20 February 1998

Butterfats risk super-levy

The fight is on to curb milk

output at Whelan Farms to

reduce the risk of super-levy

payments. But rising

butterfat levels are causing

concern as Suzie Horne

finds out

LOWER yielding cows have been taken off maize silage to try to put the brakes on milk production.

In the first 10 months of the milk year, 81% of quota was produced, and the figure would have been higher were it not for the high maize content of the herds diet.

That brought butterfats down to the 3.5% mark to the end of January. Production was 149,500 litres last month, but fat adjusted supplies were 138,000 litres.

Cutting the maize for the lower yielders is pushing butterfats up to 3.65%, says manager, Robert Kilby. "If it goes to 3.7%, then we are looking at finishing the year 1.5-2% over quota. We are still averaging over 7500 litres, with the lowest number of cows we have had in the herd for over three years, at 180 head."

Next milk year another 50 to 55 heifers will come in to take numbers back up to about 200.

Further efforts to reduce milk sales include feeding up to 3000 litres of milk a month to calves, although this has been forced on the unit by the late arrival of ear tags. "We have not been able to sell a calf for two months," says Mr Kilby. "The tags were ordered in November and finally arrived last week."

He plans to sell both bull and heifer calves at Ashford market in Kent soon, and while he hopes bulls may fetch a decent price, he is not so sure how the market will react to two-month-old heifer calves.

Meanwhile a drop in the normally excellent fertility rates is disappointing. Calving went smoothly, so Mr Kilby believes the fertility slip could be caused by high yields and the cows milking off their backs in some cases.

Although not overly concerned, he will ensure later calving cows do not slip back further. "We do not want to be calving too many in January and February."

Winter housekeeping has been made easier by recent frosts and dry weather, allowing muck to go on to the last remaining maize field and the lagoon to be pumped out.

An early start has also been made with granular urea on dairy land while the weather allows. Rates of 113kg/ha (90 units/acre) were used where no muck has been applied and 55kg (46 units/acre) elsewhere. Sheep land has had 44kg/ha (35 units/acre).

Reseeds and new leys all look well, including some permanent pasture which was slot seeded in a bid to get an extra 10 to 15 days worth of early grazing.

Mr Kilby is hopeful that an experiment with 15ha (36 acres) of Italian ryegrass drilled in October immediately after maize was harvested will pay off. It will add a potential extra 300t of grass to silage stocks.

Like many arable men, Mr Kilby has so far not sold 1t of grain forward from the 1998 harvest, although 40% of the rape crop was sold just before Christmas at £155/t ex farm for harvest movement.

"Normally at this time we would have sold 20 to 30% of our expected wheat crop." His budget shows an average wheat price of £83/t, but the market needs to gain £5 to achieve this. Only a significantly weaker £ will move the market that much, so Mr Kilby is now poised to take advantage of any slight improvement in prices.

Spring barley has been dropped from the cropping plan in favour of linola on a buyback contract with Allied Grain. It is based on a price equivalent to oilseed rape at the time of movement, and will give a good break for wheat. As well as the price risk of malting barley, there were also storage complications, another reason for dropping the crop for now.

The arable side of the business has been reinvesting in new kit, with a 4m (13ft) Kuhn power harrow and a 4m Sulky drill recently delivered to the farm.

Mr Kilby has also been weighing up the potential benefits of new strobilurin fungicides. "The principle is excellent but the management will have to be spot on due to the poor eradicant qualities," he observes.

He plans to split applications in some fields to find out how effective the products are alone or when used with triazoles.

While he expects the chemistry to form an important part of his fungicide programme, he will not use them everywhere. He is also waiting for a price reduction before ordering. &#42

Sprayer operator Andy Crow applies herbicide in spring-like weather to grass reseeds established last autumn to take out competing chickweed.




&#8226 A 649ha (1604 acre) arable, dairy and sheep holding owned by John Whelan and farmed by Sentry Farming.

&#8226 Chalky soil with some clay over chalk in Kent.

&#8226 356ha (880 acres) mixed combinable crops, including non-rotational set-aside.

&#8226 Dairy herd currently stands at 195 cows averaging just over 6500 litres.

&#8226 1300 ewes lambing mid-March, mainly Mules, some Scotch half-breds.

&#8226 Six full-time staff.