21 May 1999

Efficiency is top priority

On the edge of the Yorkshire

Dales near Leyburn lies

Metcalfe Farms, our new

Management Matters unit

in the north-east.

Simon Wragg reports

WASHFOLD Farm is the main unit on the Metcalfe family partnerships business. It covers 632ha (1560 acres) of mainly medium loam soil over limestone and incorporates four farms set several miles apart.

Many could argue that this business is not typical of other farms, but David Metcalfe, who farms in partnership with his parents, John and Thora, and brothers, Brian and Philip, disagrees.

Despite its collective force, the financial realities are the same. Established in the 1940s by his grandfather, the business continues to grow from the original tenancy of 49ha (120 acres).

This family aims to improve efficiency. They hope to capitalise on helping others manage costs by undertaking a range of contract farming and contracting duties on their behalf.

Beyond traditional stone barns and a portal frame dairy that can be seen on the hillside drive to Washfold is a huge backdrop of heather moorland rising up over 1300ft above sea level.

"We run a 900-ewe Mule flock, mainly managed by Brian. About 650 acres of grass, moorland and rough grazing are rented off the Ministry of Defence for grazing sheep over the summer," says Mr Metcalfe.

"We market lambs from late summer through Leyburn market and North Country Primestock. We use both outlets to help get large numbers of lambs away at any one time."

Further down the hill, coarser grass gives way to productive pasture. "Weve just expanded the dairy herd to 350 cows having taken on another 100-cow unit; and for ease of management theyre all on this site."

A firm follower of high input/high output route, the pedigree Holstein Friesian herd is managed with brother, Philip. It is fed a total mix ration and achieves an average yield of 9500 litres at 3.85% fat and 3.17% protein. Just over 2600 litres comes from forage.

Expansion has brought changes, including the milk buyer for the herds annual 3.3m litres output. "Two years ago we left Milk Marque because we lost too much money on their standard litre. We moved to Waterford, now Glanbia." Today, the units average milk price is 20.54p/litre.

To protect margin over all purchased feed of £1550 a cow the focus will now be on improving efficiency "Weve gone as far as we can. Its a case of law of diminishing returns."

To support the herd, followers and fattening lambs, long-term leys cover more than 142ha (350 acres) and are re-seeded as necessary. Ahead of the drill, a kale/stubble turnip mix is sown for lambs to graze in late July until re-sowing in September.

Dairy stock occupy land close-by, while the rest of the better grass is cut for silage – fed year-round to cows – or used for grazing followers or finishing lambs.

About 44.5ha (110 acres) of forage maize is also taken for dairy rations. "We were one of the first to grow it up here and I wouldnt want to be without it now," he says.

Early varieties are used including Nancis and Sophy. "Its grown on lower land. We dont run into problems although we did have one field flood, but we now make sure its the first to be cut."

Wheat also features in rations, many of which are mixed on-farm. "Theres about 400 acres grown at Thorney Farm and Gale Bank Farm. Its all feed quality."

Surplus tonnage is sold to neighbours or on the spot market and some forward selling has taken place. About 129.5ha (320 acres) of the farm is IACS registered.

And the area figures increase further. A contracting venture, run by brother Brian, employs up to 25 staff at peak season and covers 4050ha (10,000 acres) of silage ground, maize and whole-crop wheat.

"Its a competitive business with other units on our doorstep. But fewer people have their own silage kit these days and theres a demand in what is a good dairy area."

Tackle includes two high volume Claas 880 self-propelled foragers, six four-wheel drive tractors, three balers and drills. There is also a demountable sprayer.

"Weve always been well kitted up as far as farmers go, but while grass can justify itself, the arable acreage is an awkward size and we needed to spread the fixed costs further," he says.

And that gives an indication of where the Metcalfes want to expand. "Being on the edge of an arable area may put some opportunities out of our reach. That said, well look at ordinary contract work, share or contract farming, and FBTs to build the business, particularly on arable areas." &#42

FARMFACTS

&#8226 Metcalfe Farms, 632ha (1560 acres) over four farms and run in partnership by parents and three sons.

&#8226 Land mainly medium loam over limestone. Farming from 400-1000ft.

&#8226 About 263ha (650 acres) of land rented from MoD for 900-ewe Mule flock.

&#8226 Recently expanded dairy herd. Now 350 cows averaging 9500 litres.

&#8226 Arable area of 223ha (550 acres) growing wheat, maize and set-aside.

&#8226 Contracting business covering 4050ha (10,000 acres) of grass, maize and wholecrop cereals.