26 February 1999

Milk output up, but herd still wont meet quota

Milk production at Whelan

Farms has improved during

February, but the herd will

still end the year

significantly below quota.

Suzie Horne reports

ROBERT Kilby has been busy buying cows and selling quota to prevent a 40,000-litre shortfall mainly caused by the neospora abortion outbreak last summer.

That left the herd 15 to 20 animals below target and reduced production from those affected animals which were kept.

The budget had allowed for a 50,000-litre surplus over quota and the farm has plenty of forage. So Mr Kilby and herdsman, Andrew Ward, travelled to a West Sussex dispersal last week and bought 14 cows for an average of £510 each.

This was £50 a head more than they had wanted to spend. "But they were better looking than I expected and were in good condition," he says.

With last years losses from neospora in mind, the decision to buy replacement stock was taken reluctantly, given the risk of exposure to the disease. But that risk is unknown, as are the chances of neospora being triggered in Whelans original animals again, says Mr Kilby.

Most of the new arrivals are in their first lactation and giving about 20 litres a day. While this will not contribute massively to filling Whelans production deficit, they were bought more to fit in with the production pattern of the rest of the herd – most are August calvers – and for their genetic potential.

The rest of the shortfall has been accounted for by the sale of 30,000 litres of clean 3.83% butterfat quota at 33p/litre before commission. "I missed the boat here, with the UK increasingly looking likely to be at or near quota this year."

With milk yields lower than normal, and silage improving in quality towards the back of the clamp, concentrate feed has been cut during February without affecting output. This has shaved production costs by about 0.15p/litre, Mr Kilby reckons.

But he is planning for a lean year on the arable front. "Unless anything is forced upon us, no machinery purchases are planned apart from a set of second-hand discs to do minimal cultivations on the land that allows it. We have done a lot of subsoiling in the past three or four years so we will go over some of that with a set of discs."

Despite the latest cut in interest rates, the refusal of the £ to weaken does not bode well for wheat prices, says Mr Kilby. The only thing which might firm prices is the prospect of less than exciting wheat yields nationally, he adds.

Fortunately, Whelan has no second wheats, which he believes will be especially prone to drought this season. "Crops did not go in particularly well, although they have come through the winter better than expected. But root structure is poorer than usual and it is still wet."

Strobilurin fungicides will be used on most of Whelans better wheats. They increased yields on good crops by about 0.75t/ha (0.3t/acre) last year and improved quality, too, says Mr Kilby. "They cost about £8/acre more than Opus, but gave us a threefold return."

No herbicides have been applied to cereals yet, though with few grass-weeds on most of the farm Mr Kilby is not too worried. "We are still aiming to use ipu on about 60 acres. Otherwise it will be the Ally/CMPP route. The feeling is that the weeds are as backwards as the crops and if we can save that extra £5/acre we have to do so."

About 28ha (70 acres) of winter ploughing has been done between rains over the past few weeks. All pea ground is now turned over and the plan is to sow this as soon as the ground warms up, possibly early in March.

The farm recently passed an Assured Combinable Crops Scheme inspection, subject to changes to a couple of lights and minor repairs to holes in buildings. LEAF membership and BASIS qualifications helped significantly, says Mr Kilby. &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 A 649ha (1604-acre) arable, dairy and sheep holding owned by John Whelan and farmed by Sentry Farming.

&#8226 Chalky soil with some clay over chalk in Kent.

&#8226 356ha (880 acres) mixed combinable crops, including non-rotational set-aside.

&#8226 Dairy herd currently stands at 195 cows averaging just over 6500 litres.

&#8226 1300 ewes lambing mid-March, mainly Mules, some Scotch half-breds.

&#8226 Five full-time staff.