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Gordon Capstick

2 August 2002

Gordon Capstick

Gordon and Mary Capstick

farm 230ha (569 acres), at

Milnthorpe in south Cumbria.

Stocking is 100 suckler

cows, with calves finished

alongside 100 purchased

stores, and 1200 Mule ewes

producing prime lambs.

About 10ha (25 acres) of

barley and 6ha (14 acres) of

soft fruit are also grown.

I HAVE never known silage aftermath grow as slowly as it has this year.

It is certainly making me think about second cut and grazing weaned lambs after it.

The lambs have been getting away quite quickly. About 600 have gone already. For the first time, I have been able to follow them through the abattoir and it opens your eyes to the finish needed and the differences between tups, wethers and gimmers on the hook.

I am pleased that so many have gone because if the price was to slump I could stop selling for a while. I still have in the back of my mind the way we were treated last year.

Nearly all our hay has been big square baled and wrapped. This was not my preference because we have a large hay barn which needs filling, but the weather got the better of us.

Our barley harvest looks about three weeks away, so maybe the barn will be filled with straw instead. The fruit season has all but finished and despite poor weather, most of the crop has been picked. Because of low temperatures, the fruit did not ripen too quickly and spoil.

The last of the three reports into foot-and-mouth is now published. It is surprising how similar the findings are to the 1967 Northumberland report, when vaccination was mentioned and stricter port controls advised. Government then and since has not taken much notice, so I dont suppose it will now.

You would think by all the spin that animals have only just started moving around when it has been going on for centuries. The only difference is they move much quicker now and more meat comes from abroad.

Gordon Brown has opened up the purse strings on a vote catching exercise. I hope all the billions get to the sharp end. The Curry recommendation of £500m has been reduced to £400m and it will be interesting to see how few crumbs actually arrive on to farms. &#42

Lambs have been performing

well and finishing quickly on

Gordon Capsticks farm

and he has sold 600 already.

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Gordon Capstick

7 June 2002

Gordon Capstick

Gordon and Mary Capstick

farm 230ha (569 acres), at

Milnthorpe in south Cumbria.

Stocking is 100 suckler

cows, with calves finished

alongside 100 purchased

stores, and 1200 Mule ewes

producing prime lambs.

About 10ha (25 acres) of

barley and 6ha (14 acres) of

soft fruit are also grown

THE busy summer season is just about here. Pick your own is just around the corner. The strawberries have had an amazing amount of flower and, for the first time for several years, we have had no late frost to throw a spanner in the works so all is looking hopeful.

Current wet weather is good for swelling fruit, but is making strawing the rows difficult. Bush fruit is weighed down and gooseberries have had their June drop.

We also sprayed barley and, dare I say, it looks well. We added straw stiffener to spray for the first time and hope it will stop it going down.

The first of the early lambs have also gone. But I cant say the price was breathtaking for all the extra costs involved.

Spring calving has now finished and there is a short break before summer ones begin. I am not keen on July calving, as in some years we seem to have more losses. These are due to hot weather and cows getting overtired and giving up.

As I write, we are starting the last week of the Cumbria inquiry into foot-and-mouth. Many stories have been very disturbing. It has been well conducted and far reaching and we can now see why the government is avoiding a public inquiry into the shambles it was.

As chairman of the little local show, it is uncertain whether we will have livestock, particularly sheep, as DEFRA is making it all but impossible to do so. Is there an underlying intention to close all country activities and drive us all out of business, so the urban population have a huge playground? As one old friend told me: "If you want anything spoiled open it to the public."

The household is in a frenzy of lists, dresses, catering and flowers in the run up to a family wedding in the middle of next month. Its nice to get out into the fruit field with my strimmer or knapsack. Lets hope the weather is fine and dry by then so we can get the silage in and have a really good bash. &#42

Fruit bushes have blossomed well, so Gordon Capstick is hoping for a successful pick your own season.

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Gordon Capstick

10 May 2002

Gordon Capstick

Gordon and Mary Capstick

farm 230ha (569 acres), at

Milnthorpe in south Cumbria.

Stocking is 100 suckler

cows, with calves finished

alongside 100 purchased

stores, and 1200 Mule ewes

producing prime lambs.

About 10ha (25 acres) of

barley and 6ha (14 acres) of

soft fruit are also grown.

THIS year seems to be galloping by. We are already into early summer, although the cold, wet windy weather recently makes it seem more like winter.

May is my favourite month. All is green. Thistles have not yet grown high, grass has not grown round cowpats, lambs are growing fast and birds are singing. It feels great to be alive.

How lucky we farmers are to be out in it. If only our efforts were appreciated more by the government and urban public it would feel more worthwhile.

I have just returned from a Sustainable Food and Farming – Working Together workshop with keynote speaker Lord Whitty. He took great pains to tell us how much foot-and-mouth had cost the taxpayer. But how did it get here in the first place and who was slow off the mark in controlling it?

He also came out with the usual cliches, such as we must get closer to the market. This is easier said than done. The retailers were obvious by their absence. No doubt, one of the big five is busy counting its £1.2bn profit, while endlessly telling its customers how cheap their food is. At whose expense, I ask myself.

Lambing time is just about finished except for a few stragglers. We are breathing a sigh of relief and looking forward to turning cows and calves out for summer. We have been lucky with calf health and seem to have avoided pneumonia and scour which can sometimes be a problem.

Fertiliser was on meadows by Apr 25, so they have nothing to do but grow. But as they are as bare as the road, this will take some time. Son, Paul keeps telling me we have far too many sheep, but cows are his favoured animal.

We keep selling store cattle and have 35 entered at local marts in the near future. We have abandoned finishing for the time being. When heifers are making 20p/kg more as stores and bullocks, 28-30p, there does not seem much point in the time and expense. I hope producers buying them will be able to make money. &#42

May is a great month to be a alive, but it would be even better if the government appreciated farmers more, says Gordon Capstick.

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Gordon Capstick

12 April 2002

Gordon Capstick

Gordon and Mary Capstick

farm 230ha (569 acres), at

Milnthorpe in south

Cumbria. Stocking is 100

suckler cows, with calves

finished alongside 100

purchased stores, and

1200 Mule ewes

producing prime lambs.

About 10ha (25 acres) of

barley and 6ha (14 acres)

of soft fruit are also grown.

THE scars of foot-and-mouth are still with us. Lambing looks as if it will go on from January through to June because of problems at tupping time. Looking back, there were sheep we couldnt move away from tups and sheep we couldnt get tups to. So, our lambing policy – which is usually an intensive three weeks – has been totally disrupted and will take some time to straighten out again.

What a difference a month makes. This time last month I was despairing of getting anything done. Now hedges are laid, barley is in and rolled, raspberries planted, fertiliser spread and the slurry tank half emptied – all because it managed to stop raining.

Calving is going quite well, but not without the usual losses. However, we have four sets of twins. I am not like the producer who claims never to have lost a calf or lamb. When speaking to a friend about my misfortunes and how the other guy never lost anything, he confided in me that the new knacker man had stopped to ask the way to Mr Perfects farm.

Silage and hay stocks look as though they will see us through, but April can be a long month. I must be getting older – the winter months are getting longer.

We are looking forward to our elder daughters wedding in the summer. It will be best bib and tucker for all and the odd glass or two of bubbly. She is marrying the son of a neighbouring producer from the same estate. Our landlord has not found a record of this happening before, which is surprising. Lets hope prices improve as it seems one needs to have a large pocket for these matrimonial affairs.

The Lords thankfully threw out the Animal Health Bill, or as it was more popularly known, the animal death bill. They are quite right to wait until all inquiries are completed. Has the government more to hide than we already know about?

As for the hunting bill, although I dont personally indulge, I believe misinformed urbanites should not be allowed to persecute the rural minority. &#42

This lambing season could be a drawn out affair for Gordon Capstick, rather than the usual intensive three weeks period.

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Gordon Capstick

15 March 2002

Gordon Capstick

Gordon and Mary Capstick

farm 230ha (569 acres), at

Milnthorpe in south

Cumbria. Stocking is 100

suckler cows, with calves

finished alongside 100

purchased stores, and

1200 Mule ewes producing

prime lambs. About 10ha

(25 acres) of barley and

6ha (14 acres) of soft fruit

are also grown

THE T-sum is here, fertiliser is in the yard and the spreader is all greased up and ready to go. All we need now is a hovercraft to skim over the waterlogged fields. So we decide to do something else.

But we dont like laying hedges or building wall gaps with water running down our necks, so we seem to be getting nothing done at all.

The spring ploughing has not been done, the barley is still in the bag, raspberry plants are still waiting and now I hear that it has been the wettest February since 1900. Surprise, surprise.

All the lambing ewes we can accommodate are now inside. They have lost a lot of condition in the wet, so we are not looking forward to an easy lambing.

Mary and I have just returned from a nice, warm break in South Africa. It is a country with huge potential if they could irrigate and get over their internal problems. It is not a problem producing milk at 11p/litre when a cowmans wage is £25/week.

Its no wonder supermarkets stock plenty of their produce. It ran through my mind that here was another country where labour was being exploited for the benefit of supermarket profits.

Since I last wrote, the auction marts have opened. This has come as a relief, but DEFRA is not making it easy with all the stringent biosecurity requirements. I even had to buy a new pair of wellies the other day, when I called in on the way back from a meeting, because they would not let me into the mart without them.

We took a load of store cattle to market and prices were beyond my wildest dreams – the demand is certainly there. I keep looking at the sales sheet with disbelief.

We have just got a new computer with all the latest gadgetry. I am not computer literate, but I am told the old one had only 16 megabytes, whereas this one has 128. What I am secretly hoping is that I may be able to make it spread fertiliser from the office. &#42

Recently aquiring a new computer, Gordon Capstick wishes it could also spread fertiliser from the office.

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Gordon Capstick

15 February 2002

Gordon Capstick

Gordon and Mary Capstick

farm 230ha (569 acres), at

Milnthorpe in south

Cumbria. Stocking is 100

suckler cows, with calves

finished alongside 100

purchased stores, and

1200 Mule ewes producing

prime lambs. About 10ha

(25 acres) of barley and

6ha (14 acres) of soft fruit

are also grown

MUD, mud, rain, more mud, gales and floods. Being on the coast we have had them all in plenty. Thank goodness the early lambers are inside and not too many have already lambed.

There are still many ewes to house, but their backs need to dry first. Nearly all last years lambs have been sold, but few have gone for export because Cumbria was one of the last counties to be licensed for this.

We have been selling many store cattle recently. Charolais heifers have stayed in Cumbria, but their brothers have gone to Yorks to feed on cheap by-products and grow into large bullocks. I have thought for some time that in this region we should be breeding, rearing and selling cattle on with one premium remaining to be claimed.

The first of the three foot-and-mouth reports has been published. There did not seem much for us to draw breath and gasp at, but then did we really expect it? Modulation is a hot potato and organic is the buzz word, but what worries me is who is going to buy all of the organic food when it is more expensive to produce.

We do not have the same government support as other member states. I read with interest about rearing Holstein bulls for the processing trade, getting them to the right weight at 9-10 months at a profit of £14. It will be a long time before I take up that challenge.

Having recently watched the England v Scotland rugby match, I wouldnt mind having Jason Leonard on my lambing team. He would be just the man to catch a mule shearling that wants nothing to do with motherhood.

With auction marts about to open, it will seem a strange but welcome relief to many of them to be back in business after nearly a year and put a realistic bottom into prices. But to make it work we must make every effort to rid ourselves of the 21-day shackle. &#42

Along with many producers, Gordon Capstick is uninspired by the Commission on the Future of Farming and Food report.

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Gordon Capstick

26 October 2001

Gordon Capstick

Gordon and Mary Capstick

farm 230ha (569 acres), at

Milnthorpe in south Cumbria.

Stocking is 100 suckler

cows, with calves finished

alongside 100 purchased

stores, and 1200 Mule ewes

producing prime lambs.

About 10ha (25 acres) of

barley and 6ha (14 acres) of

soft fruit are also grown

RESTRICTIONS become ever tighter at Park House with four different blocks of land, two within the Penrith spur and two outside it.

Levens Hall Park is restricted to summer grazing and sheep should have been out by Oct 15. Not much chance of that. They need to move inside the spur and I have been trying to sort this out with DEFRA whose only solution was the welfare scheme. Where are next years lambs going to come from, Iwonder?

Most of my tups are also in Levens Park, so lambing will be later this year. But as one old shepherd used to say, "there is nowt better than lambing with your jacket off and the cuckoo singing."

We have sold no prime lambs for a month because of the poor price being offered. Had others done the same, the price would be nearer £2/kg by now. I am green with envy at high Irish and French lamb prices.

I wait with baited breath for Lord Haskins report. When he made those brilliant remarks about us being more like French farmers I only wish we received similar prices for our produce.

We are currently living in difficult times, with events such as the Afghan war. It is time to batten down the hatches and support each other.

Winter is arriving here and most of our suckler weaned calves are housed. It has been a good summer for them and they have come in heavier than the past few years.

The land was becoming heavily poached so I had to take action to preserve grazing for sheep. Shock of the month was the price of bedding straw and we seem to use a lot. We are trying rye straw and I will let you know how it performs.

As county NFU chairman, I recently invited Tim Bennett to the south of the county to see at first hand the problems we are facing with movement restrictions.

He returned shocked by what he saw and is trying to get things moving. But the big wheels at DEFRA move around slowly. &#42

Cattle have grown well on Gordon Capsticks farm, but have now been housed to avoid poaching.

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Gordon Capstick

28 September 2001

Gordon Capstick

Gordon and Mary Capstick

farm 230ha (569 acres), at

Milnthorpe in south Cumbria.

Stocking is 100 suckler

cows, with calves finished

alongside 100 purchased

stores, and 1200 Mule ewes

producing prime lambs.

About 10ha (25 acres) of

barley and 6ha (14 acres) of

soft fruit are also grown

Autumn marketing problems with prime lambs are causing a headache. The land seven miles from the main holding is in the Penrith red box and has 700 lambs on it, finishing on silage aftermath.

Some are now ready and need dagging, but with no electricity on site this is difficult. Two to three years ago we began putting selected lambs indoors overnight so they were empty and dry before going to the abattoir the next day. However, this is now impossible because of one-stop movement regulations.

I have had the gypsys finger waved at me and been told if lambs need dagging at the abattoir, a charge of £5/lamb will be deducted. I asked whether the abattoir had any jobs going – it would be far better pay than trying to produce prime lambs.

Our harvest has gone well, although it has been trying because some corn was badly laid. But our contractor did his best in the circumstances. Barley and straw will all be used to feed stock over winter. We plan to feed a mixture of silage, rolled barley, straw and minerals to store and finishing stock.

Summer calving has almost finished, with a late run of heifer calves as usual. One of our Charolais bulls has been running with late calvers and some have come into season 6-9 weeks after calving, so should make up time.

As autumn approaches and Cumbria is ring fenced with no stock allowed in or out, there will be a huge animal welfare problem looming. But DEFRA, ministers and the Treasury dont seem to have a clue how to sort it out. Cumbria would normally send 70% of its store and breeding stock out of the county. We will see pictures worse than that of the little lamb born in a sea of mud as winter progresses.

The tragic news from America has bought home to us how vulnerable we are to terrorist attacks. At least living in the country we are at less risk – there have to be some advantages. Maybe we should be less reliant on world trade and produce more at home. &#42

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Gordon Capstick

19 January 2001

Gordon Capstick

Gordon and Mary Capstick

farm 230ha (569 acres), at

Milnthorpe in south Cumbria.

Stocking is 100 suckler

cows, with calves finished

alongside 100 purchased

stores, and 1200 Mule ewes

producing prime lambs.

About 10ha (25 acres) of

barley and 6ha (14 acres) of

soft fruit are also grown.

HAVENT fuel prices dropped recently? There must be a general election in the air. It is surprising what can be done by fuel companies when push comes to shove, but Im sure hauliers and farmers wont be happy until fuel is down to European prices.

What a festive season it has been. We have had snow and frost like we have not seen for long time. Big open sheds are great for management but they are useless when it comes to keeping frost at bay.

We spent much of the frosty days thawing troughs and water bowls until we had to concede defeat. So then we ran around with water in a plastic tank on the forklift, filling all the troughs.

However, the cold snap did at least allow us to empty the middens. I think most other local farmers were doing this as well during Christmas week. The pure white snow didnt stay that way for long.

We have just sold the first batch of store cattle and I was satisfied with the price of Charolais-cross heifers when you compare it with finished price. They were sold through one of our local auction marts.

Stock in the area is high quality which attracts buyers from Yorks. I have thought for a while that we in the west should concentrate on breeding and rearing finishers for further east where feed is cheaper.

I have been getting ribbed recently about my field of 60-day turnips next to the main road where everyone can see them on their way into town. The situation is bad. Germination has been patchy and those that have germinated are only about 5cm (2in) high so I have turned some of the lambing ewes into them to tidy up the field.

The bottom has dropped out of some quota sales. Leased milk quota is at 1p and under and at a recent sheep quota sale GB lowland was as low as 50p/ewe and LFA was £2.50 for lease. With many farmers going into environmental schemes and reducing stocking rates, I dont know where stock will come from in the future. &#42

Going east… Gordon Capstick believes there may be something to be gained by selling store cattle to producers in eastern areas where feed is cheaper.

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Gordon Capstick

30 June 2000

Gordon Capstick

Gordon and Mary Capstick

farm 230ha (569 acres), at

Milnthorpe in south Cumbria.

Stocking is 100 suckler

cows, with calves finished

alongside 100 purchased

stores, and 1200 Mule ewes

producing prime lambs.

About 10ha (25 acres) of

barley and 6ha (14 acres) of

soft fruit are also grown

WE have just finished first cut silage. We had hoped to have it done by June 10, but in the event it was June 15 before we got started – the weather not helping.

In fact, we were busy on the hottest weekend of the year and far from being rained on some grass became a little too dry. But the upside of this is that effluent wont be a problem.

For the first time we are trying stock feed potatoes in with silage as a sandwich – or is it a tattie pie. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

Since last month some lambs have been struck down with coccidiosis, even though we dosed with Vecoxan in early May. But, while this is the best treatment it only covers them for 14 days.

Lambs should have developed an immunity, but the weather has been ideal for re-infection, so we have injected again and will be taking dung samples fairly soon to check that it has cleared up.

The pick-your-own fruit enterprise is now in full swing with plenty of strawberries, bush fruit and raspberries. So we dont want too many showers to keep the pickers away.

I went down to London for the launch of the little red tractor logo. It seemed to be well received by the general public.

The highest level of government was there, and all the major supermarkets were present at the lunch afterwards with displays of vegetables and meat with the logo on. Lets hope that this will help improve our margins.

As a long-standing supporter and promoter of Farmers Ferry I was invited to see the Farmers Fresh abattoir. It had gone from nothing to a 10,000 lamb throughput in five weeks and was getting more inquiries to supply lambs on the hook to overseas buyers.

It was a pleasure to see a company supplying what the customer wants. One thing in its favour is that all lambs are for export and even with the strong £, its still able to find new customers, which says something for the quality of our produce. &#42

Pick-your-own soft fruit is another of Gordon Capsticks enterprises; he wants a nice dry spell to bring the pickers in for strawberries and raspberries.

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