24 July 1998

Guests relieve June gloom

June will be remembered for

a very successful open day,

unusually high calf losses

and appalling silaging

conditions. Robert Davies

reports

THE day of the National Sheep Association event, and the few before it when silage was taken from 18ha (45 acres) to provide car parking, made up the months longest dry spell. The partners were delighted by the number of people who turned up and made the preparation time seem worthwhile.

"It was great meeting so many old friends, and so many new ones who travelled long distances to attend after reading about us in farmers weekly," says Margaret Dalton. "We did have to put in a lot of extra work, but the place is looking a lot tidier as a result."

This was just as well, since 160 people turned up a week later to celebrate her 60th birthday with a barbecue. The two occasions were the highlights of recent weeks, but the lows included four calf deaths.

One of twins was born dead and the other died within hours, while a heavyweight calf was lost during a prolonged difficult birth. An otherwise perfectly formed animal also had to be put down because a congenital defect meant it had no blood supply to its feet.

"First it developed septicaemia, then its feet began to shrivel up. The vet said they would probably have fallen off. The knacker who destroyed it had not seen a similar case during 60 years in business," says Margaret.

The only consolation was that four replacement heifer calves cost just £174. The Daltons paid £50/head for Charolais, Aberdeen Angus and Hereford crosses, and £24 for a small Hereford cross.

"We are half way through calving and have already lost as many calves as in the last two years. The hope is that things go smoothly from now on, and we get some sunshine to stimulate grass growth."

Wet weather and low temperatures have led to a grass shortage, which is slowing lamb weight gain. Only 50 finished over the last month, but another 40 should be drawn soon. About 65% of lambs sold to date met the specification of the Farm Assured Welsh Livestock contract with Waitrose.

"This is well down on last season, but the weather and grass situation have not made it easy to sell lambs in optimum condition. Those I have been paid for made around £57/head, which was quite pleasing."

Uneven finishing means that some lambs are too heavy for the contract when a reasonable sized batch is ready. These are being sold at a new Saturday fortnightly lamb sale being held at Tregaron Mart.

Margaret thinks it is very important that producers continue to support their livestock markets, or risk losing them. That said, two store cattle were sold recently for a disappointing overall average of 75p/kg, but she admits they were not the best quality the farm has ever produced.

Cheques totalling £7376 for suckler cow and sheep annual premiums helped keep the overdraft in check during the continuing low income period.

Nitram is being applied to kickstart grass growth, especially on fields where the weather delayed the first silage cut. "The aftermaths are looking pretty sick at present with little sign of regrowth," says John Dalton. "This is hardly surprising as the last 20ha (50 acres) was cut a month later than usual. It was a massive crop that had started to rot at the bottom. It filled the clamp, but the quality is awful."

Despite delaying as long as possible, the silaging equipment did some sward damage. However the hold-up allowed John to silage for neighbours with drier land. With bookings for an extra 121ha (300 acres), and some very heavy crops to tackle, he decided that his 13-year-old low capacity harvester would be ruined.

Instead he hired a medium capacity self-propelled machine for £45/clock hour, and bought a second hand rake-rower for £3500 to do previously sub-contracted work. With trailers improved before the season started, he can now offer a complete package at a competitive price that still leaves a margin after paying hire charges.

John now has to decide whether he can retain his existing and new customers in a fiercely competitive contracting market. If he is confident the answer is yes he will buy a replacement harvester for next season. This is likely to cost around £40,000, less the £12,000 trade-in allowance or sale value of his old machine.

Margaret is busy trying to arrange Lampeter Farming Discussion Groups annual tour, this year to Kent. "I know all about the problems of beef and sheep producers and it will be interesting to hear how arable farmers, fruit and hop growers are faring during the crisis," she says. &#42

Calving has now reached the halfway point at Gelli Garneddau, says Margaret Dalton. Unfortunately, four calves have died, though cheap replacements provided some consolation. Sunshine is badly needed to boost grass growth – lambs are slower to finish than last year and selling them in optimum condition is proving tricky.

Wet weather delayed silage making. The last 20ha was cut a month later than usual; although the massive crop filled the clamp, quality was poor.