26 June 1998

Current mix suits system

Some recent crystal ball

gazing at Kings Arms

suggests business as normal

is the best way to cope with

Brussels policy changes. On

the practical front,

unseasonal weather has

been causing headaches.

Allan Wright reports

A CLOSE study of the beef and sheep enterprises at Kings Arms has convinced the Dalrymples and their SAC adviser to stick with the present system.

"You can juggle with stocking numbers and look at putting off some cows and keeping more sheep. But the reality is that we have a mix which suits the farm and our system. So, at least for the moment, things will remain pretty much as they are," says Robert.

A potential problem for the future has been identified. Lurking in Agenda 2000 proposals is a clause which would stop farmers using summer grass lets to qualify for suckler cow extensification subsidy, worth £29 a head. The Dalrymples hope farmers unions will manage to convince the government to resist the change.

As far as the Kings Arms is concerned, the grazing taken each year for 25 young heifers could possibly be turned into a longer-term lease, although the ground would only be used during the summer.

Lamb sales to date are below last year but prices are better, leaving a reasonable profit. "We started selling in May with returns slightly down on the year. But prices collapsed last June whereas they have risen this time and our average so far is up on the year. June lambs made £54 apiece compared with around £45 last year," says Robert. The 93 creep-fed Suffolk crosses weighed 18.7kg and averaged £45.90. Grass finished Texel crosses, 35 of them, weighed a kg more and averaged £48.70, and four three-quarter Texels out of hoggs weighed 20.4kg and averaged £52. The total sold by the end of June will be down on last years 870 largely because of the inclement weather.

But the Dalrymples point out that more than 1000 lambs, including many finished without creep feeding, will have been marketed by the end of July. "That shows that not all flockmasters fail to pay attention to their grassland management, despite what SAC sheep specialist John Vipond said at Northsheep at the beginning of the month," adds Robert.

Sheep bonus

Another sheep enterprise bonus has been the cheque for £470 from the Ayrshire lamb group for getting 80% of production into the top two grades.

Caroline welcomes the bonus and also points to low marketing costs of £1.90 a lamb. That comprises £1.10 for haulage, 47p MLC levy, 13p for inspection, and 20p for carcass classification. "It is a lot lower than selling through the auction mart," she says. All the lambs are sold through the group on a deadweight basis to ABP in Bathgate.

Clipping was done at the end of last week but not without incident. The Kings Arms generator, which had worked well for neighbours, broke down on the first day and slowed progress. "We take two days anyway but it just meant that the second day was a much longer one than usual," Robert points out.

"We used to clip in mid-May but decided that was rather early. We now take the silage first and with that taking longer than usual because of the rain, clipping was delayed. But at least it left the ewes warm in the recent cold weather and we did not lose any from them rolling on to their backs."

Silage making was not only slower and later than normal, it also involved two serious breakdowns. The first was caused by a foreign object breaking blades; next time round the field the same thing happened again, this time caused by a broken blade which was not retrieved.

"We were lucky in that we could get a dozen replacement blades from a neighbour. Otherwise the delay would have been much greater," says Robert.

Not everything works out so well. One of the last cows to calve had twins. Unfortunately, she had only two teats. Another cow, expected to have a full udder, produced a single.

Robert swapped the calves around only to discover that the second cow had only one teat working. "We should have checked first and might have avoided finishing up with three calves being reared by hand," he says.

A young suckler cow was also lost. She was infertile, and would normally have been culled, but was given another chance at todays £300 cull price. She went to summer grazing but fell sick and died. "It is another lesson learned. It was bad management practice to keep her in the first place," says Robert. &#42

FARM FACTS

&#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.

Robert Dalrymple (left) and manager Andrew MacLean draw Texel crosses.