19 January 2001

Organic goal is reached soon

The dawning of a new

organic era approaches at

Sand Farm.

John Burns reports

ON Apr 1, Stuart and Sue Haileys Sand Farm, Sidbury, Devon, will become officially organic. From then on, provided their cows have been fed to organic standards since Jan 1, their milk will be classed as organic and will be worth 29.5p/litre.

That will boost herd income for the three months from April by £12,000.

The current dairy herds daily ration of 54kg second-year in-conversion silage, 0.7kg rolled barley, also a second-year in-conversion crop, and 5kg bought-in non-organic compound contains little "true"organic food. That makes a total daily dry matter intake of 20.1kg, of which forage accounts for 75%.

Further good news from the dairy herd is that mastitis has been kept well under control, despite very limited use of dry cow tubes last summer. Mr Hailey hopes he is not tempting fate when he says this is due to his policy over the last four years of using dry cow antibiotic therapy on cows with average cell counts (above 300).

Thus only 14 cows out of the 120 dried off last summer were treated. Considering the herd is dry in July and August on a farm with many streams, hedges and trees, cases of summer mastitis are surprisingly uncommon – three out of 120 cows last summer.

Spot-On is used on the cows for fly control and every cow is checked weekly and fresh Stockholm tar applied to its teats.

Of the 100 cows calved since August, 12 have had clinical mastitis, giving a twelve-month total of 22 cows with mastitis during lactation. Of these, six were treated with antibiotics and six with an Aloe Vera-based product. Of the latter one did not respond and was quickly given antibiotic treatment. But the other five cleared up completely.

The Aloe Vera product costs £2 a time, requires preparation before use, and is usually given two or three times. The antibiotic used costs £1.75 a tube of which three are usually necessary.

It is ready to use, but requires milk to be discarded for three days – nine days on organic farms – whereas milk can be put into the bulk tank the day following Aloe Vera treatment. So the savings are considerable with the non-antibiotic treatment when it works.

Financial results have also been quite encouraging (see table). ADAS Milk Cheque reports show the Sand herd has produced 292 litres less milk per cow over the past year than in the previous year. But because feed costs are lower, the margin over all feed, including forage, is up by £33 to £546 a cow. Purchased feed cost was up £3 a cow, but big savings of £147 a cow were made on home-grown forage costs, because 1999 included some fertiliser costs incurred before organic conversion started, and also liming costs.

Despite lower milk prices (16.9p for the current year, compared with 18.3p the year before), and some 66,000 litres less milk sold, herd margin over all feed costs was only down £586 on the year.

Some of last years lambs are still being finished on grass. They were delayed by cobalt deficiency last summer, but fortunately the lamb and hoggett trade has firmed markedly. The 12 lambs sold on Dec 27 averaged 18.7kg dw and made £474 gross. The R3L price was £2.10/kg. This week it should be £2.50/kg or more.

Among the bad news was notification by MAFF that some of the Countryside Stewardship payments would be reduced because with farming faring badly the income foregone is less.

Of those affecting Mr Hailey, 6m margins are down from £35 to £32/100m; and 2m margins and 2m beetle banks are down from £15 to £10/100m. However, there was good news for him too.

Countryside Stewardship capital payments for establishing apple trees to restore old orchards have been increased. Grants of £7 each for maiden trees, and £12 a tree for guards to prevent damage by livestock will cover the material costs.

Mr Hailey is planting 1ha (2.5 acres) with 90 trees of 13 different varieties, all of local interest. Many of them are specialist cider varieties.

A spell of drier weather has allowed contractor B G Pearce to complete the unlined dirty water lagoon near the heifer-rearing unit, much to Stuart Haileys relief.

Sand dairy herd ADASMilk Cheque – 12-month rolling results to December

Dec 1999 Dec 2000

Cows in herd 110 103

Cows in milk 94 88

Milk sold

(litres/cow) 5113 4821

Home-grown

forage (£/cow) 271 124

Purchased

feed (£/cow) 147 150

Margin over

all feed (£/cow) 513 546

Margin over

all feed (p/litre) 10.06 11.28

Milk price

p/litre 18.255 16.933

FARMFACTS

&#8226 Sand Farm, Sidbury, Devon, an 89ha (220 acre) dairy farm in organic conversion.

&#8226 A further 64ha (158 acres) at nearby Mincombe Posts farmed under an FBT.

&#8226 100 dairy cows plus 60 followers.

&#8226 180 ewes – mainly Mules, some Suffolk crosses. Beef suckler herd being established.

&#8226 Steep, red clay/greensand slopes at Sand Farm, rising up to flinty clay on plateau. Easier soils and flatter fields at Mincombe Posts.

&#8226 Mainly down to grass/clover leys; oats/peas and lucerne/grass mixes grown for silage, plus cereals for feed.

&#8226 Some areas in Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

&#8226 Three full-time staff.