29 August 1997

Expensive but necessary

Maintaining the infrastructure is an expensive, but necessary business at Gelli Garneddau, as Robert Davies reports

URGENTLY needed capital works will make September an expensive month for Margaret and John Dalton.

The partners have decided it is time to repair and resurface a 500m (1640ft) stretch of the drive to Gelli Garneddau, which John widened earlier in the year to take bigger machinery. A growing number of potholes, and edge erosion by recent heavy rain, convinced them that investing £7000 in laying 8cm (3in) of Tarmac is unavoidable.

With the main farmworker on extended sick leave it was impossible to tackle 400m of fence replacement, so the job was handed over to a contractor at a charge of £1.95/m. Work is due to start in the next few days.

So too is the long delayed erection of a second-hand shed bought from ADAS Pwllpeiran. This will prevent a recurrence of last winters serious shortage of cattle housing. But paying the builders and other contractors will push the farms overdraft closer to the limit.

"We would have preferred to bring down borrowings, but all the jobs are essential for the proper running of the farm," says John.

The electrical fire that badly damaged the farms underinsured JCB Loadall has also brought unbudgeted expense. The arrival of winter straw supplies forced the partners to spend £175 a week hiring a replacement machine.

Though the old loader is beyond economic repair in a commercial workshop, it has been bought from the insurers and will be rebuilt by John and the mechanic employed by his contracting business. The job is expected to take 150 man hours, but John believes that the cost will still be significantly lower than buying a replacement.

The straw was bought as a standing crop at an auction on the Brecon farm that had supplied baled straw to Gelli Garneddau for three years. The 16ha (40 acres) cost £38.40/ha (£15.50/acre), and yielded 500 big bales, or between 85t and 100t. The contractor charged £1.80/bale, and transport, using the Daltons own equipment, cost £1.42 a bale.

"We have ended up with more straw than usual and storage will cause problems. But the quality is good for wheat straw, and it was cheaper than last year," says John.

Repairs to the silage pit effluent collection channels after first cut proved to be a good investment when second cut was taken. The weather intervened and caused a two-week gap in mowing. When the last grass was picked up it had 23% moisture and there was a lot of run-off, which was successfully channelled into the slurry pit.

The 10.5t/ha (4.5t/acre) second cut means that the clamp is full and, with more straw available, there are no winter feeding worries.

Currently there is also abundant grass, a situation helped by the ewes going onto bare pasture after weaning, and the sale of 21 store heifers and 21 steers to a Northamptonshire finisher. Overall these averaged £430 a head, with steers levelling at £475. The 20 cattle that remain to be sold will go a few at a time through local markets.

Within the last week a dispute with the Welsh Office over cattle premium payments dating back to October has been settled. Accidentally Margaret made the mistake of entering the date the buyer visited the farm to look at a bunch of cattle in her records rather than the date they left the farm.

This meant the steers in the group appeared to have been sold before the end of the retention period, so £2790 in beef special premiums and extensification payments was withheld. Now the bill of sale and documentation from the livestock transporter have been accepted, and the amount paid in full.

"This and the cheque for the stores are very welcome as lambs finished very slowly during August," she observes. "A wet spell seemed to set them back, but around 50 will be ready within the next fortnight. That leaves 440 to be sold."

A total of 65 broken mouthed ewes have been selected for culling and sale through Tregaron Market. When the rest of the ewes have dried off they will be kept fairly tightly until flushing. Older ewes are due to go to the ram from Oct 1, and the rest after Oct 21.

Two new rams were needed to replace aged tups. The first of these has been bought from the West Country farm of top Texel breeder, showman and carcass competition winner Robin Slade.

"He showed me a field full of yearlings that were in their working clothes, and not tarted up for sale. The one we selected cost £350, which is more than we would normally pay, but he seems to have tremendous potential."

National Sheep Association officials planning Welsh Sheep 1999 visited Gelli Garneddau and decided that the buildings were not suitable to stage the event. But the farm is one of several being featured through open evenings in June 1998.n

John Dalton makes use of a hired loader to shift bought-in straw.