10 July 1998

Bull and tup raise the spirits

It has been a case of water,

water, everywhere at Rugley,

with barely a day in June

passing without rain. At

least there has been some

good news about a bull and

a tup to lift the Jacksons

spirits as Tim Relf finds out

HES got some company now, says Alan Jackson of the farms stock bull, after the purchase of a second one last month.

The latest addition, a 22-month-old Blonde dAquitaine, was bought locally for £1450. It follows the arrival last June, with a price tag of £1500, of an Aberdeen Angus bull.

The move highlights Alans dissatisfaction with last summers experience when only about 50% of the 40 cows and heifers successfully held to AI, costing nearly £1000. "Not only is AI time-consuming," says Alan, "but it also represents an annual cost."

Instead, the money was put towards another sire. A Limousin would have been first choice, but, because they are in fashion locally, they are more expensive, he says. "We got something slightly more out of fashion and paid less for it as a result." Getting another Angus was not an option because it will have to work with Angus cross heifers.

"If the beef trade improves, we can always revert to using AI, allowing us access to superior genetics, and we will still have the two bulls to catch the returns."

Not that there is any sign of the beef trade improving just yet. The Jacksons are now in the gap period, with no more animals due to be finished until just before Christmas. "Which is bad news for cashflow, but, bearing in mind how low prices are, probably just as well really."

The last 12 beasts were sold through a live auction, a rarity for Rugley cattle. "The liveweight trade was improving, with no movement in deadweight quotes. Marking the tail-end, they averaged 86p/kg lw."

The calves from last summers AI efforts look quite well, meanwhile, though a bit more sun on their backs would be appreciated. Growth rates of the older cattle have also been affected by bad weather, with some struggling to put on 0.5kg a day.

With the fields getting badly plunged, some cattle have even been brought back inside, something that has not happened on the farm in June for 20 years.

The other enterprises have not escaped the wet weather, either. About a fifth of the 49ha (120 acres) of grass cut for silage lay on the ground for five days, while Alan waited for it to dry sufficiently. But that was a period when, in one 24 hour period alone, 2in of rain fell.

Eventually the silage was collected, and first estimates put yields at about 22-25t/ha (9-10t/acre) at 30% dry matter.

"June was a month of useless days. When it was not raining it was too cold to get on with landwork."

With the tramlines full of water, any hopes of getting a second fungicide on the winter barley disappeared. And there are about 4ha (10 acres) of spring rape which have been under water. "Good for the seagulls, but not so good for the crop," says Alan. He reckons he will be lucky to cover the seed costs on that area.

The sheep have also suffered. For the second year running, July arrived with no start made on shearing. No finished lambs have been sold, either. "They are a sun plant," says Alan. "But they are three months old and barely know what sunshine is."

There has been some good news in the sheep department, though, with one of Rugleys Suffolk rams registering the best score in the breeds sire reference scheme.

The news came last week at the schemes selection day at Penrith. Born at the end of January, the lamb had an lean growth index score of 332. But it was not chosen to go into the pool of tups used in the flocks of the 70 or so scheme members.

In the end, the chosen ones were a son of Hillend Hercules and a son of Stockton Supersire 95, with indexes of 255 and 297, respectively.

"It was not a complete surprise that he was not picked because, without exceptional bone strength, he did not show as much breed character as some people like. Some farms produce sheep with bones like treetrunks."

Meanwhile the rams future remains to be decided. If a decent offer comes along, the Jackons might part with him. Either that, or hang on to him and put him to work with the cross-bred ewes.

"Whatever the other members of the scheme might have thought about him, he will certainly produce some fast-growing lambs for next summers prime market." &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 A 280ha (690-acre) arable and grass unit in the north east, farmed by Alan and Lorna Jackson on a full agricultural tenancy from the Duke of Northumberland.

&#8226 Heavy land growing combinable crops and grass, 25% in the LFA.

&#8226 Continental cross beef cattle finished on semi-intensive system.

&#8226 British Milksheep producing prime lambs, plus small pedigree Suffolk and Texel enterprises.

&#8226 Three full-time employees, supplemented by casual labour.

A grand ram… Alan Jackson with his Suffolk tup, the highest lean index scoring one in the country. The rams future is undecided.

Going to work… Alan Jackson points Rugleys new bull in the right direction. Not that he needed any prompting!