28 November 1997

Lamb success offsets beefs shaky future

Beef is still on target to make a loss at Rugley and barley

returns continue to disappoint. But at least the sheep have

something to bleet about, as Alan Barker reports

WITH field work up to date and all cereals herbicide sprayed, the emphasis at Rugley has switched to livestock.

The cattle are now housed and being finished on a diet of silage and home-grown barley, supplemented by rape meal and citrus pulp. Alan and Lorna Jackson say the rape meal, as the main source of protein, has proved a good buy.

It was bought forward at £96/t, against todays price of £110-£112/t. Their one regret is that they didnt buy enough. Citrus pulp was also reasonably cheap, although they didnt quite get this purchase right, paying £69/t against £65/t today.

The cattle, all steers and bought in as calves, will be drawn from January onwards and sold through the electronic auction system. Most will go at about 20 months of age, but some will be held back in a bid to secure a second premium payment.

The Jacksons have 200 fewer head of cattle this year, following a decision taken in the summer of l996 to scale down the enterprise because of the BSE crisis.

With beef budgeted as a loss-maker, unless there is a sudden and dramatic upturn in market returns, that decision has proved to be prudent.

But the retention of a sizeable involvement in beef remains essential and an important element in being able to operate a clean grazing system for the sheep.

"To have gone out of beef altogether would have involved major staff and management changes and upset the whole balance of the farm" says Alan. But the future will see less reliance on bought-in calves and a move into single suckled beef production.

A bunch of Aberdeen-Angus in-calf heifers, wintering on straw, will mark the beginnings of a single suckling herd. A decision on whether to retain a bunch of small heifers for bulling or to get them away next year will depend on cash flow considerations and an element of crystal ball gazing.

With 150t of barley in store still waiting to be sold, and a "dream price" of £80/t looking increasingly unrealisable, it is fortunate that the sheep business has turned up trumps.

The commercial flock of Texel x Milksheep ewes, run with a Suffolk tup, produced a best ever lambing performance last spring, resulting in the sale of 207 lambs per 100 ewes to the ram.

With 90% of lambs sold through the electronic auction being picked up by the same buyer, the Jacksons feel this has worked well for them and earned them a good price.

Lamb sales have totalled just over £100 a ewe, with £2 a ewe for wool and £12.77 in sheep premium. The lamb price was £4 a ewe down on the previous year, but this was offset by the higher lambing percentage.

The one worrying aspect was a £4 a ewe increase in vet and medicine costs to £12.46 a ewe.

"We have gone off OP dips and non-OP dips cost more. We have also used more wormer in the wet summer," says Alan by way of explanation. "Everything has gone up – antibiotics, wormers and abortion vaccines," he adds.

Tailend lambs are now housed and will be finished at a target 19kg deadweight by January on a silage diet and a bit of barley. They will then be replaced in the sheep shed by the ewe flock, which has gone to the tup in good condition following the mild autumn weather.

The farms pedigree Texel and Suffolk flocks have been scanned. Results suggest an improvement on last year, but Alan says he is still struggling to get lambs through the sire reference AI programme, especially when using frozen semen.

Silage will be the basic feed for the housed ewes, followed by a home mix nearer to lambing.

Having reduced cattle numbers, Alan and Lorna set out to make less silage and not to aim at such high quality. "We had been making wonderful stuff and not utilising it," they say.

Analysis of the 1500t clamp shows a dry matter of 26.7%, a crude protein of 13.5, a D value of 66 and an ME of 10.6 MJ/kg of dry matter.

They hope they will have sufficient to see them through the winter, but this may depend on when they decide to sell the cattle. But they have a good heap of straw to eke out supplies if this should prove necessary.

On the arable front, good seed beds and good germination offer a brighter outlook as they go into the winter. Crops are well established and, unlike other farmers in the area, the Jacksons are experiencing very few problems from slugs.n

Performance of the sheep enterprise has at least given Alan and Lorna Jackson something to smile about at Rugley.

FARM FACTS

&#8226 A 280ha (690-acre) arable and grass unit in the north east, farmed by Alan and Lorna Jackson on a full agricultural tenancy from the Duke of Northumberland.

&#8226 Heavy land growing combinable crops and grass, 25% in the LFA.

&#8226 Continental cross beef cattle finished on semi-intensive system.

&#8226 British Milksheep producing prime lambs, plus small pedigree Suffolk and Texel enterprises.

&#8226 Three full-time employees, supplemented by casual labour.

Alan Jackson is used to making high quality silage.

Sheep unit costings


Output£/ewe

Lamb sales

and valuations100.05

Wool2.01

Ewe premiums,

LFA etc12.77

Gross receipts114.83

Less flock

maintenance cost12.03

Total output102.80

Variable costs

Ewe and

lamb feed17.07

Grass and

forage5.38

Vet and med12.26

Others2.45

Total variable

costs37.16

Gross margin65.64

Working Capital81.93

Interest on

working capital (12.50%)10.24

Gross margin

less interest on

working capital55.40

Gross margin

a forage hectare781

Flock gross

margin (740 ewes

to ram)48,573