5 September 1997

Cash flows out on ewe lambs and Landrover

Cash is ebbing at Kings Arms this month as the Dalrymples concentrate on buying replacement breeding sheep. Allan Wright reports

FINANCES at Kings Arms have changed direction. About 50 finished lambs a week are still being sold. But these are being outweighed by purchases of breeding sheep, reseeds and a new Landrover.

The Dalrymples buy at the top of the market for Scotch Mule ewe lambs. "We breed our own replacement Texel crosses so only need to buy in less than a third of replacement stock. That means we can afford to go for the best."

Their first priority is lambs with tight fleeces because of the correlation between that trait and good growth rates. Then they look for size and good conformation. With 100 home, the lightest were 44kg and the biggest 50kg, with a large proportion at the heavier weight.

Top bid for the Dalrymples at the Castle Douglas sale was £102 (second highest of the day) for the best pen of 30 off Craigskean and they also took the third pen from that farm at £81. In between were 40 from Low Airyoland at £89. All were accredited free of enzootic abortion with a noticeable discount at the sale for any that did not have this status.

"We probably paid about £5 a head more than last year, but they are bigger lambs and we were able to buy right at the top this time," says Mr Dalrymple. The incomers have already been wormed and treated with a seven-in-one vaccine and will now be clipped.

Home-bred replacements have already been clipped to stimulate growth and to give cleaner, easier handling at lambing time. Tups go out on Sept 26 and there is a weekly management routine now of ensuring the females are in good order and not going lame.

"It has been a bad year for summer mastitis, this time hitting us while the ewes were drying off after weaning. We dont use intramammary antibiotics because we dont believe there is yet an ideal product for sheep."

Helping pay for the replacement Mules have been weekly sales of about 50 lambs which are still making between £46 and £50 a head, and with 1472 sold there are 322 still to sell. The Suffolk tups bought at Edinburgh have settled in well, but there was a failure to secure a replacement Texel shearling at the main breed sale at Lanark. "The prices of the sheep we wanted were too high for commercial men and those at £500 were not good enough."

Second cut silage was eventualy made in mid-August. "We had to hold off because first cut was light. We needed the bulk and got it so winter feed supplies are up to scratch."

Most of the straw is home for the winter – 37t in big square bales and two more loads to come at £40/t delivered and 15t of small bales at £50/t. "The small bales are mainly for bedding the lambing pens. The straw is shorter and more suitable for that purpose than the big ones."

Twenty acres have been reseeded as part of a routine which sees all the silage ground renewed every seven or eight years. "We use a seeds mixture which is good for silage and grazing. Short-term ryegrasses may be good for giving heavy crops of silage, but they are not so good for grazing and that is important for us in both autumn and spring."

Contractors are used to do the operation which involves ploughing, cultivation, seeding and feeding with lime, phosphate, and a 17:17:17 compound fertiliser. The total bill was £185/acre. One change in the operation this time was to use 0:29:0 powdered phosphate rather than the 0:25:0 granular product.

"We had to have it spread by a contractor at £10/t, but the product price was £114 compared with £129 for granular, so we were still £5/t better off and with more phosphate a tonne."

Spring-born calves have been creep fed from the beginning of August and the summer-born ones are just being introduced to creep.

"We feed at 4lb/day. The college advises higher rates but we find there is a good economic growth and condition response from 4lb, and we start early so that the calves are used to feeding by the time grass quality declines sharply in mid-September.

"We also find that feeding the calves means they are not constantly suckling and the cows maintain their condition far better. The cows have been getting minerals all summer, but are now on a high-magnesium liquid to prevent staggers. They will also be fed concentrates from mid-September to maintain condition," says Mr Dalrymple.

There have been two other highlights in the past month: A visit from Argentinean beef farmers who were extremely interested in production costs and EU subsidies, and the annual Colmonell Show of which Mr Dalrymple is president.

"We came first for Mule ewes and gimmers and took the reserve breed championship, beaten by a ewe lamb. We also had the first prize suckler cow and calf. Local shows like ours are good for advertising, but more valuable as a social get-together.

"We had an outstanding show of pets including a duck with a collar and lead and we also had a new breed of sheep – Zwartbles – from Holland which look good commercial animals as well as being rather attractive with black wool, a white blaze on their face and white feet. It was a great day and maintains a country tradition which I believe should not be lost," says Mr Dalrymple.

Top prices were paid for top quality Scotch Mule ewe lambs at the recent Castle Douglas sale, which are now settling in nicely at Kings Arms.

Robert and Caroling Dalrymple have creep fed calves for the last month.

FARMFACTS

&#8226 Kings Arms and Crailoch Farms, at Ballantrae on the Ayrshire coast, run as one 262ha (650 acre) unit by Robert and Caroline Dalrymple.

&#8226 Grass the only crop – for grazing and high quality silage. It is an early area but land near the sea is sandy and burns easily in summer.

&#8226 Suckler herd of 180 cows mated to Charolais sires and progeny sold as yearlings.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 900 Mule and Texel-cross ewes lambing from mid-February. About 300 hoggs are also lambed.

&#8226 Farm staff of three.