6 September 1996

Heifers AId to Angus to beat the weak trade

A good crop of second-cut silage has been clamped at Gelli Garneddau. But, with the overwintering of extra cattle a near certainty, a third-cut is now planned. Robert Davies reports

GOOD grass production, stimulated by catchy weather and injected sewage sludge, has allowed the Daltons to retain cattle that would have been sold during a normal summer.

While inward cash flow would be welcome, Margaret Daltons recent visits to markets have hardened her resolve not to sell on a weakening trade. She is particularly determined not to accept less than a 100p/kg return on heifers.

Instead, 10 of the older ones are being inseminated with semen supplied through the Aberdeen Angus Beef in Partnership scheme. Another 20 will be served when they are old enough.

Accelerated culling will allow the best of these heifers to join the suckler herd, and there should be a ready market for their Angus cross calves.

Breeding from heifers almost occurred by accident. Mrs Dalton was horrified to see what she thought was a steer attempting to serve one of a group of 20 heifers. When she checked she discovered that he still had one testicle.

"I have castrated hundreds of calves using rubber rings and I am always very careful. This time I either slipped up, or the vet says it was a very rare example of a bull calf with three testicles. Either way we had several anxious weeks watching to make sure that all the heifers were bulling."

Older steers that should have been marketed continue to gain weight on the abundant grass. Second beef special premium payments have been applied for on 10 of these. The retention period ends in mid-September, when they will have to be sold. Unless the store trade improves dramatically younger steers will be carried over the winter.

It would make life difficult, but a maximum of 90 cows and calves and 85 younger animals could be housed, so at least 15 heifers and steers must be sold. The good second silage cut means that about 1500t is already in store, and there is enough grass to make some big bales without robbing ewes at flushing time.

The partners have also ordered extra barley straw. About 250 big square bales have already been collected from a farm 80km (50 miles) away in Brecon using a Fastrac and trailer to reduce costs.

Without returns from cattle sales, the arrival of the £6329 suckler cow premium payment was a timely boost to the satisfactory income from lamb sales. Over the past month 90 lambs were entered for Farm Assured Welsh Lambs contract with Waitrose. Only five of the first load of 20 qualified, the rest being overweight or over-finished. But then only seven of the next load of 49 failed to meet the specifications, and 18 of the 21 entered last week made the grade.

"With the first batch I was going for 18-19kg carcass weight, and went too far. I then erred on the side of caution and included some lambs that were unfinished. As the FAWL premium is 20p/kg on Es, and 15p on Us and Rs, it is very important to get it right."

While she accepts most of the blame for not doing so, Mrs Dalton says she was handicapped by not having very accurate weighing scales. The electronic system installed a year ago broke down when cattle were weighed. It seemed that the four weigh-cell feet were not sufficiently robust. As a gesture of goodwill, manufacturers Richey have, free of charge, now supplied bars to replace the feet.

Despite the problems, lamb prices have been good all season. A trial consignment also went through the local depot of the electronic auction company AgVision on Aug 19. They weighed 38.9kg a head on-the-hoof and the price was 108p/kg.

"The company deducted £1.77 a lamb, which is slightly more than the FAWL scheme, but their collection centre is on a neighbouring farm, and they will take lambs with a bit more finish. A local butcher also takes even bigger Suffolk crosses, so we can now target market particular types of lambs."

Rouge cross ewes

Next season some prime lambs – especially out of Rouge cross ewes – will be sired by a Beltex tup, which was bought for "a middle-of-the-road price at a high price sale at Carlisle". Mrs Dalton hopes the ram will improve the conformation of lambs out of ewes which have size and length, but have poor back ends.

Three people are currently employed by the partners contracting business. They carry out the transportation and sewage sludge injection, while John Dalton concentrates on finding new farm sites and doing soil tests. The new limited company has received numerous requests from farmers for umbilical slurry spreading. Mr Dalton has yet to decide whether he will be able to provide the service this year.

All the ewes and lambs unlikely to be finished in the next few weeks have been dipped using a mobile unit hired for £30 a day from the local farmer who built it. An OP dip chemical was used to provide protection against blowfly strike, scab mite and other ectoparasites.

"I hate OPs, but they are very effective, and we are very careful about mixing and using protective clothing," says Mrs Dalton.

&#8226 A 125ha (310-acre) less favoured area beef and sheep unit in mid-Wales farmed by Margaret Dalton and her son John, who also operates contracting services.

&#8226 Managed in association with an ADAS full-farm advisory package.

&#8226 Quota for 435 ewes. Scotch Mules are put to Rouge tups and the female progeny used to produce Texel sired prime lambs.

&#8226 Quota for 85 sucklers, Hereford x Friesians, Welsh Blacks and Longhorn x Welsh Blacks, used to breed Charolais cross stores.

&#8226 Small poultry enterprise.

&#8226 One full-time stockman, and variable number of full and part-time contracting staff.


John Dalton checks over some of the cattle on horse-back.

Margaret Dalton paid a "middle-of-the-road" price for this Beltex tup.