crops looks super. It also gave the Italian ryegrass a boost resulting in a huge silage cut on May 10. Our contractor again excelled himself and cleared 42ha (103 acres) in one day finishing the next morning. Two ploughs went into the land committed to maize and like a military operation all sowing was completed by the May 15 deadline. Although the ground was very dry on top there was plenty of moisture coming up and the maize seeds have gone into perfect conditions. The early planted maize has just struggled above the surface. At present it certainly looks set for a dry season. Some good rain is forecast for next week which the spring reseeds desperately need.

The cows did not respond to the spring grass at all this year which was disappointing. We have majored on zero grazing to keep grass use as efficient as possible. The only grass they did respond to was a one-year-old red circle ley fed last week. That pushed us over the 7000 litres a day for the first time. We had been predicted to do that a month ago. All last years silage has now gone due to the late spring and the tighter winter situation we have just come through. We normally have maize silage for the summer but not this year. As we do not have feeders in the parlour we prefer to mix concentrates with a small amount of silage as a carrier for the mixer wagon. We will open up the new clamp in a week or so once it has stabilised.

We have committed ourselves to install automatic cow identification in the parlour and this is to be installed next week. I have been watching the developments in this area for some time but have ended up with neck responders from Alfa Laval. I am expecting that this will reduce milking time by a significant amount. We are milking almost 14 hours a day at the moment.

Peckforton Home Farm has been zero-grazing this spring but so far results have been disappointing

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Archive Article: 1996/05/24

24 May 1996

TO measure the ideal length of grass for sheep they say that, as a rule, you should be able to throw a 50p piece in the sward and still see the face of it. Do that on our pastures and you will probably be able to see both sides at once.

Grass seems to have disappeared over the past two weeks. We desperately need some heat and the end of the frosts at night to try to get the grass ahead of the sheep.

Lambing is nearly finished with no great problems. Perhaps there are even more lambs than normal with losses less than I can remember. We lamb the first half of the flock to Texels with the rest to Suffolks starting 10 days later. Over the years we found that the Texel cross lambs can stand the poorer early weather much better.

The BSE crisis does not seem to have moved. Intervention is not working. Perhaps the politicians think it was only a bad dream and it will go away. Well, anyone selling cattle knows otherwise. So far we have sold 50 young bulls at 645kg liveweight averaging 109.5p. That comes to about £700 a head. Last years bulls averaged £800 and 30kg lighter making us about £130-£150 down, comparing like with like.

By selling a little heavier we are trying to compensate for part of the loss. The extra 30kg costs about £18 in feed.

What we will do next year is still too early to tell. But at the moment we think bulls can be produced more economically than steers. The only flaw in these thoughts is that feed costs will be higher with protein rising 25% in the past 12 months. Without meat and bonemeal in pig and poultry rations the upward pressure will continue.

Peter Scott has nearly finished lambing at Balmanno Farm with no great problems. Low losses have left him with more lambs than usual.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/24

24 May 1996

A mini Toyota Landcruiser goes on sale in the UK from this autumn. Replacing the outgoing short-wheelbase Landcruiser II and 4Runner models, this little Landcruiser will be targeted at the popular £20,000-£30,000 Discovery/Shogun market, and powered by either a 3.4-litre V6 petrol or 3-litre four-cylinder diesel. Full pricing details will be announced shortly.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/24

24 May 1996

NOSTALGIC LOOK AT DAYS GONE BY

Eden Farm Insight turned back the clock to enable its customers, both farmers and the general public, to enjoy a day down Memory Lane. Alan Barker meandered with them

EDEN Farm Insight visitor centre set up by John Sturdy at Old Malton, North Yorks, attracts 30,000 people every year and is already a museum- piece of vintage tackle and farm tools, but with the support of enthusiasts throughout Yorkshire, its recent Vintage Working Day really rolled back the years.

It was the sight of an old threshing machine, churning out its 131kg (16-stone) bags of grain, that brought memories flooding back to me. Being too young to think of humping grain up the granary steps, my job on threshing day was to deal with the sheets of chaff.

I can remember Shire horses and the lone ploughman, although I never tried my hand at that job. The tractor was just beginning to make its appearance in my early days on the farm – machines like the l942 Fordson driven by David Bulmer, which cost his uncle just £177.50 when new.

Demonstrations of rural crafts were another major attraction for working day visitors. The working blacksmith has a popular appeal, although one might expect to find him making horseshoes or harrow teeth, rather than swords for use in a theatrical production.

Farm Womens Club member, Margaret Wildig, Primrose Hill Farm, Cawood, was demonstrating the art of corn dolly making, and seeking to raise funds for her favourite charity, the Wheatfields Hospice in Leeds. And Kath Bulmer, Sleights Farm, Amotherby, was demonstrating traditional farmhouse butter making.

Eden Farm Insight provided a thoroughly enjoyable day of nostalgia. I left mentally comparing mechanised farming today with life on the farm 50-60 years ago and wondering what new miracles of science and engineering will have emerged 60 years hence.

Left: Kath Bulmer shapes up a pat of butter. Above:A vintage threshing machine with elevator (right) to take away the straw.

Among the enthusiasts was Mr Prest of Malton who brought a 1941 Clark which was made in the USA.

Above:John Sturdy of Eden Farm Insight. His collection of old tackle and tools is open to the public.

Right: A Bamford root cutter from the 1930s.

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