John Alpe - Farmers Weekly

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John Alpe

20 August 1999

Coated netting keeps bunnies at bay

KEEP rabbits out of crops with new Sentinel Green Rabbit Proof Netting, made by Twill.

The netting conforms to the British Standard of 31mm (11/4in) at the widest point and is guaranteed rabbit proof, says the firm.

Product life expectancy has been improved by coating the netting with Tinsley Wires anti-corrosion green treatment. This gives extra protection against corrosive atmospheric salts and moisture, says Twill.

Roll sizes are medium, 19g, costing £92.40 and heavy, 18g, costing £104.45 with a height of 1050mm (42in) and roll length of 50m (54.5yd) (0114-2561561, fax 0114-2611055).

Home pasteuriser makes it safe

MAKE raw milk safer using a Home Pasteuriser says distributor, Mullinahone Co-op.

Even milk taken from apparently healthy cows may contain a variety of harmful bacteria capable of causing serious illness in humans, says the company.

It adds that E coli and recent strains of antibiotic resistant salmonella are said to be a particular risk when drinking raw milk.

Producers can be sure of a safe product at 50-60% of the cost of buying from retail outlets by pasteurising their own milk, it says.

Total time for pasteurisation is less than one and a half hours allowing for both heating and cooling down. It costs £235 (01204-888898, fax 01204-888885).

Raise milk yields – and quality too

INCREASE milk yields and enhance butterfat and protein levels with Dynalac energy supplement says manufacturer, UFAC.

Lush spring grass contains up to 10% oil and a grazing cow can consume 1.5kg fat a day from grass. But cows on a traditional 10kg silage, 10kg concentrate diet will only ingest 0.8kg fat, leaving an energy shortfall, according to the company.

Dynalac, a blend of vegetable oils processed into a free-flowing meal, is designed for inclusion in diets to make up this energy shortfall, it says.

It costs 17p a cow a day (01638-665923, fax 01638-667756).

Richard Hinchion

Richard Hinchion milks 60

dairy cows and rears 40

replacements on 34ha (83

acres) at Crookstown, west

of Cork city, in southern

Ireland. With a fixed quota

of just over 300,000 litres,

the emphasis is on low-cost

production. Cows yield

5800 litres from 350kg of

concentrate

DURING July we experienced lovely summer weather which made all our tourists happy.

But as we entered August, the southern part of Ireland was experiencing a severe drought.

Grass dry matter is, therefore, high at 23% and cows are eating out paddocks well. Now I am extremely short of grass, so we have to put emergency plans in place.

All small calves were given their second worm dose and fly treatment, and moved to rented ground where the in-calf heifers graze. We walked all over our paddocks to estimate the total grass cover on the farm. It was only 481kg of DM/ha, 50% below target.

We will feed 5kg of a cheap concentrate costing £110/t to 53 cows for the next 10 days or so, along with 2.3 round bales of good quality silage every day and restricted grass. The cows 16kg DM diet will be made up of 4kg DM concentrate, 5kg DM silage and 6kg DM grass. I hope the above plan will raise total grass cover to over 900kg DM/ha by the end of August.

This diet is helping to keep yields up to 23 litres a day in early August. Our performance figures show we had produced over 4000 litres a cow on 460kg of concentrates by July 31.

The drought did not seem to affect the growth of ragwort, as it is blooming on the ditches around the countryside.

We took a second cut of silage on July 20, and used no additive, as sugars were high and we had lots of sunshine while cutting. All this ground has received 50-60 units of nitrogen and should be fit to graze towards the end of August.

But our prayers have now been answered, as we had three to four days of good heavy rain, which should green up the fields again.

Rabbits seem to be a big problem around the farm. I am seriously considering opening a rabbit farm, as 200 rabbits can be seen grazing paddocks during the day and they are not helping my grass situation.

We will be having our annual tuberculosis and brucellosis tests soon, so fingers crossed all will go well. When the sun appears again it is off to the seaside before schools open on Sept 1. &#42

Dennis Bridgeford

Dennis Bridgeford farms

50ha (125 acres) at Petley

Farm in Easter Ross, north

of Inverness. The farm

comprises of a 480-sow

indoor unit producing 95kg

pigs for one outlet and 85kg

pigs for a local abattoir. A

further 320 sows are run

outdoors. Land not used for

pigs grows spring barley

AGAINST my better judgement, and due to lack of supply, we have bought some winter barley.

This, along with the really hot spell, has led to a lack of finished pigs. Then Malton pulled back the pig price, making things rather fraught around the unit. My short break at the start of July really did not help my despondency over the pig industry.

I have never been a great believer of totally slatted finishing pens. But when fans are unable to cope with high temperatures you can at least keep the pigs relatively clean. I am afraid for us it is get a shovel and clean up before each feed.

Now we have super groups starting to market pigs in England they might start to show their teeth. It is rather ironic that our local, relatively small group is managing to secure a higher price. There has been a lot of hot air talked lately about Grampian Pig Producers joining up with Uncle Tom Cobbleigh. I will only be convinced in the justification when I can see some financial benefit.

I am envious when I look at the Press and see combines busy in the south, weeks ahead of us. But it is just down to geography. We try not to buy any winter barley – pigs never do well on it. Spring grain is about to be cut and I hope we can pick up some high nitrogen barley rejected by the maltsters. If there was one bright spot regarding winter barley, we managed to buy some straw close by that never saw any rain, so we are ahead of ourselves on that count.

Our quarterly visit by our consultant vet went well. Bringing in a consultant vet is a relatively new departure for us, as we have a first-class relationship with our own vet. But he always felt the extra experience of a committed pig vet would be of benefit.

Looking round, he thought pigs were improving since we changed our weaning regime to dry feed for the first 10 days then on to wet feed. The other area for discussion is whether we should try the relatively new vaccine that covers parasuis. Unfortunately, it is more expensive than our current enzootic pneumonia vaccine, so it might have to go on the back-burner until we see prices recover. &#42

Peter Wastenage

Peter Wastenage, in partner-

ship with his parents, farms

a 121ha (300-acre) farm

tenanted from Clinton Devon

Estates. He milks 175 cows,

rears his own replacements

and is converting to organic

production

SINCE my last article the whole country seems to have been turned upside down.

First, the MMC report on Milk Marque. The lengthy delay has given us an out of date report, with a complete lack of understanding of the current market and the need for a producer controlled organisation. One has to now question the relevance of this report and its cost.

More recently the Prime Minister has taken it upon himself to bring up the hunting debate again, a complex issue which surely must be decided by those who live and walk in the countryside, rather than the urban majority who have little or no understanding of rural issues. I found it ironic that he should walk around Bosnia the following week addressing the crowds, talking about stopping minority suppression and ethnic cleansing.

Closer to home things are not a lot better, the farm is bare of grass and supplementary feeding is about to start. We have had a small amount of rain, the first for about a month, I do not think it will be enough to make the grass grow but it will keep some of the seeds alive which will stop us having to autumn reseed.

The compressors on the bulk milk tanks have been running during the day. That prompted me to get our tanks serviced only to find they were running perfectly well, but the solonoid on the plate cooler was not working. Not only have I been paying for extra electricity for milk cooling, but I have had the tanks serviced unnecessarily; that rubbed salt into my wounds of cost-cutting.

As I am about to finish this article, the news has just started on the television, the headlines state how short the NHS is for money and how some operations are still on a 12-month waiting list. This was followed by two reports, one on a £600,000 piece of art given by the National Lottery and the other on the Millennium Dome. Surely there has to be some serious questions asked about the priorities of how public money is spent, or is it only me? &#42

John Alpe

John Alpe farms with his

parents at New Laund Farm,

near Clitheroe in Lancashire.

Besides the tenanted 80ha

(200 acres) the family own

36ha (90 acres) and rent a

further 40ha (100 acres).

Stocking is 60 dairy cows

and 60 followers, 500

Swaledale and Mule ewes

and 250 store lambs

JULY and early August have brought some splendid summer weather, which really makes work on the farm so much easier, not to mention more pleasant.

Sheep and lambs seem to have thrived this year, partly due to good grass growth. But I am sure warm sunshine has a big impact on well-being of livestock.

We gather and dip at the end of July; until then fat lambs that are sold are taken directly from their mothers to auction. During the mid-September dipping we wean all remaining lambs. Ewes will then be returned to hill pasture, while lambs are kept around the farmstead paddocks for two or three days until they have settled down. During this time we worm drench lambs and give them a multivitamin supplement.

After all these jobs are done lambs are sorted into groups of about 100-150 and are allowed on to clean aftermaths to either grow on, or, hopefully, finish. Generally, finished lamb prices have been falling all summer; our last sale of 40kg Suffolk lambs made £28 each.

As a rule over the years, lamb prices tend to decline steadily approaching autumn as sheer numbers and availability dictates. I really have no idea what price to expect for Mule wethers as they start to become ready for sale from September onwards, but things do not look so good.

Our field work has been fairly easy, with the help of the kind weather. Nearly all slurry and manure has been spread. Pasture topping is almost done too. This is a task I really enjoy, simply because you can produce an instant result, making things looking much better, then wait for the grass to respond with a rich regrowth giving an all-round visual improvement with little effort or expense.

On the first Sunday in August, after a week of hot weather, we had 20t of good dry straw delivered, which pleased me immensely. But, alas, waterproofs had to be donned as we were caught by a downpour. There was a thunderstorm halfway through unloading, and so we had to rush to take cover for 40 minutes. I was not happy, but could not do anything about it. You could say rain stopped play.n

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John Alpe

23 July 1999

Youngstock block

HEALTHY young cattle is the aim when using Dallas Keiths Young Stock feed blocks.

The 20kg blocks are supplied in plastic buckets for ad-lib feeding. They contain proteinated trace elements, said to be more available to animals than traditional minerals. Selenium content is high to aid reproductive development and extra vitamin E helps develop the immune system, says Dallas Keith.

A molasses-based formulation ensures steady and regular intake and provides an additional source of energy, says the firm.

The cost is 6p a head a day (01993-773061, fax 01993-771338).

Circulation trough

IMPROVE efficiency in storing and recirculating cleaning liquids and water in the dairy with the Circulation Wash Trough, says manufacturer Paxton.

Made of plastic, the trough is free standing and contains a sump in the base with a pipe designed to reduce the problem of sucking air into the system.

The trough has a lid and double skinned outer walls, filled with an air jacket which is said to provide good heat retention for the water and cleaning liquids.

It has a 182-litre capacity and internal calibration markings in gallons and litres designed to allow accurate measurement, it says.

Each trough costs £135 (01922-726060, fax 01922-643422).

Handbook covers husbandry issues

KEEP your animal husbandry and welfare knowledge up to date with a new edition of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare Farm Handbook, Management and Welfare of Farm Animals.

The organisation says the handbook puts a strong emphasis on the welfare aspects of different husbandry systems and considers emerging problems and issues concerned with keeping farm animals.

As well as covering the main farm species it also contains additional chapters on red deer, quail, guinea fowl and fish farming.

The book costs £17 (01582-831818, fax 01582-831414).

Cattle grid can move to any gateway

BLOCK gateways anywhere on the farm with the mobile Gunhill Cattle Grid.

Manufacturer, Ritchie, says no excavation is required, making it cost-effective to install and enabling it to be sited anywhere.

It can be driven over by four-wheel drive vehicles, tractors and quad bikes, but helps avoid unwanted traffic because ordinary cars are unable to pass.

Made of square hollow section galvanised steel, the grid measures 2460mm (8ft 3in)wide and long and stands 280mm (11in) high. Side rails are fitted and it is supplied with four drive-on ramps.

Cost is £866 (01307-462271, fax 01307-464081).

Richard Hinchion

Richard Hinchion milks 60

dairy cows and rears 40

replacements on 34ha (83

acres) at Crookstown, west

of Cork city, in southern

Ireland. With a fixed quota

of just over 300,000 litres,

the emphasis is on low-cost

production. Cows yield

5800 litres from 350kg of

concentrate

SUMMER rain has finally arrived. We have received a good week of wet humid drizzly rain, which is helping drought- stricken grass back to its original green colour.

Its also been warm and sunny with temperatures of 22-26C. Grass has been jumping out of the ground in the past few days, so I plan to stop feeding baled silage and reduce concentrates.

Despite the constant balancing act between grass, concentrate and silage, cows are milking very well, averaging 27 litres a cow/day for June, which is 3.5 litres better than June last year. We are still on target for quota with 10 less cows. Currently cows are producing 25-26 litres a day.

Dairygold, our farmer-owned milk co-operative, dropped the May price by a further 0.6p/litre, thereby giving 20p/litre for 3.6% fat and 3.5% protein milk. This has led to disquiet among some farmer shareholders who are seeking an extraordinary general meeting of the co-op to resolve the matter.

Edmund Walsh, my scanning vet checked 25 cows on June 22. The good news is that only two of the 25 are not in calf. We hope to finish breeding on July 17, after 12 weeks, and we are now using our stock Whitehead bull.

Our 19 young calves are about five months old and received their first worm dose on June 26. They have moved to first cut aftermath and are receiving no concentrate. We plan to treat cows and in-calf heifers for flies now the sun is out more often, to reduce the risk of summer mastitis.

My new student, Peter, and I are currently painting sheds and farm buildings as well as power washing calving boxes for winter.

Second cut silage should be fit for cutting on July 20 after the recent rain. We will cut 34% of the home farm and no additive will be used if sugars are high enough.

We will still be short of silage for winter, so we hope to make baled silage out of surplus grass on the farm during July/August. If we do not reach our target we will have to buy concentrates or pressed pulp to make up the deficit. &#42

Dennis Bridgeford

Dennis Bridgeford farms

50ha (125 acres) at Petley

Farm in Easter Ross, north

of Inverness. The farm

comprises of a 480-sow

indoor unit producing 95kg

pigs for one outlet and 85kg

pigs for a local abattoir. A

further 320 sows are run

outdoors. Land not used for

pigs grows spring barley

OUR purge on costs goes on. Its getting pretty obvious that the pig industry has been thrown to the wolves and we are going to survive by our own wits.

Over the years, the local water authority has been allowed to charge on a most ad-hoc method. While all our mains water has gone through a meter, other businesses pay on estimated usage. Last quarters invoice came to almost £2000.

I am sure that it charges on the basis that its a monopoly. I have decided enough is enough and we have been busy moving all the pigs over to our own bore hole. In the past, weve had the odd problem with some grit coming up with water, so to prevent any problems with power washers we are going to install online filters.

Now that electricity has been deregulated, we have decided to move from our existing supplier. Grampian Pig Producers, who we market all our pigs through, has secured a deal which should save 20% a year. Our annual electricity account runs just short of £20,000, so savings should be significant.

I managed my annual trip to the Highland Show, where for the first time in three years the sun shone. Its amazing how a little bit of sunshine managed to make even pig farmers smile. It was also quite interesting that the rest of farming appears to be struggling almost a year behind the pig industry.

I had a chat with the Grampian Food Group pig division managing director. He was very wary of predicting when prices would reach £1/kg. But to be fair, he was very encouraging.

I also managed my annual lunch from the bank. It must have had sympathy for the pig industry, the serving of ham was very appropriate, it was also first class. Looking round the show, there didnt appear to be anything new – and to be quite honest, we have no inclination to spend any money.

One area that we are beginning to struggle with, is the purchase of quality barley. There appears to be plenty of rubbish, unfortunately poor quality barley is always over-priced. The penalties for low bushel weight grain really need to be looked at because it has a strong bearing on feeding quality. &#42

Peter Wastenage

Peter Wastenage, in partner-

ship with his parents, farms

a 121ha (300 acre) farm

tenanted from Clinton Devon

Estates. He milks 175 cows,

rears his own replacements

and is converting to organic

production

PEA silage has now been cut, two weeks later than I originally intended. It was cut and left in the swathe. My intention was to spread and wilt for 36 hours before harvesting, but had this been done the pods would have shattered.

The weather remained good from start to finish and we were pleased with how pea silage looked in the clamp. Several people suggested we should use an additive, but as it will predominately be fed to dry cows we decided not to. Time will tell whether weve been prudent, or too tight for our own good.

Once again a large part of our time has been spent either cutting weeds under fence-lines or topping pasture, mostly to stop any weeds seeding. Fence-lines which were once kept clear by a knapsack sprayer, now have to be done by hand.

Ragwort was historically a problem on our farm, but after many years of cutting and pulling I think we have it under control. Our main problems now are the road verges which run through our farms. After many phone calls to the council each year, it used to come and pull it. But always after it had seeded, so now we pull it ourselves. I feel particularly sorry for those who farm next to motorways or waste ground with massive weed burdens.

When grass growth slows down, like it has at the moment, the question has to be whether to top or not. Recently Ive had two farm walks here. One group thought I topped too much and the other not enough.

We want to maintain grass quality and not reduce too much grass cover, so we are only topping when there are too many weeds in grass paddocks to be controlled by hand cutting.

Cows are milking very well. Weve been getting over 21 litres a cow/day from grazing, with 1.5kg of concentrate a cow taking the average up to 24 litres. But I am worried that were going to run out of grass any day now and hope that it will soon rain. I saw some rain on a recent trip to Somerset, so it has rained elsewhere. But when I got home I realised it had missed our farm. &#42

John Alpe

John Alpe farms with his

parents at New Laund Farm,

near Clitheroe in Lancs.

Besides the tenanted 80ha

(200 acres) the family own

36ha (90 acres) and rent a

further 40ha (100 acres).

Stocking is 60 dairy cows

and 60 followers, 500

Swaledale and Mule ewes

and 250 store lambs

GRASS growth in the early part of summer has been slightly below average. Persistent cold, wet weather in late May and early June was a major influence. Pasturelands have only just managed to keep up with livestock feed requirements.

Fortunately, the weather improved by the end of June and we have enjoyed a dry spell and some welcome sunshine. During this time we were able to silage and clamp 70 acres. The crop was reasonable, but certainly lighter than usual, with the exception of 10 acres which was positively poor.

Generally this is a wet piece of land and it has not really recovered from above average rainfall over winter and last summer. Added to that a cold season, and it has really taken its toll on the sward.

Grass for silage was mown with a mower conditioner by contractors. We then went through swathes with a swathwilter and left it for at least a day in hot breezy weather before foraging. The result was very dry grass being harvested. I like a high dry matter silage as it reduces the amount of silage effluent produced.

We also made around 150 big bales of haylage and 800 conventional small bales of hay, again in perfect weather. Compared with last years fiasco, it has been a real pleasure to harvest grass this year.

A neighbour recently sold his dairy cows. The herd average was over 7000 litres which in a marginal upland area is very impressive. Generally being much better cattle than our own, we were interested in purchasing some dairy youngstock. We managed to buy 10 heifers between three and 12-months-old. Hopefully, in 18 months to two years time they will calve and the market will have improved.

We have been doing some digging work on land away from the homestead. For this type of work we usually hire an operator with a JCB. The driver stopped me one morning to sadly inform me that he had found two of my brothers sheep dead in his digger bucket – he was convinced they had committed suicide. Being curious, I asked how he knew that. To which he replied: "They left me a suicide note in the digger cab reading please bury me." &#42

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John Alpe

5 March 1999

Cattle passports in apple pie order

STORE up to 80 cattle passports in conventional filing cabinets using a Passport File holder from Dumfriesshire producer Ben Graham.

Storing passports on their end allows individual ear tag numbers to be found quickly by thumbing through the file. Each file comes complete with integral hangers and two labelling tags to help sort passports into groups.

Files cost £9.99. A Filedrawer Kit 320 is available for £40 including post and packaging. It holds 320 passports and has sufficient capacity to hold all British Cattle Movement Service paperwork. Available by direct mail (01387-860227, fax 01387-860227).

Fodder figures

TOP tips for growing successful fodder crops including kale, fodder beet, swedes and stubble turnips are available in a set of husbandry booklets from Lincs-based seed supplier Advanta.

The guides identify which varieties are suitable for individual cropping programmes and provide detailed information on all aspects of husbandry from sowing on different soil types through to harvesting.

The guides are free and can be obtained from Advanta (01529-304630, fax 01529-303908).

Off-peak energy can cut fuel bills

TIME electric use to suit demand including extra cleaning of milk equipment with every other day collection using the 14-day Smiths timeswitch from electrical supplier Timeguard.

Allowing greater automation and use of off-peak electricity to cut energy bills, the TR610-14 timeswitch is programmed at installation to control power supply to equipment such as water heaters, tank cleaners and other dairy equipment.

Carrying a five-year guarantee, the TR610-14 costs about £60 and is available from electrical wholesalers nationwide (0181-452 1112, fax 0181-452 5143).

Self-service for a dozen hungry pigs

ALLOW growing pigs to prepare their own feed using the Singleporc V wet/dry feeder from equipment supplier Sterling.

Designed for up to 12 pigs/feeder from 25kg liveweight, the stainless steel and plastic feeder features a water nozzle beside the feed bowl. Pigs decide how much water is needed to go with feed in the bowl below.

With a capacity of up to 30kg feed, the unit has 10 graduations to limit feed flow. The unit can be completely closed to prevent contamination of feed during routine pen cleaning.

It costs £91 and is available direct (01765-605999, fax 01765-608014).

Peter Wastenage

Peter Wastenage, in

partnership with his parents,

farms a 121ha (300-acre)

farm tenanted from Clinton

Devon Estates. He milks 175

cows, rears his own

replacements and grows

40ha (100 acres) of maize

AT long last weve had two fairly dry weeks. This allowed milking cows and heifers to come off their winter rations and go out to grass in mid-February.

It has been important for us to get followers onto grass as soon as possible, as we have been buying in expensive hay for the last few weeks.

We have also sold some freshly calved cows, which will reduce the stocking density in our organic conversion period.

The Soil Association has now confirmed our organic conversion date of September 2000. The only condition which is irregular is that we have to test fields in which we previously grew maize for atrazine residues.

I dont expect any problem with these tests as weve always used reduced rates of Atrazine and grown our maize in a rotation rather than continually on the same field.

Having just opened a new maize silage pit, I was shocked to see a brown line running through it. This must be due to harvesting last years maize silage over two days.

The pit was sheeted the first night and not rolled again the following morning before adding new maize, both of which I understood were good practices. Yet the change-over line can still be seen. At this years maize harvest we will strive to fill and seal the silage pits in one day.

Kale has once again proved tremendously high yielding and soon will be in the same position as last year as flower buds have already started to appear.

A few weeks of warm weather and well be candidates for Britain in Bloom. Kale that is not used by the milking cows in the next two weeks will be eaten by the remaining dry cows. &#42

Dennis Bridgeford

Dennis Bridgeford farms

50ha (125 acres) at Petley

Farm in Easter Ross, north

of Inverness. The farm

comprises of a 480-sow

indoor unit producing 95kg

pigs for one outlet and 85kg

pigs for a local abattoir. A

further 320 sows are run

outdoors. Land not used for

pigs grows spring barley

ARE we at the crossroads of the pig industry? Do we go in one direction, do we all disappear, or do we go with the trade, allowing prices to firm?

Then buyers get quality home produced product to their required specification, delivered to their doorstep, with every possible assurance and traceability in place.

There is no argument, so why are they doing everything in their power to suppress the price? Now is the time when marketing groups should be starting to flex their muscles.

There is no reason why any live pigs should be allowed into this country. No one will convince me that pigs vaccinated for Aujeszkys are safe. It will only take one pig, that lands where it shouldnt, to wipe out all the hard work that UK pig producers have funded.

We have reached a stage where any plant that is importing live pigs should be highlighted and no home produced product be delivered to it.

Our report from our last SPII farm assurance inspection did not go down well with the staff. We sold extra pigs to meet space requirements but it has still asked for another inspection to be carried out. I gather its farm panel feels it needs stern action to bring everyone to heel, but that might just tip some producers out of the scheme.

We have had some snow, but little compared with the far north. The only real problem it has caused is that the outdoor paddocks are very wet. The beauty of snow usually means that frosts are not hard; carting water is time consuming and laborious.

If there are any bright spots at the moment, it is the fall in soya and fishmeal prices. Soya is a real bonus when you consider it was well over £230/t, but with the price falling were saving more than a £100/t. We use over 40t a month, so the saving is considerable. Fishmeal will not have such a dramatic effect – we only use 5% in our lactating and starter diets.

At a time when we are trying to cut costs in all directions our water pump has been giving us a lot of problems. We really miss our own water supply and this was really driven home when I received our water account for the period we were without the pump. I can see why the meter reader drives a new van and they go around in pairs. &#42

Gerald Murphy

Gerald Murphy runs a 107ha

(275-acre) farm in partner-

ship with his parents in

County Waterford on the

south-east coast of Ireland.

The main enterprise is 110

Holstein Friesian cows with

emphasis on milk from

grass. Forage maize and

cereals are grown for home

consumption

OUR cows were at last turned out on Feb 23, two weeks later than planned.

The weather caused the first delay by holding up nitrogen application, the second delay was more welcome: Tom our local Teagasc adviser came and walked the farm and took some weighings of grass covers and found they were too low for turnout on Feb 15 as planned.

We decided to hold off for another week and turn out on Feb 23. Grass silage was cut by 10kg a head, but perhaps we should have cut it by 5kg the day before turnout to encourage appetite, as all they did after their run around the maize stubble was graze for 20 minutes and lie down.

Spring calving is going well, with almost half the spring group calving in the first month. We have had few black-and-white heifers, but that is easy to explain.

One afternoon in late January we were tagging some calves with our own tags. We were still waiting for the official tags to arrive when my father remarked on the great run of heifers since Christmas and from then on we have had 17 black-and-white bulls and one Hereford cross heifer.

Scanning of winter calvers is the next important job. We have heard some horror stories of cows showing heats as normal early in the breeding season and then having silent repeats after service. Everything seems to be going too well here at the moment, so we want to check to make sure it is not happening to us.

As this is my last contribution, I would like to wish the next contributor to these pages the best of luck. I am sure it will be easy to follow in my footsteps.

I would also like to thank the FW staff who have put up with me over the past almost four years. And to all FW readers, all the best in the future with beef at £150/100kg liveweight and milk at 30p/litre: I wish. Goodbye and good luck. &#42

John Alpe

John Alpe farms with his

parents at New Laund Farm,

near Clitheroe in Lancashire.

Besides the tenanted 80ha

(200 acres) the family own

36ha (90 acres) and rent a

further 40ha (100 acres).

Stocking is 60 dairy cows

and 60 followers, 500

Swaledale and Mule ewes

and 250 store lambs

WE sold the last of our 98/99 seasons fat lambs at the end of February. By then the market had improved slightly, so let us hope this can be sustained into the new season. But, overall, the average price a lamb is down £7 on last year.

The gimmer hogs will be brought home on March 1. They seemed in good condition the last time I got a chance to see them at their overwintering, and their grass keep has been good due to a reasonably mild winter.

At home, concentrates have been introduced to our Swaledale ewes and Mule shearlings which winter on the limestone outcrop land. The rocky peaks provide hard, dry areas so we hand feed sheep-rolls directly on to the ground. This is convenient and relatively waste free.

We use the quad-bike to transport feed bags, so from now until the end of the lambing season it will work hard, and is proving to be a valuable piece of equipment.

In fact, if I had to make a choice of parting with the quad or a tractor, I would definitely choose to have one less tractor. Quad bikes have been revolutionary to upland farms and certainly make our lives easier.

Our bike is serviced twice a year, before winter and after lambing. We seem to have a gift of wearing out tyres on a yearly basis. By the end of summer they are completely bald. It is little wonder when you see some of its operators who show a turn of speed that would impress Nigel Mansell.

We have just received our dip disposal form. The temptation is to put it behind the clock on the mantelpiece and try to forget about it. But ultimately it will have to be completed. Along with other relevant information, the Environment Agency want specific grid references of fields where the waste effluent will be spread.

This is yet another form to add to the pile. The ministry recently carried out a farm waste management plan in our area which was quite in-depth. IACS forms will be arriving shortly, not to mention cattle passports, which are ongoing.

Form filling is becoming a nightmare. Agriculture is certainly affecting the environment; all the paper involved must be making a big hole in the rain forests. &#42

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John Alpe

29 May 1998

John Alpe

John Alpe farms with his

parents at New Laund Farm

at Whitewell, Clitheroe,

Lancs. Besides the

tenanted 80ha (200 acres)

at New Laund Farm, the

family owns a neighbouring

farm of 36ha (90 acres),

and rents a further 40ha

100 acres). About 60 dairy

cows, 500 Swaledale and

Mule ewes and 250 store

lambs are run on the farms.

Bacon pigs, are also fed on

contract.

THE sheep and lambs were moved on to the pasture lands, clearing the meadows at the end of April, when a 25:5:5 fertiliser was applied. This cost about £25/t less than last year, which is a step in the right direction. Slurry was spread, followed by harrowing and rolling where necessary.

A local contractor from the next village of Chipping does most of the slurry spreading work. He uses his own large West spreader, but our tractor and bucket to empty and load the slurry. During the course of the day, he complained that our tractor cab door desperately needed some attention. Since I trust his judgment I knew it must be time to renew the fraying bale string!

May is my favourite month. We turn out all the youngstock and dairy cows, although they had to be kept in a few days longer than usual because of some cold wet weather making ground conditions unsuitable. However, by mid-May the weather is glorious, as are grass growth and ground conditions, so spirits are excellent.

We have started to drench the ewes and lambs for worms. This year for the initial dose we are using a white suspension with added vitamin B, in conjunction with a trace element plus copper secondary drench. While gathered and in the sheep pens we take the opportunity to tail out the ewes to try and keep them clean prior to shearing.

The Limousin and Belgian Blue heifer calves that are reared from the dairy herd are ultimately either sold as beef bulling heifers at 18-24 months of age, or run with the Blonde dAquitaine stock bull.

Once the served heifers are settled in calf, they live with the dairy heifers and winter on ad lib silage including an additional 1kg of concentrates. They start to calve and we aim to sell them with six-week- old three-quarter cross calves at foot.

The third heifer to calve started at around 5pm and fortunately it was in a small croft by the farm buildings.

Despite close observation during calving it ate a small piece of embryotic membrane – no larger than a mans handkerchief – and choked. I have heard of this happening but this is the first time we have ever had this problem. &#42

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John Alpe

1 May 1998

John Alpe

John Alpe

John Alpe farms in

partnership with his parents

at New Laund Farm at

Whitewell near Clitheroe in

Lancashire. Besides the

tenanted 80ha (200 acres)

at New Laund Farm, the

family own a neighbouring

farm of 36ha (90 acres), and

rent a further 40ha (100

acres). About 60 dairy cows

and 60 followers, 500

Swaledale and Mule ewes

and 250 store lambs are run

on the farms. Bacon pigs are

also fed on contract

OUR lambing season is coming to an end and a pleasingly high percentage of the sheep have lambed in the first 17-day cycle of their respective batches and due dates.

Perhaps the long-acting copper capsule we gave to the ewes last autumn to help conception has been effective. We also gave a secondary capsule to the ewes during mid-pregnancy to help prevent the sway-back in lambs.

Unfortunately, lambs becoming stiff with joint-ill has caused concern this spring, but after seeking the vets advice, administering long-acting Clamoxyl seems to have worked.

The weather is a crucial factor during lambing and fortunately it has been reasonably kind, with just two grim days; 2in of rain in one day made things very wet, and consequently lambing pens overflowed, and waking to find 2in of snow one morning was morally deflating. But compared with other parts of the country we have fared quite well.

Milk Marque has announced it will pay a bonus of 0.2p/litre for milk if the top hygiene band is achieved and maintained for 12 consecutive months, ensuring a Bactoscan of less than 50, in conjunction with a cell count of less than 150. We are lucky enough to have fallen into this category, so there should be a bonus on the way. Some of this unexpected windfall can go towards the £90 cost for our bi-annual dairy hygiene inspection. It seems a little unfair that we manage to achieve a bonus for milk hygiene which is tested every week and then have to pay for a statutory visit.

We undertook a new enterprise this autumn – in the form of four donkeys taking their annual winter break from Blackpool. They arrived in October and will stay until May. We wanted them for our children to ride, but is has proved to be an inspired piece of business compared with wintering feeding lambs, which have lost money, and milking cows seems to be going the same way. The donkeys are actually showing a positive cash flow. We have some undulating park type land in front of the farmhouse and I have always fancied a pair of magnificent hunting horses grazing it, but a donkey derby may be as near as it gets. &#42

Lambing is almost at an end for John Alpe, and has gone well despite snow.

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John Alpe

3 April 1998

John Alpe

John Alpe farms in

partnership with his parents

in Lancashire. Besides the

tenanted 80ha (200 acres)

at New Laund Farm, the

family own 36ha (90 acres),

and rent a further 40ha (100

acres). About 60 dairy cows

and 60 followers, 500

Swaledale and Mule ewes

and 250 store lambs are run

on the farms. Bacon pigs are

also fed on contract.

THIS is the time I like to assess last years financial performance, and decide on a strategy for the next 12 months. Now is quite a level plain from which to work, because all the lambs are sold and the dairy cows are at the end of the quota year and should all be in calf.

Our last years milk price has decreased by 4p/litre. Lambs have averaged £9 less compared to the previous year. On an equally bright note, looking forward to next year, milk prices are set to fall by another penny per litre at least… Ive also thought long and hard but cant see any good reason why lamb prices should pick up either – but I hope Im wrong.

Fortunately the prices of fertiliser, concentrates and quota are decreasing, but accumulatively it amounts to nowhere near the shortfall in milk prices and lamb sales.

Capital expenditure is the only area any savings can be gained. Basically it means tightening the reins considerably and not buying anything unless absolutely necessary. It appears most of my friends in farming have come to the same conclusion, so allied industries look like sharing the pain.

Last week a representative from the RSPB spoke to the local farmers club, where I am a member. He talked with concern about the serious decline in bird numbers throughout various parts of the country due to changes that have occurred in their habitat. An organisation to which a million members subscribe, it is presently lobbying Members of the European Parliament to try to help farms, in particular family farms, to promote and improve habit for bird life.

I have an interest in the subject and enjoy the varied species seen around the farm – presently the curlews, oystercatchers and lapwings have returned, confirming the fact that spring is imminent. Chaffinches, pied wagtails, wrens, goldfinches, meadow pipits, herons, various owls and a pair of buzzards, along with many others, make their home here.

We seem to have a fairly healthy population of birds in this area. As a small boy my father can recall hearing the corncrakes calling but not now. Alas they are silent, for they have gone – probably for ever.

If we have to farm even more intensely to maintain incomes, ultimately we will lose more bird life as we already have with the corncrake. For the sake of conservation, nature and the food chain we must find a better way – perhaps the RSPB may prove to be a friend to farms as well as birds. &#42

Low milk prices and lamb sales means cutting capital expenditure this year says John Alpe.

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John Alpe

6 March 1998

John Alpe

John Alpe farms in

partnership with his parents

on the tenanted 80ha (200

acres) at New Laund Farm,

owns a neighbouring

farm of 36ha (90 acres), and

rents a further 40ha (100

acres) running 60 dairy

cows and 60 followers, 500

ewes and 250 store lambs.

Bacon pigs are also fed on

contract.

A NEW batch of weaner pigs arrived in early February and unusually proved to be very variable in size. Unfortunately, two days after arriving they contracted a type of blood scour.

We enlisted the vet, who prescribed an antibiotic solution in the water supply which cured the infection quite easily, but not before several pigs had died. Fortunately all veterinary costs are paid by BOCM Pauls.

I hate to lose good pigs and so far we havent got off to a very good start. A healthy, evenly grown batch of weaners are initially very little work. To help maintain their warmth we house them together in lots using only two-thirds of the pens available. As they grow, we intermittently assess them and draw out the smallest pigs from each pen to make up new groups, therefore gradually filling all the remaining pens to capacity just before they start to be taken as bacon weight.

Since the last in-calf cow finally calved in mid-January well have no more dairy calves now until summer, when in mid-July the heifers start the calving cycle once again. I anticipate our milk production to be slightly under quota this year and with this in mind we may sell some clean quota and buy some back in the new quota year.

We are feeding the sheep hay and big bale silage. Concentrates have now been introduced to the batch due to lamb first. So far this winter the only problem weve encountered with the breeding ewes is that several have contracted an eye infection. It seems that if this is detected early it is easy to treat topically with an antibiotic cream to the eye but it is certainly puzzling why it should become so prevalent.

Though it hurts to discuss it, we still have 40 feeding lambs left, and the sooner they are gone the happier Ill be. Though they have fed reasonably well, every time they sell they take money with them. Normally we buy store lambs in September but thinking they were too dear last autumn we avoided buying any until November when the price reduced a little and temptation got too much. The 100 horned lambs which were bought to average £20.50 will all lose money, after feed costs. The only bright spot is that in some years we have bought up to 400 lambs, so things could have been far worse. &#42

Sheep are being fed hay and silage, with concentrates now introduced to the earliest lambers at John Alpes.

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John Alpe

6 February 1998

John Alpe

John Alpe farms in

partnership with his parents

at New Laund Farm at

Whitewell near Clitheroe in

Lancashire. Besides the

tenanted 80ha (200 acres)

at New Laund Farm, the

family own a neighbouring

farm of 36ha (90 acres), and

rent a further 40ha (100

acres). About 60 dairy cows

and 60 followers, 500

Swaledale and Mule ewes

and 250 store lambs are run

on the farms. Bacon pigs are

also fed on contract.

John Alpe farms in

partnership with his parents

at New Laund Farm at

Whitewell near Clitheroe in

Lancashire. Besides the

tenanted 80ha (200 acres)

at New Laund Farm, the

family own a neighbouring

farm of 36ha (90 acres), and

rent a further 40ha (100

acres). About 60 dairy cows

and 60 followers, 500

Swaledale and Mule ewes

and 250 store lambs are run

on the farms. Bacon pigs are

also fed on contract.

WE accepted an invitation to join a party of people on Jan 20 to spend the day at Grosvenor Farms and Cogent Breeding Centre in Cheshire.

First, we were shown the donor and recipient heifers, about 460, all on one site. The donor heifers are progeny from some of the best cattle from around the world. It certainly had an international atmosphere, with both stock and embryos from USA, Canada, Italy, France Holland and Japan.

A Canadian member of staff from the centre competently guided and talked us through the areas in detail, and his information was very helpful.

After lunch, we looked round Grosvenor Farms. There they grow arable crops and potatoes, in conjunction with the Grosvenor herd of 1200 dairy cows. More than adequate buildings housed good high yielding cows, but the overall plan is to replace about 800 head a year with Cogent bred calved heifers. Suffice to say the turnover of stock is going to be high.

Since world class heifers are becoming the platform for the herd of such high genetic standards, only the best are going to make it, and as an understatement, genetic improvement looks like being good.

As British dairy farmers, we are fortunate to have someone like the Duke of Westminster backing this scheme, basically I am glad he is on our side.

We joined Cogent last year at a cost of £100 which includes the chance to buy well-bred semen for £5 a straw, top class embryos at £100 each and Cogent stock at a 20% discount.

The day proved to be very enlightening, and a pleasure to see a top class, well managed, valuable farm and enterprise. But back home at the grindstone, reality hit home hard when the same week we sold some reasonable lambs for the least amount of money that I can every remember. &#42

A day at Grosvenor Farms and Cogent was well spent – but John Alpe reckons lamb prices brought him back to earth with a bump.

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John Alpe

12 December 1997

John Alpe

John Alpe farms in

partnership with his parents

at New Laund Farm at

Whitewell near Clitheroe in

Lancashire. Besides the

tenanted 80ha (200 acres)

at New Laund Farm, the

family own a neighbouring

farm of 36ha (90 acres), and

rent a further 40ha (100

acres). About 60 dairy cows

and 60 followers, 500

Swaledale and Mule ewes

and 250 store lambs are run

on the farms. Bacon pigs are

also fed on contract.

THE grazing at home has been helped considerably since we sent 300 ewes and hogs away for wintering in early November.

About the same time we released the Blue Faced Leicester rams with the horned ewes. Meanwhile at the Blackburn land Suffolk rams had been turned into the Mule ewes around mid-October. The Texel rams run with the gimmer hogs from mid-November.

We have purchased three replacement rams this year, two Blue Faced Leicesters and one Swaledale, and they appear to be performing well. Working rams seem to have been reasonably priced this year, which is more than can be said about working sheep dogs.

Our sheep dogs are starting to show their age, our best dog – Ben – is over 12-years old, and although still keen and works well, to be realistic, hard days for him are too much to expect. Bearing this in mind weve been on the look out for a semi-trained younger dog to assist him.

We have just bought Nap, a two-year old dog, and though hes very timid, he looks like hell be all right – only time will tell. I am aware it is a long time since we bought a dog, and Im sure to be out of touch with current prices, but I suggest we must have dealt with a descendent of the notorious Dick Turpin, famous for highway robbery! They say a good dog is worth as much as a good cow, but unfortunately this information does not appear to have reached the ears of the people who sell working sheep dogs!

Our 18-month old stirks, destined for the marsh land next year, were brought in on Nov 20, and will winter on hay.

Only six dry dairy cows are left to calve, due hopefully before Christmas, as I dont want any calving problems to spoil my Christmas lunch and presently the way things are going, it may well prove to be my luck! &#42

John Alpe was surprised at how much his new two-year old sheepdog Nap cost – particularly as the old adage is that a good dog is worth as much as a good cow.

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John Alpe

14 November 1997

John Alpe

John Alpe farms in

partnership with his parents

at New Laund Farm at

Whitewell near Clitheroe in

Lancashire. Besides the

tenanted 80ha (200 acres),

the family own a

neighbouring farm of 36ha

(90 acres), and rent a further

40ha (100 acres). About 60

dairy cows and 60 followers,

500 Swaledale and Mule

ewes and 250 store lambs

are run on the farms. Bacon

pigs are also fed on contract

A RELATIVELY pleasant and calm October has ended our autumn season with some good grazing.

But despite the almost perfect conditions for this area, our lambs have not fed well.

Lambs are weaned in early August, drenched with a trace element suspension and wormer, and then allowed into clean aftermaths. After 10 days or so they usually start to thrive, but this year, though they have grown, they certainly have not gained condition.

After a spell of four to five weeks we sought the vets advice. He strongly suspected a copper deficiency, which is apparently a new concern for us and I have no explanation as to why it has become so evident over this year.

We re-treated the lambs with a secondary trace element drench, comprising a different set of components, including copper. We also gave them an additional supplement of slow release copper capsules. With this intervention there has been a marked improvement in their performance. Since I have been told my performance could also be improved, I wonder if copper supplements could help me!

We have been feeding round silage bales ad lib to the dairy cows since they have been lying in overnight, purely because we find it easier to manage while the cows are at grass in the day. But the last week of October was the dairy cows last week of grazing, now they are housed 24 hours and the silage clamp has been opened.

We are having an unlucky run with the dairy cows at the moment. Last week a cow suddenly dropped dead while in a cubicle, just at milking time. Knowing it was due to go on the slaughter scheme four days later made matters worse.

This was followed by another incident where a cow slipped on a concrete yard and, being unable to stand again, was taken by the casualty scheme. To cap it all, while using our four-wheel drive tractor to load it the front wheel inadvertently caught the casualty wagon, slashing the tyre. Words cant express my thoughts at the time, but eventually after the heat of the moment, Labours slogan came to mind: "Things can only get better".n

Drenching lambs which failed to gain condition with trace elements to combat a copper deficiency proved effective, says John Alpe.

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John Alpe

17 October 1997

John Alpe

John Alpe farms in partnership with his parents at New Laund

Farm at Whitewell near Clitheroe in Lancashire. Besides the

tenanted 80ha (200 acres) at New Laund Farm, the family

own a neighbouring farm of 36ha (90 acres), and rent a

further 40ha (100 acres). About 60 dairy cows and 60

followers, 500 Swaledale and Mule ewes and 250 store lambs

are run on the farms. Bacon pigs are also fed on contract.

THIS autumn, sales of our surplus Mule breeding ewes and shearlings have shown a small increase of price on the year, which is quite reassuring.

The surplus sheep that we sell are the remainders after weve maintained flock numbers and replaced any ewes which have broken mouths or have a problem with an incorrect udder. The latter group is always a high percentage of our culled sheep, which is very disappointing because they are invariably quite young sheep. On this point, though, I tend to be ruthless – a ewe with only one teat, arriving with two or possibly three lambs, is the last thing I want to see during the lambing season.

The high autumn tides at Southport Marshland has forced the 800 head of summering cattle into the dry holding pens. All the owners are notified to make arrangements to collect them. Sorting them though can prove quite a task – trying to find our 15 maiden heifers amongst some 800 is not a job for the faint hearted; and to complete the picture I should also say its usually raining and its very mucky! Its the sort of job that should be delegated.

Unfortunately, several heifers had died during the summering season, drowning being the main cause, but luckily all ours turned up this year present and correct. Three years ago this was not the case – we did lose a heifer far out on the marsh land, but as luck would have it – on examination – it was found to have been struck by lightening, and was therefore covered by insurance.

Having not seen the heifers for some five months they appear to have grown out well. Now theyre home we have arranged for Genus to do the AI work, however, instead of using the Moet herd semen, we have changed to the Cheshire-based organisation Co-gent, owned by the Duke of Westminster.

I am hoping this change will bring about some savings, and as a member there may prove to be some long-term benefits – well have to wait and see.n

John Alpe has been busy sorting through breeding sheep and selecting culls, while the heifers have come home from summer grazings at Southport and are about to be AId – using Cogent semen for the first time.

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John Alpe

22 August 1997

John Alpe

John Alpe farms inpartnership with his parents at New Laund Farm at Whitewell near Clitheroe in Lancashire. Besides the tenanted 80ha (200 acres) at New Laund Farm, the family own a neighbouring farm of 36ha (90 acres), and rent a further 40ha (100 acres). About 60 dairy cows and 60 followers, 500 Swaledale and Mule ewes and 250 store lambs are run on the farms. Bacon pigs are also fed on contract.

AS if milking twice a day for the 2p/litre cut in milk price is not bad enough, now our Friesian Holstein dairy heifers are coming through the milking parlour after calving, which tends to disturb my happy hour.

For the first time in 15 years we have calved them to a black-and-white sire, namely the Genus MOET easy calving F Holstein bull. Previously we have simply run the batch of heifers with a Limousin stock bull.

The change came about because we always seem to be short of black-and-white heifer calves. Last autumn the vet synchronised the bulling heifers to come into service then they were artificially inseminated. As a follow-up we ran a Blonde dAquitaine bull with them.

This being the first time we had synchronised a batch of heifers, I had envisaged them all calving within a period of three to four days. But the first F Holstein calf arrived on July 18 and to my surprise the last on Aug 2. A period such as this 16-day spread may be perfectly normal, but I certainly did not expect it.

At the end of July we dipped and weaned the ewes and lambs. A busy few days, working both at home and at the Blackburn farm. The remaining lambs that had not been marketed straight from the land at Blackburn were weaned and brought back home.

We used OP dip for all the flock, except the ewes that remained at Blackburn. We have tried a pour-on for the first time instead of dipping. It certainly proved to be a lot easier, and for instant opinion they appear to be attracting fewer flies than the sheep we have traditionally dipped at home, but we will have to wait and see. Come October we will put them through the OP dip as well.

All the weaned lambs are routinely drenched with Oramec for treating worms, along with a supplementary vitamin drench.

All horned lambs and Mule gimmers are injected with Heptavac P. While I was carrying out one such injection, a lamb jumped around so much that I inadvertently knocked the syringe bearing needle straight into my own finger, consequently feeling a bit of a prick!

At least now I have the peace of mind knowing I am covered against braxy and blackleg. &#42

Heifers synchronised and AId at John Alpes New Laund Farm calved over 16 days, rather than the three- or four-day spread expected. They were calved to a black-and-white bull in the hope of producing more heifer calves.

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