24 May 2002

Lamb survival is up but live export market a problem

Its a busy time at Pen-yr-

Ochr as ewes and lambs

are sent up to the hills. But

concerns over marketing

prospects later in the

season are already taking

hold. Robert Davies reports

THE large number of lambs he sees wherever he travels in Wales is beginning to worry Edward Wozencraft.

"It has been a smashing spring and it is obvious that lamb survival on hill farms has been well above average," he says. "This could cause big marketing problems later in the year unless the export market for live lambs reopens."

He is carrying out a full count of his lambs as he gets them and their mothers ready to go up on the hill, but he is sure that lambing was well up on the farms 100% average.

Every ewe and lamb is being handled and treated before leaving the lambing fields, and it is a back-breaking task. Ewes are dosed for fluke and worms, scratch vaccinated against orf and tails are sheared. Feet are also checked and treated when necessary.

"There is more foot rot around this season, and dealing with severe cases has delayed turning some sheep to the mountain."

Ewes also have to be paint-marked and be treated with a pour-on to protect them against ticks, which have become a serious problem on unfenced common land in the area.

Lambs are ear-tagged and given a range of precautionary veterinary treatments. Male crossbred lambs are castrated, as are purebred ram lambs that Edward Wozencraft judges have no breeding potential. Most of those left entire will go for slaughter before testosterone makes them a nuisance.

Casual help is being employed to try to get ewes and lambs away as soon as possible to plentiful grass supplies on the hill, and to rest pastures that are due to be cut for silage in July. Grazing available for cattle is limited because some fields have been shut off so suckler cows and calves are getting some of the big-bale silage remaining in store after the mild winter.

"If there had been a late spring we could have been in trouble with silage and straw, but we had about 30 bales over as cows and calves started going out."

After fields used by the ewes and lambs are shut off, they are chain-harrowed and rolled. They were given an application of early-bite compound and are now getting a 20:10:10 blend. When this was bought forward in December at £119/t the partners thought they had a good deal, but they were recently offered the same product for £10/t less.

The plan is to cut silage on up to 20ha (50 acres) and to make hay on 6ha (15 acres) of the smallholding on which the couple started farming.

Tail-end lambs from the 2001 lamb crop have been sold. The mixed bunch of 50 included some rejects but most classified R2 and 3L and these averaged £2.30/kg.

Generally, calving has gone well, and the Wozencrafts were delighted when their vet managed to save one excellent bull calf after the bed of its mothers uterus became twisted.

Cow and calf are doing well, but the partners lost a yearling heifer to the rare condition Catarrhal Malignant Fever. It was the second case in a few months of the non-contagious disease, which is common in Africa. But the veterinary advice is that it is very unlikely that there will be any more.

Four of the six remaining finished cattle were sold on the hook for £1.73/kg through the Safeway producer group. Two other steers are too heavy to meet specifications and will be sold through an auction.

Eunice Wozencraft has applied for the farm to benefit from the Welsh Assemblys Farming Connect initiative. This will involve a free visit from a nominated consultant.

"We know what the bottom line is, but I want someone to tell us whether we could improve it by changing stocking or management," says Mr Wozencraft. "I am very close to the practical side and Eunice does all the books so perhaps we could both benefit from letting an outsider evaluate what we are doing." &#42

Edward Wozencraft has been busy applying compound fertiliser to fields vacated by ewes and lambs.

&#8226 Pen-yr-Ochr, Llangurig, Powys, home farm for a business extending over three blocks of land totalling 184ha (442 acres), farmed by Edward and Eunice Wozencraft.

&#8226 All land is classified as severely disadvantaged. One 53ha (131 acre) rented block is unfenced hill grazing. Much of the land is extremely steep and exposed.

&#8226 The business runs 850 Elan Valley-type Welsh Mountain ewes, including a 60-head nucleus flock of elite females that are part of a group-breeding scheme. Forty crossbred suckler cows are run with Blonde and Limousin bulls. Calves are marketed as stores.

&#8226 The partners are members of community group linked to a technology transfer project focus farm, and are involved in scrapie genotyping scheme.

&#8226 There is one part-time worker and casual help is hired as required.