24 October 1997

Cash flow is all outwards

With cattle numbers cut at

Rugley, the Jacksons have

been relying on other

enterprises to generate

cash. Getting sheep sold

remains a priority, as

Tim Relf reports

BILLS have far outnumbered receipts at Rugley in recent weeks.

What grain has been sold hasnt made as much as the Jacksons had hoped and as for the cattle, there just havent been any to sell. The last batch went off the farm in July and the next wont go until December, making this the longest ever such gap at Rugley.

With budgets showing beef finishing a loss-maker, the Jacksons simply cant afford to keep cattle. But on a farm as traditionally dependent on beef as Rugley, they cant really afford not to, either.

A batch of store heifers was, however, bought recently. "Theyre the first thing Ive seen money in for a long time," says Alan.

Of these 25 Angus cross animals, 10, weighing 450kg and costing £450 apiece, are to be fattened, hopefully by Christmas.

The remainder will be kept and put to the bull, highlighting the on-going policy to breed, rather than purchase, stock for fattening.

Acquiring them also shows the increasing emphasis at Rugley on Aberdeen-Angus, with the farm one of Waitroses approved suppliers.

Alans got high hopes for these heifers – they came from the same home as, and are daughters of, the bull Netherton Director, which was bought for £1500 earlier this year (Business, July 11, 1997).

Netherton has already proved his worth with his first task of catching the returns among AId heifers. "He didnt mess around – he just did the business and got straight back on with grazing," Alan says.

Scanning suggests that 55 out of 58 should be in-calf, probably half of which were thanks to Nethertons efforts.

Meanwhile, in the absence of any cattle cash flow, the sheep have been something of a lifeline.

Sold privately, 11 British Milksheep rams averaged £300. And earlier last month, four Texel rams went to the breed societys sale, the best two making 720gns and 400gns.

Meanwhile, more than 250 Suffolk cross ewe lambs, out of half British Milksheep ewes, have been sold for £55 apiece.

These were the surplus over and above those retained for breeding in the farms closed flock policy. And as Alan says: "Its a relief not having to buy replacements in a year like this when the price of breeders just seems to be going up and up."

The aim is to get £10 apiece more for these than they would be worth if sold for killing. The sums show thats nearly been achieved, with the latest batch of prime lambs leaving at 19kg dw and averaging £47.81 (251p/kg dw).

Lambs remain slow to finish, however – a legacy of inclement weather earlier in the season. So the enterprises contribution to cash flow has been less than at the corresponding time in earlier years. "Rugleys a farm that suits a dry year and this hasnt been one," says Alan.

There are still 500 sheep to be sold, almost twice as many as 12 months ago. Half, hopefully, will go in the next three weeks, with the rest housed and marketed by January.

Having seen prime values "see-saw", Alans in no mood to try and play the market. "Im going to finish them as soon as possible and sell them straight away."

Once inside, theyll be fed silage, although the quality of this is questionable. One test suggested it could be as low as 23% dry matter, leaving Alan doubting whether that result was representative. "If it was that wet, wed be drowning in effluent."

While much of the summer may have been inclement, Rugley experienced dry, unseasonably warm weather during the second half of September and the first half of August.

To take advantage of this, the Jacksons hired muck-spreaders, rather than employing contractors. That helped improve the cash flow situation, costing about £660, rather than the usual £2000-plus figure.

"And thanks to a marathon effort by all the staff, the good weather enabled drilling to be completed in good time," says Alan. "We appreciate how lucky we are to have such dedicated, hard-working employees."

With drilling completed, machinery maintenance is on the agenda. Here, Philip Dover pressure washes the combine header.

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.