MILD WEATHER has kept the grass growing at Gogarth, but plenty of rain at the same time has meant a bit of a juggling act to make the best use of the grazing.

“Stock have had to be moved around to avoid poaching, and we had to abandon muck spreading,” says Ron Breese.

“Most of the cattle are now housed, and the rest will be in as soon as we clean out the shed used to weld steel for divisions and gates in the cattle shed we put up this year.”

Built with the help of a 40% Farming Connect grant, it now holds 54 weaned cattle ranging in age from seven to 20 months, including seven Welsh Black steers bought recently.

“They weighed an average of 300kg and no subsidy claim had been made on them, so the 325 a head we paid was a really good price.”

The number of store cattle sold at the usual January and February sales will be different in 2005. Because the subsidy is ending, the second premium was claimed recently on 10 older steers, and these will now have to be held over until early March.

Another 10 younger cattle on which first claims will be made by the end of the year cannot be sold until the end of the retention period. Price trends will determine when they reach market.

The housed cattle are growing well on a diet made up of two-thirds grass silage and one-third wholecrop cereal.

As the weather deteriorates, the partners are rushing to complete a new 22.5m x 17.5m sheep wintering shed, which they are constructing themselves without grant aid. It is a very simple low cost building that will have a gravel floor. At present they do not know what the final cost will be.

“We have started feeding nuts to the 100 ewes we sponged to lamb in March. Once they are housed and scanned we will also give them silage. They will also get some of the 18t of whole sugar beet we bought from Shropshire for 20/t delivered, and we will start feeding concentrate to ewes carrying twins.”

Unless there is bad weather, the main sheep flock will not be fed until closer to lambing, when silage and sugar beet will be provided.

The three most recent batches of lambs marketed weighed between 30 and 35kg and realised 31 to 36/head. Plentiful grass means the partners can wait until the market is strong to sell the 110 that remain, though the work involved in dealing with a severe footrot problem means they would like to see the back of them.

A few of the best will be entered in the hill lamb section of a Christmas carcass competition run by Will Lloyd Williams, the local abattoir operator and high street retailer who judged the supreme cattle championship at the Welsh Winter Fair.

He also bought the champion for 6000 and her carcass will be the centrepiece of a display that is likely to attract many farmers from central and west Wales.

Mr Breese was highly impressed by the quality of the livestock and carcasses at the Winter Fair, and by some of the equipment on display. “

John built our cattle crush about three years ago, but we are still looking for modifications that could make the handling of adult cattle safer. Like many farmers, we are pretty good at improvisation.”

The arrival of the Welsh Assembly”s cross-compliance regulations has provided the partners with reading material for long winter evenings. They are convinced that involvement in the Tir Gofal agri-environment scheme means they have little to worry about. But they have to complete a soil management self-assessment form by Feb 28.

Mr Breese has also been impressed by way the Assembly is posting support payments as soon as the various payment windows open, and hopes that the new computer in Cardiff will deliver single farm payments on time at the end of next year.

As they settle into the routine of winter feeding, the partners admit that they are still very concerned about fallen stock disposal.

“We have paid 12 for the collection of two dead sheep from the farm in Shropshire where we have wintering, and that is located very close to the knacker involved. We have signed up for the national scheme, but here we are a very long way from any of the companies that are likely to be doing the work.”

If his family have their way, Mr Breese”s New Year resolution will be to tackle a long-standing problem by getting a replacement hip joint. The consequences he suffered as a result of standing around during two recent visits to market have just about convinced him that, if he wants to remain a valuable member of the workforce, they are right.