28 December 2001

Movement restrictions a threat to our future

This months engagement of their middle daughter Bethan

was one of the few things the Wozencrafts

had to celebrate in 2001. Robert Davies reports

THINGS can only get better, says Edward Wozencraft. "The next 12 months have to be an improvement on the most miserable period I can remember since we started farming.

"For us, the main priorities are the re-opening of livestock auctions, a return to prices that cover production costs and leave some profit, and the scrapping of the ridiculous 21-day movement restriction."

Problems associated with the three-week ban on movements after bringing stock onto the farm started from the day the Llangurig area was declared clean. Because the partners were anxious to clear shed space, by selling 19 store bullocks and heifers, they could not bring home a replacement suckler cow and calf.

"The regulation was certainly not thought up by anybody who knew anything about farming. It is totally impractical and could even threaten the future of the livestock industry. We must get DEFRA to see sense about this, and about other regulations that have come in since the start of foot-and-mouth."

In addition to the normal cost of taking seven bullocks to the collection centre operating at Welshpool Market, money and time has to be spent obtaining a licence, getting veterinary approval, and cleaning and disinfecting the lorry twice.

"Our trading costs keep going up and we have to pay them out of prices that are, as my old diaries confirm, well below what they were in the early 1990s."

The bullocks weighed an average of 460kg/head and realised £490 each. In 1991, a batch of 505kg bullocks sold for £602/beast and finished cattle were making 130p/kg liveweight.

"Farmers are not greedy, we are not looking for sky-high prices. We just want to be able to make a decent living and to have enough over to make the ongoing investment that every business needs."

The steers were sold to a buyer registered with an auctioneering company, which charged £10/beast for the service.

"Without auctions we are working in the dark and cannot judge if £490/head was reasonable. But the bullocks and 12 heifers had to go so we have space to wean calves."

This month, 20 calves received their second £4 vaccination against pneumonia. Cows have been given booster injections to control leptospirosis, BVD and liver fluke. The cows have also been given selenium and cobalt jabs and have had their hindquarters and tails trimmed.

Handling cattle has been made easier by the construction of a new shedding pen. About £100 was spent on the steel used, but Mr Wozencraft and his brother-in-law did the welding.

"It is very important we have safe and efficient handling facilities because we have to handle adult cattle so often these days and it would be very easy for one of us to get injured," says Eunice Wozencraft.

The lifting of movement restrictions has at last allowed 258 ewe lambs to go away for the winter at a cost of £9/head. Their delayed departure meant that pastures were grazed far shorter than usual. This has left the partners concerned about having enough grazing for pregnant ewes.

Feeding has not started on the home farm, but will have to when 250 ewes return from the hill early in January. Sheep on the hill are getting high energy feed blocks.

The first 100 lambs have been sold. They varied in condition so were sold for a flat-rate 200p/kg, with no penalty for over-fatness or premium for grading well. They weighed an average of 12.4kg on the hook.

Mr Wozencraft says: "We believe forecasts of a large surplus of lambs were wrong. Many died inside slaughtered ewes and a huge number went into landfill sites. The lamb price should hold and even increase over the next weeks. I am watching quoted prices very carefully and will sell at what I judge to be the optimum time."

Both partners are full of praise for EU veterinary specialists and civil servants for the early lifting of the lamb export ban. They hope the UK government will be as keen to help by opening livestock auctions, and easing the plethora of regulations with which producers have to deal.

After a very lean year there is little cash to spare so, typically, Eunice Wozencrafts choice of a festive season present was a straw chopper to save on bedding costs and reduce the winter workload. &#42

&#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.

Stock re-examination

The possibility of normality returning to marketing has prompted the partners to take a new look at the type of stock they produce and how it is sold. Conditions dictate they must use a hardy hill breed of sheep, but they and several neighbours are considering whether they should turn this to their advantage by co-operatively marketing branded, extensively reared Elan Valley lamb. They have always tried to turn out first-class cattle, but acknowledge the Holstein influence on supplies of suckler cow replacements. But a recent meeting with members of a co-operative using a US composite cow did not convince them they should follow suit.