24 March 2000

Lamb price well pleasing

Lambing started again at

Cilgoed within days of the last

of the 1999 crop leaving the

farm. Robert Davies reports

LAMBS sold in January and February realised about £4 a head more than last year, even though the contract with Marks and Spencer, which paid a £2 a head premium 12 months ago, was not continued this year.

The 150 animals marketed on the hoof averaged £42 a head, while 40 that went deadweight made £37.80. "It is fair to say I am well pleased, even after feeding about £5 worth of concentrate a head to get them away quickly when prices rose," says Ceiriog Jones. "The trade has gone back since, so we got things right."

Beulah ewes, served using AI as part of the breeds improvement scheme, were the first to lamb in 2000. Fortunately, better weather allowed all 30 to lamb outside with few problems, despite a large number of triplets and quads.

"We have just been through what was the wettest winter I can remember. Two springs just appeared from nowhere and flooded the sheep shed. At times it was almost impossible to get to some parts of the hill on the quad bike, and where we could get access we made deep ruts."

Mr Jones decided that the bike needed twin rear wheels, but he was unable to find a commercially available conversion kit. The solution was to persuade his local blacksmith to make the fitments. He estimates that the conversion cost about £200, including the extra wheels. But it certainly solved the problem and has made the bike more stable on slopes.

He also changed the ATVs trailer using an idea seen when he visited New Zealand. The timber floor and tailgate were replaced by steel mesh, which, he claims, is largely self-cleaning.

Despite the wet winter, the ewe flock was in pretty good condition when the older ewes started lambing this week. A few have prolapsed as usual, and 100 yearling ewes that were not dipped last back end had to be treated for lice infestation.

Ewe lambs have been scanned and 75 of those in lamb were sold for an average of £42 a head, including some bought in for £26. Another 147 are carrying lambs sired by the Charollais tups made available through the Meat and Livestock Commissions technology transfer initiative.

At a recent meeting, farmer members of a working group linked to that scheme revealed confidential figures showing just how dependent they all were on subsidies. "In all honesty it is clear that without these payments most of us would be out of business and the local community would disappear."

But, as he told National Assembly member Alun Pugh when he visited, local farmers are trying to help themselves by improving their technical efficiency, and are working with the whole community. During the lull before lambing he, along with other local farmers and non-farming people living in the area, canvassed support to open a community shop selling groceries, local produce and offering Post Office services. Almost 80% of 500 households surveyed backed the plan.

To ease grazing pressure, 93 empty ewe lambs have gone away on tack to a farm in Shropshire, but some grazings are already greening up after a rise in temperature and applications of lime and spring fertiliser by a contractor.

Five barren suckler cows have been sold. They were very lean and made just over £200 a head on the OTMS scheme. Calf ear-tag loss continues to be a serious problem despite making great efforts to put them in correctly. Twenty cattle sold last week averaged £458 a head. They were nine months old and no subsidy claim had been made on them.

Mr Jones has become a member of a group that organises a special annual sale of cattle with show potential at Ruthin. The aim will be to try and get a premium on any outstanding cattle bred at Cilgoed.

Already the farms Belgian Blue bull has improved calf conformation, though he is currently lame after a foot abscess. Veterinary treatment was also required for a calf with bloat and a heifer with silage eye.

Mr Jones hopes a new computer program will improve monitoring of the beef enterprise, though there will be little time to input data until lambing is completed. &#42

FARMFACTS

&#8226 An 81ha (200 acre) farm in north Wales owned and run by Ceiriog Jones and his wife Mair who are also tenants on a further 18ha (44 acres). There is 10ha (25 acres) on an 11-month let.

&#8226 Most land is steep, classified as severely disadvantaged. It carries 600 Builth Wells-type Beulah ewes, 250 ewe lambs and 60 spring and summer calving suckler cows.

&#8226 Older ewes not breeding replacements are put to Bluefaced Leicester tups to produce Welsh Mules for sale as ewe lambs or yearlings. Bull calves, once finished on farm, now planned to be sold on green CIDs.

&#8226 Mr Jones was a Welsh Sheep Strategy scholarship winner in 1998. The farm is one of three in Wales selected for an MLC co-ordinated technology transfer project.

Left: Getting a grip… Dual wheels fitted by a local blacksmith have proved invaluable in the monsoon-like conditions, says Ceiriog Jones. Right: Family farm… Clwyd Jones helps his father out whenever he can.