12 December 1997

Its cap in hand to the bank after a surprise VAT bill…

An unexpected VATbill is

causing additional financial

stress for the Daltons, as

Robert Davies reports

A £5000 rise in the overdraft limit is needed to deal with an unexpected £11,900 VAT bill.

A computer program fault, which excluded some invoices from VAT calculations, was spotted when the partners accountant started preparing the annual figures.

They paid up immediately, but have yet to get a response from HM Customs and Excise.

"We also had to find a normal quarterly payment of £3100, and £6700 plus VAT for re-surfacing of the drive," says John Dalton. "Instead of being comfortably within our £30,000 ceiling we have been forced to apply for a substantial limit increase at a time when income from stock sales is about to dry up."

Only 30 lambs are still to go. Some profit will be made from the Christmas poultry enterprise, but the only other imminent inward cash flow is Suckler Cow Premium.

The bank position has not been helped by the decision to go ahead with the purchase of a new 18-month-old pedigree Charolais bull from top Scottish breeder George McLwraith, Ayr, for £2500.

The son of the 1997 Royal Show breed champion is the first bull bought for the suckler herd for 10 years, and he cost £1000 more than any previous stock bull.

"It is a huge investment and we will have to wait a long time to see what sort of calves he sires," admits Margaret Dalton. "But we are convinced that future beef sales and profits will depend on producing high quality cattle."

The sucklers, their calves and unsold stores have settled well in their winter housing. A £3700 straw chopper borrowed from a neighbour is providing excellent bedding, and encouraging the cattle to eat quite a bit of straw. Calves are being creep fed a barley – sugarbeet – soya home mix.

The Daltons admit the £97/t they paid for the barley was too high. However, they reckon that £93.50/t spent on beet, and £13/50kg bag of 43% soya were good buys. The same materials will be blended in the 18% protein ewe concentrate.

Over the last month, the old bull and a barren cow were sold for the OTMS maximum of £300/head. The last draw of 59 lambs was made after the Waitrose/ Farm Assured Welsh Livestock contract closed for the season. They killed out at only 14.5kg/head, but made a respectable £2.20/kg.

To minimise transport charges the remaining lambs will go in the farm trailer or pick-up to local markets. There is still plenty of grass to finish them, and to keep the ewe flock without supplementary feeding. As soon as the poultry are killed the sheds will house the 55 older ewes due to lamb in March. Re-raddled tups are still running with the April lambing ewes. After scanning in mid-January all of these carrying twins and triplets will be sheared and housed.

"I have been assured that there will be no problems as long as they have at least six weeks of fleece regrowth at turnout," says Margaret. "We hope to get improved lamb growth, and less hassle than when ewes are sheared with lambs at foot."

The arrival of frosty weather has caused problems for the sewage sludge contracting business, but provided the opportunity to accept farm slurry spreading work. The range of services offered has been increased by the purchase of an orbital muck spreader that can handle solid manures.

The two-year-old machine is in excellent condition. It cost £7600 at a farm sale compared with £16,500 new. Experienced gained with it will be invaluable when semi-solid sludge replaces the liquid form in two years.

Every spare minute in early December is being used to prepare for poultry processing. As well as the usual abattoir clean up, a spare room in the building has been converted to a staff canteen. Instead of being fed in the farm kitchen a local fast food outlet will deliver meals chosen from a special menu.

At £2/time the partners will save money, but, more importantly, Margaret will not have to prepare food in advance, or pay someone to serve it.

When the rush is over she hopes to enjoy Christmas, and find time to get to grips with a new computer program that will be used for all the farm records in future.

John Dalton takes stock of his "new" orbital muck spreader, bought for £7600 at a farm sale.

FARM FACTS

&#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.