THE COLDEST March 1 since 1945 is but a distant memory, writes Tim Green.
After a record low of -9C, all the conversation about weather focuses on the prospect of impending drought. Much more snow would have been needed to help boost the lowest water table since 1948.
Since even a skittering of snow causes havoc at Vimer, with our long descent to the farm, we were glad to see the back of it. But the television pictures of parched river beds further south and news of water restrictions already in place do not bode well.
When we moved to France in 1983 the cows were out until almost December and then out again at the end of March. We thought we had arrived in paradise after the seven-month winters at Conrick, southern Scotland. Needless to say, we have never experienced another winter like it.
This season we do have plenty of forage in store and are well placed for a bad year. Some people are trying to sell top-quality hay for 50/t and not finding any buyers.
The cold weather caused problems in the new open parlour. With no previous experience of construction, in future we will know what to protect.
From frozen solid to bone-dry in just a few days is a strange change. Our cows are eyeing the door with impatience and should have started grazing by the end of March.
The mole-catcher started his work recently, having been held back by frozen ground. The 82 that he trapped will cost 2.24 each. The frustration is that we can see the rascals queuing up at our neighbours who do not share our moleman.
There will be fewer cows to turn out because barren prices continue to buck the usual trend and are rising in price. So some of those in milk have been sold rather than drying them off for finishing, which means selling at a lower price per kg.
Since we will fall behind on quota for the first time in years, selling two or three cows will not change the situation. Farmers who specialise in fattening cows over the summer are struggling to buy them. Prices are buoyant and milk producers are better off selling them unfinished and getting the slaughter premium.
In a bid to ease some of the foot problems in the new shed a local farmer, Albert Morin, who runs a foot-trimming business, has worked his magic. Costing 5.25 per cow, he offers good value considering the quality of his work and the lack of stress to the beasts.
One or two which required a support under the claw were done with a nailed-on splint like shoeing horses rather than our glued-on ones which cost 8.40. At the same time we dehorned some purchased cross heifers which were terrorising our homebred, undefenceless cattle. That took no time and cost 2.80 each.
February milk came to 23.8p per litre which compares to last year”s average of 22.9p. That”s a good price for black-and-white cows, our milk recorder assures us.
Margins are being squeezed all the time and I am glad that the introduction to the new buildings is completed and we can settle down to the new system.
Our missing milk production is, I believe, linked to stress, which manifests itself over quite a long time. It”s revealed by a number of symptoms including increased lameness and failing to milk as normal despite no signs of illness. The variation in individual production has been far more marked during recent months.
The latest figures on BSE in France – the disease British farmers call JCB disease – were 54 cases last year compared with 137 in 2003; down from a peak of 274 in 2001.
At present no case has been found in an animal born after November 2000.
Another report suggests that there will be 30 cases of the human form between now and 2020 and that 98% of the cause can be linked to exports of infected material from the UK before 1996.
The report estimates that France had between 100 and 7600 potentially infected animals, but the UK had 3.3m.