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David Cray

29 November 1996

David Cray

David Cray has a 146ha (360-acre) less favoured area farm near Camelford, north Cornwall. He also rents an extra 16ha (40 acres) on nine-months grass keep. His 120-cow single suckler herd is geared to selling 14-months-old stores. The mainly Hereford x Friesian herd is changing to Angus x Simmental with replacements home-bred using DIY AI. He also runs 250 Beulah ewes and 220 ewe hogg replacements.

IT HAS been a long silage season. As I write this in mid-November at least three of my neighbours are making silage. They have taken advantage of excellent autumn grass growth, although they must have been wondering when the rain was going to stop. We have had over nine inches this month.

At last there seems to be movement on the cull cow front. I entered cows with an abattoir last May but heard nothing from them. Two weeks ago I was getting so frustrated that I entered cows with the local auctioneers and they will be loaded this morning.

There seems to be two factors in this. First, the confusion caused by the registration scheme and the apparent inability of the Intervention board to get the certificates out. Secondly, the abattoirs not calling for cattle in strict order of entry – enough said.

Autumn always seems to bring out a spate of meetings and talks. The next is at a conference on BSE. I am due to speak about the effects of BSE on the beef farmer. The ramifications are so vast that it is a problem to know what to leave out!

The rams are at work and all seems to be going well. It is several years since we have had the ewes in such even, good condition at tupping. Feeding blocks to some of the thinner members of the flock has paid. These are mostly older, highly productive ewes which, for various reasons, were weaned rather late.

Most of the cattle are housed. I have been surprised how long we have been able to keep them out without damaging pastures.

As usual, the calves are being kept away from the cows and put in to suck twice a day. We have had a few calves with tender feet. This only lasts for a couple of days and is probably due to them coming in off very wet, soft ground onto concrete. The next job is to finish the dehorning and to weigh, worm and fluke drench the calves.n

Most of David Crays cattle are now housed, while there has at last been some movement of culls, which were entered with an abattoir in May.

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David Cray

2 August 1996

David Cray

AFTER four nights staying in a castle we are now very much back down to earth.

I should add that the stay was in Durham Castle for the BGS summer meeting, hosted by Durham and Northumberland Grassland Societies under Don Wilkinsons chairmanship. Julie looked after the alternative programme. The whole event was most interesting and enjoyable in a beautiful part of the country.

For several years we have used a spray-on fly dressing (Vetrazin) for the sheep, the reason being doubts about OP dips and human health. I have heard too many stories about the effects on friends and neighbours.

With the advent of non-OP scab-approved dips which also cover fly strike I decided that we would try one (Crovect) this year. We cleaned out the dip and put about 2200 sheep through it in two days. It was not too bad a job, as I still had enough energy to go and play cricket on the second evening.

Last month I was pondering the problems of synchronising the cows to try to get a tight calving pattern. In the end we decided on two injections of Prostaglandin 12 days apart. The idea is that we catch some cows in season before the second injection. This will save the cost of the second injection and cut the number to AI on days 15 and 16.

So far the plan appears to be working, with eight of the first batch of 23 injected coming in season in the first nine days. We will have about 10 to double inseminate after the second injection; my left arm should just about stand the strain.

Other batches of cows and the heifers are going to AI on observation. Later on we will synchronise all that have not been seen bulling. If the system works this time we will probably synchronise the whole herd next year with maybe three- or four-day gaps between groups.

Second-cut silage is the next job on the agenda. Crops have grown on well since first cut and I am hoping we will not need to take a third cut. This farm does not dry out badly but even it could do with a couple of inches – after we finish silage, of course! &#42

David Cray used a non-OP scab-approved dip which also covers fly strike on his 2200 sheep for the first time this year instead of Vetrazin.

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David Cray

14 June 1996

David Cray

WHAT a contrast. By the middle of May the grassland was showing the effect of weeks of almost constant wind from the north and east. Most of the pastures had an unhealthy brown tinge. On close inspection the bulk of the crop was healthy and green but the top 2in had been scorched severely. Such are the penalties for farming on top of a hill.

When the weather broke we had 6in of rain in nine days. It started with 2.25in in under 24 hours – not quite what we wanted as the temperature stayed low. It is now warmer but the grass is still not growing very fast.

We are all ready to start silage when ground and weather conditions allow. Luckily the crops are late so, although rather light, they have not started to go to head.

Lambing has now finished, although not on a high note. The last few lambs came with the rain and some of the weaker, older lambs which we thought had pulled through succumbed to the awful conditions. In total we have had a good lambing.

The ewes are milking surprisingly well in the conditions. I am trying to give the singles the best of the grass so that we can draw as many as possible by weaning in late July. The doubles will come later and I am quite happy to finish the tail-end inside, even up to about 300.

Our sheep management group is now up and running so the more lambs we finish the more complete will be the information we can obtain on the flock. We will have total traceability and a record of all treatments to every individual sheep on the farm. In addition we will know the performance of every ewe and her progeny and will thus have some hard facts on which to select breeding stock. This sort of thing is old hat for dairy farmers. It is time we caught up in the beef and sheep industries.

Calving was going well until this week when we had two stillborn calves and another dying soon after birth. Unfortunately the two born dead were our first Wasdale Target calves – one came backwards and the other never came round although it had a heart-beat at birth. We had some grand calves from Beeches Winchester (Simmental) and TLA Northern Samurai (Angus). &#42

David Cray is aiming for total traceability and a record of all individual treatments to sheep.

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David Cray

26 January 1996

David Cray

WATER resources have taken a turn for the better in the last few weeks. I dont know how deep the moisture has gone but we have been getting pools in the fields for the first time since last winter.

We have been extremely fortunate in having had very little snow although the temperature got down to -7C during Christmas week. One group of cows had to be let out to drink at the stream each day and we brought all the sheep inside one night when heavy snow was forecast, but did not arrive.

The last of the 1995 crop lambs were sold in the first week in January. These were the remainder of the 67 we eventually housed to finish on concentrates. They were very much the rough end of the crop. This can be seen from the weights.

Out of 67 lambs weighing 1601kg (average 24kg) which went into the shed, 65 came out alive weighing 2161kg (average 33kg). The two deaths were very small animals, poor doers from the start. The first batch were sold after 19 days having gained an average of 305g liveweight/day, all grading 2/3L. Five of the lightest lambs graded O with the rest R and U. The remainder were sold after 44 days and averaged 233g liveweight/day. This included about half a dozen which were not really gradable but had to go to clear the shed. One lamb actually lost weight and stayed alive and healthy. We have not had the deadweights or grades for these lambs at the time of writing.

They ate 2.5t of Bill Harpers 18% nutty mix and less than a tonne of silage. This works out at just over 1kg of mix and 0.4kg of silage/head/day in the shed (2460 total lamb days) for a total gain of 560kg liveweight. The conversion rate of mix: liveweight was 4.46:1 or about 75p worth of mix/kg of liveweight worth about £1.25. If we put in another 10p/kg for the silage and odd expenses this looks to be a worthwhile exercise to make something of the tail-end lambs. The shed is there for the ewes later in the winter.

We only feed silage because the lambs are on expanded metal floors with no straw and I feel they should have the opportunity to eat some long fodder. Maybe this is not needed. &#42

All the sheep were brought in when heavy snow was forecast, but luckily it never arrived. However, the freezing cold temperatures during the Christmas week have caused difficulties with water supplies for the cows.

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David Cray

16 June 1995

David Cray

David Cray has a 146ha (360-acre) less favoured area farm near Camelford, north Cornwall. He also rents an extra 16ha (40 acres) on nine-months grass keep. His 105-cow single suckler herd is geared to selling 18-month-old strong stores. He also runs 850 Beulah halfbreds and Welsh Mules, and 200 ewe hogg replacements.

LAMBING is finished and we are now well into calving.

The last few ewes hung on to the very last possible day. We put the rams in with all the ewes and hoggs on Guy Fawkes day and take them out during the week before Christmas. This gives a very concentrated lambing period (which suits us well). However, I am considering putting the hoggs with rams only until week four next year. We want hoggs to lamb when we can give them maximum attention.

Silage time is now on us. The contractor who spread our fertiliser had problems with a new special fertiliser adaptor on his machine, resulting in striping in the silage fields. On the basis of two units of N a day from completion of spreading on Mar 20 we should have been able to start cutting in mid-May. Looking at the strips it is evident that some areas have had little N and others must have had at least 150 units.

I have been concerned about the fermentation if we put such high N material into the clamp. To try and counter this we delayed cutting to the last few days of May and are using molasses as an additive. The intention is to get as much wilt as the weather will allow.

Calving is going very well. I have always said that I would rather look after 100 cows calving than 100 ewes lambing – it is a much more relaxed operation. The results of my first attempts at AI are now appearing. It looks as though we have chosen a really good Simmental bull in Beeches Winchester. His calves stand out from a very good looking group. Time will tell if this early promise is followed by good performance later on.

Most of the AI calves have been bred with the intention of the heifers coming into the herd. The bulls were picked on the basis of 200-day milk, ease of calving, and then on beefing quality.

I was taught that Aberdeen-Angus bulls always colour marked their calves full black. Our Charolais heifers do not seem to have heard this! They are producing colours from pale fawn right through to black/roan. Of about 20 calves born last autumn and this spring, from three different bulls, only one is pure black. Thankfully, they are all polled. &#42

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David Cray

21 April 1995

David Cray

David Cray has a 146ha (360-acre) less favoured area farm near Camelford, north Cornwall. He also rents an extra 16ha (40 acres) on nine-months grass keep. His 105-cow single suckler herd is geared to selling 18-month-old strong stores. He also runs 850 Beulah halfbreds and Welsh Mules, and 200 ewe hogg replacements.

THEY say that everything, or at least most things, come to those who wait patiently. Well, this winter has tried my patience sorely, but the reward came with a decent spell of weather in the second half of March.

We had all the first round fertiliser on by Mar 21. This is the earliest we have ever finished both grazing and silage ground, and is due to the use of a contractor with dual-wheels on the tractor and very wide tyres on the spreader. I am sure we will more than recover the cost of the operation by getting the grass off to an early start.

The grazing land had 100kg of 24:13:0 and the silage 250kg of 20:10:10, all an acre. Ideally we would have split the silage dressing. Experience on this farm has shown that it is rarely possible to get a worthwhile gap and still get the second half on six weeks before we would like to cut.

April started with three days of thick fog, while the rest of the country was, by all accounts, basking in glorious sunshine. However, it was warm and still and could not have been a greater contrast to the weather for the start of lambing last year. Four days into lambing things are now going well after a very rough start. We had an outbreak of enzootic abortion.

We do not know where the infection came from as the flock, except for rams, has been closed for years. I understand that there have been other outbreaks locally. We have had about 3.5% of ewes abort, some with very small but viable lambs. Tests showed the trouble at an early stage, so we were able to take some action. It is a slow and tedious job injecting 10ml of antibiotic into ewes a week before lambing. It is also costly but seems to have been effective. Presumably we will now have to go into a full vaccination routine as from next summer.

The whole episode leaves me wondering about high health status flocks. It is one thing having a pig herd in a more or less closed environment. It is quite another having sheep out in the wide open spaces where all sorts of nasties can be brought on by birds and foxes, etc. Certainly clean flocks have no natural immunity. &#42

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