11 December 1998

Better days are here again

The Daltons spirits, at low

ebb in November, have

picked up. But the partners

face heavy work loads over

the next month. Robert

Davies reports

EFFORTS to be upbeat have been boosted by farm minister Nick Browns aid package announcement in November – not just because of the cash Margaret and John will get, but also because the Governments has acknowledgement that the industry is in trouble.

Margaret did not have to wait for the latest Welsh Offices figures for cattle and sheep farms to know that average net farm incomes would have dropped 66% on the year without emergency aid.

"The money and the lifting of the beef export ban are the first tiny, but very welcome, glimmers of light," says Margaret. "There are some very difficult months ahead but our morale is higher than it was a month ago."

The arrival of support payment cheques totalling £3767 should help to sustain the improvement. So too will payment for 80 lambs submitted to the Farm Assured Welsh Livestock/Waitrose scheme, of which 74 met the specification. Another 60 will be drawn before Christmas.

"Finishing lambs has been difficult all year but renting a field of fresh grass from a neighbour for 50p/lamb/week, and a short spell of drier weather, has accelerated things. But it is still difficult to meet the 14.5kg weight specification, and when we do, the price averages about £29/lamb compared with £40 last year."

Losing ground

The decision to finish 60 lambs indoors has not worked well. After growing quickly the ram lambs in particular started losing ground, despite having access to 1kg a head per day of concentrate.

On veterinary advice the partners have been feeding a supplement containing vitamins and selenium and cobalt. This costs a few pence a lamb each day and sheep appear more thrifty.

Early lambing older ewes have been housed. Extremely wet ground mean the main flock is being moved frequently to allow poached swards to recover while grass is still growing.

"The tups have been removed. We did not use raddles, except at the start to ensure that all the rams were working, but mud stains on the ewes fleeces indicate that most have been served."

The suckler cows, calves and store cattle have settled well after housing. The partners are still concerned what to do with 14 heifers that were withheld from store markets because of low prices. Margaret hopes to establish links with a local butcher to achieve a price which will leave both parties with reasonable margins.

She is still hoping to get acceptable prices on beasts sold out of the wintering shed. Two sent to Tregaron on Dec 1 weighed an averag of 455kg and attracted bids of 65p/kg, 10p/kg less than the reserve. "They went through the store ring, though they could have gone for killing. Either way I was not prepared to accept such a miserable amount and took them home. Which still leaves us with a problem."

Processing of Christmas poultry is due to start on Dec 14. Orders are good, but five well grown turkeys running outside were killed in a raid by a fox.

The change in sewage sludge use regulations mean that all raw material must be cleared from plant stores by Christmas. This is putting pressure on Johns contracting business at a time when his staff want extra holidays and his help is needed with the poultry enterprise.

"Fortunately the drier weather and access to a large site has allowed us to get on top of things and we are on schedule to complete the job."

A letter informing Margaret she has been shortlisted to the last four in the NFU/NatWest Bank Welsh Farm Woman of the Year Award has further lifted spirits. Her contributions to Management Matters were cited by her nominee, an unknown lady who attended the National Sheep Association open day on the unit last summer. &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 A 125ha (310-acre) less favoured area beef and sheep unit in mid-Wales farmed by Margaret Dalton and her son John, who also operates contracting services.

&#8226 Managed in association with an ADAS full-farm advisory package.

&#8226 Quota for 435 ewes. Scotch Mules are put to Rouge tups and the female progeny used to produce Texel sired prime lambs.

&#8226 Quota for 85 sucklers, Hereford x Friesians, Welsh Blacks and Longhorn x Welsh Blacks, used to breed Charolais cross stores.

&#8226 Small poultry enterprise.

&#8226 One full-time stockman, and variable number of full and part-time contracting staff.