23 January 1998

Floods and stock deaths did not

dampen party

Heavy rain, a VAT fine and

sudden stock deaths have

been among the problems

brought by the new year at

Gelli Garneddau.

Robert Davies reports

THE Daltons are not too concerned about the serious poaching caused by the sheep flock. And they had the equipment to spread slurry over hedges when the store became dangerously full. But coping with deep flooding of the sheep house was a headache.

"The fields will recover quickly," Margaret Dalton says. "With the early lambers due to be housed, the flooded shed was a different matter. The drains were silted up and simply could not cope. Water poured in and just stood like a lake on the clay floor."

Once the water was cleared, a 20t load of river gravel costing £78 was laid. Another £50 was spent hiring a Bobcat for a day to carry and spread the stone in the confined space of the former poultry house. Chopped straw was then blown in as foundation bedding.

"Because the shed was written-off years ago, its normal annual charge is zero, but we could have done without the cost in time and materials at the moment."

The only income in recent weeks has come from the Christmas poultry enterprise. The 460 turkeys averaged £18.60 a head, the 120 ducks £11.00 each and 150 chickens £8. Not all the bills are in, but feed cost £3300 and labour £2300. Using a take-away outlet for workers lunches, rather than cooking in the farm kitchen worked well, but cost around £200.

"The final profit will not be big, but reasonable for an enterprise running from September to December. The quality of the birds was exceptionally good this year and I wish my supplier could guarantee chicks always come from the same source."

The poultry feed bill was settled this month. So too were those for barley (that cost £10/t less than reported last month), sugar beet and poultry feed. The total outgoing was over £6000, excluding a £350 Customs and Excise fine for accidentally failing to pay VAT due on a number of invoices.

They hoped the computer glitch that caused the mistake was corrected, but the hardware broke down in the first week of the year and is still out of commission.

The arrival of several support payments made paying bills easier. The biggest was £5992 for suckler cow premium on 85 head. Beef special premiums totalled £1162.10, and the partners have been notified that a further advance payment of £369.76 is on the way. A sheep annual premium cheque totalled £1501.

"The money was very welcome to us and our bank manager. Financially things will not be easy over the next few months so we are hoping that lambing will be straightforward."

Scanning on Jan 16 showed that the older ewes that are already housed should produce a 175% lambing. Overall the prediction is 167%, including 215 sets of twins and 27 sets of triplets, or roughly the same as last year. Mrs Dalton is concerned about disposing of the 16 empty ewes at a time when the barren ewe trade is poor.

When lambs are born the partners will be keen to see the influence of two Texel rams bought shortly before tupping started. Unfortunately, both have died and will not be available for another season.

They cost a total of £530. The first succumbed to windpipe constriction despite a tracheotomy, and the second was a victim of severe peritonitis after gut perforation. The vet who did the post mortem suggested the cause might have been unusual gut parasites.

A five-month-old steer known to be very susceptible to gas retention also died suddenly. But the losses failed to put a damper on the familys celebration of Mrs Daltons 60th birthday. The safe arrival of the new Charolais stock bull from Scotland also helped lift some of the gloom.

The almost incessant rain has had both negative and positive affects on John Daltons contract business. Costs increased because sewage sludge had to be diverted longer distances to drier land. But farmers unable to get on their land with tankers have been queuing up to get slurry spread by umbilical system.

The new workshop that will service the contract equipment is also expected to earn money doing other work in evenings and at weekends.

To catch the pre-Christmas discount, Mr Dalton ordered 32.5t of fertiliser for about £10/t less than last year. The first early bite compound will be spread as soon as ground conditions allow to provide grass after turnout.

Straw gets chopped for use as bedding in the sheep housing.

FARM FACTS

&#8226 A 125ha (310-acre) less favoured area beef and sheep unit in mid-Wales farmed by Margaret Dalton and her son John, who also operates contracting services.

&#8226 Managed in association with an ADAS full-farm advisory package.

&#8226 Quota for 435 ewes. Scotch Mules are put to Rouge tups and the female progeny used to produce Texel sired prime lambs.

&#8226 Quota for 85 sucklers, Hereford x Friesians, Welsh Blacks and Longhorn x Welsh Blacks, used to breed Charolais cross stores.

&#8226 Small poultry enterprise.

&#8226 One full-time stockman, and variable number of full and part-time contracting staff.

Water, water everywhere… stone has been spread following flooding.