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Peter Delbridge

6 September 2002

Trace element boost by bucketful…

HIGH levels of available phosphorous and vital trace elements are offered in Rumencos new flushing supplement, Supalick SupaTup, according to the manufacturer.

"Phosphorous is essential for driving up appetite and increasing overall ewe nutrient intake, while trace elements are important for good conception and implantation," says David Thornton of Rumenco.

SupaTup should be introduced two to three weeks before ewes are put to the tup and maintained for six weeks while rams are working, adds Rumenco.

SupaTup is available in 20kg buckets and costs about 2.5p/ewe/day (01283-524257 fax 01283-511013)

Peter Delbridge

Peter Delbridge farms

162ha (400 acres) in the

Exmoor National Park, near

South Molton, Devon. The

farm is mostly permanent

grass, classed as less

favoured and environmentally

sensitive, and all above

300m (1000ft). It is

stocked with 800 ewes,

replacement ewe lambs, 60

spring calving sucklers and

their followers

HAVING escaped foot-and-mouth last year, it is particularly disappointing to have had a TB breakdown at our routine herd test, postponed from last March.

As I have bought no cattle, including calves, since our last test three years ago, the protests of badgers innocence by badger huggers cuts little ice here.

Unfortunately TB is becoming quite common in the south west and it is more than coincidental that at the same time there has been an explosion in badger numbers.

As we never had a problem, I assumed badgers on our farm were clean, and as they are very territorial, I left well alone. I even refused to take part in Krebs trials – we are on the edge of a buffer zone. I view the trials as a kick it into the long grass effort designed to pander to public opinion and postpone killing wildlife while happily culling cattle.

The flawed and much hated 20-day standstill rule is still, regrettably, with us. Lord Whittys defence of it at Sheep 2002 was less than convincing and he was left in no doubt about feelings within the sheep sector.

Perhaps this was why he felt the need to scarper through a hole hastily cut in the back of the seminar marquee. The response he received may have helped to get some concessions regarding breeding stock.

As I did not want to be forced, because of the threat of a standstill, to take a low price for stock this autumn, I had a field approved for isolation on Aug 23, in preparation for South Molton Sheep Fair last week.

You can imagine my response when told I could not use it until today (Sep 6), when regulations come into force. Stock will still need a vet visit at my expense so thankfully the sheep trade is flying and it looks as though animals will not be returning unsold.

The delayed harvest allowed me to tackle the last remaining field of creeping thistles at the optimum time. I dont usually get there until after harvest when they are less receptive to the 10% glyphosate solution. &#42

Despite government concessions over the 20-day standstill, it and TB restrictions continue to cause problems for Peter Delbridge.

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Peter Delbridge

12 July 2002

Peter Delbridge

Peter Delbridge farms

162ha (400 acres) in the

Exmoor National Park, near

South Molton, Devon. The

farm is mostly permanent

grass, classed as less

favoured and environmentally

sensitive, and above 300m

(1000ft). It is stocked with

800 ewes, replacement ewe

lambs, 60 spring calving

sucklers and their followers

SINCE we havent become world champions at football, it is a pity there is no world cup for growing docks.

I have a field which would breeze through the group stages and do well in the knock out rounds.

As the ryegrass, Timothy and clover have also disappeared and the field is in the arable tier of my Environmentally Sensitive Area agreement, it was time to plough it up and plant some roots for autumn lamb finishing. By the time I ploughed it, it was too late for swedes so I planted a turnip/kale mix.

Because I joined the ESA in the first year, 1993, we are fast approaching the end of our agreement. I was, therefore, keen to attend a meeting to explain the changeover to the new scheme.

But the rural development plan staff attending were unable to answer many questions, as they are still in the dark regarding ESA reviews due to take place in 2004 and the broad and shallow scheme mentioned by Donald Curry.

What we were subjected to was a presentation on the current plight of agriculture and how things are likely to get worse. Diversification and co-operation were mentioned several times.

I got the impression I was expected to forget about making a living from producing sheep and cattle, be a good boy and sign up to the new scheme.

But there is considerable dissatisfaction with proposals, payment being the most obvious. Why is Exmoors improved permanent grassland, at £19/ha (£7.60/acre) worth £11/ha (£4.40/acre) less than Dartmoors and £16 (£6.40/acre) less than that found on the Blackdown hills?

Second, most of this grass is in long-term leys and will need re-establishment at some point. It is becoming apparent that we agreed to restrictions that will last 20 years, something that was conveniently omitted 10 years ago. Unbelievably, rates for conservation work, such as hedging, have been frozen for the past 10 years.

It would help us if all 285 ESA farms due for renewal this year withheld from resigning until a better deal is struck. I dont think this was the type of co-operation DEFRA had in mind. &#42

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Peter Delbridge

17 May 2002

Peter Delbridge

Peter Delbridge farms

162ha (400 acres) in the

Exmoor National Park, near

South Molton, Devon. The

farm is mostly permanent

grass, classed as less

favoured and environmentally

sensitive, and all above

300m (1000ft). It is

stocked with 800 ewes,

replacement ewe lambs, 60

spring calving sucklers and

their followers

IT WOULD have been extremely difficult to design better lambing weather this year.

This has, in some small way, made up for the past two years when we have had everything thrown at us.

We have used only one plastic lamb jacket and only worn waterproofs twice. Since rainfall equals work, this has been one of the easiest lambings I can remember. Only the last two days of April gave us a brief reminder of how it could have been.

Mule ewes and day-old lambs were put out of the shed, with confidence they would not return. Once at grass, they spend much of the day lounging in the sun once they have filled themselves.

With a minimal maintenance requirement, even twin-bearing ewes have quickly regained condition in preparation for the hard work of rearing two lambs over the coming weeks. Touch wood, other traditional ailments, such as joint-ill, watery mouth and black udder, have also been negligible. Lets hope it continues.

With such ideal conditions one feels any fatality is one too many. So finding a lamb headfirst in a water bucket, a ewe lying on a big single or realising a lamb had dived under the wheel of the quad trailer all seemed greater tragedies than normal.

It was also galling to lose healthy viable lambs, mainly from the outside lambing Swaledale ewes, to various predators. At first, crows seemed particularly vicious, pecking tongues or backsides out of any lamb that did not immediately get to its feet, or whose mother did not quickly attend to it, either through fatigue or inexperience. An 80-grain .243 bullet does make a satisfying mess of a crow and a few trophies tied to fence posts soon brought a halt to the bird menace.

Charlie fox also helped himself to a nightly supper of Swaledale twins. A Swale ewe will defend her single lamb against almost anything, but when she has twins, her natural instincts seem to allow her to sacrifice one to save one.

As all the victims had full tummies when I soaked their navels in iodine and put Stockholm tar on their necks, anybody claiming only weakly or sickly lambs are taken is mistaken. &#42

As lambs taken by foxes had full bellies when Peter Delbridge dipped their navels, it cannot only be the weak ones that are preyed upon.

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Peter Delbridge

15 February 2002

Peter Delbridge

Peter Delbridge farms

162ha (400 acres) in the

Exmoor National Park, near

South Molton, Devon. The

farm is mostly permanent

grass, classed as less

favoured and

environmentally sensitive,

and all above 300m

(1000ft). It is stocked with

800 ewes, replacement

ewe lambs, 60 spring

calving sucklers and their

followers

FEB 1 is the half-way point of winter and it looks as though fodder stocks will be sufficient to see us through to a May turnout, thanks to the kind autumn.

Even expensive straw stocks look as though they will be sufficient, mainly due to frugal use and a dry atmosphere during the first six weeks of housing. I may have bought too much, but anybody can be clever with hindsight.

It is rather amazing to think this small island once controlled one-third of the worlds land area. Now, it seems, we have a Third World transport system, we can run out of petrol in two days, milk in four and meat within a week.

It also appears that for every chap trying to get on, there are two trying hard to stop him.

With little storage capacity for organic manure, necessitating spreading dung on a frequent basis here, I am still thinking of a suitable printable response to the increase in Nitrogen Vulnerable Zone areas.

Apparently this is so the UK government complies with European law and avoids a large fine. Perhaps we should have a more Gallic attitude and do nothing – at least until we can sell our beef in France.

It is only six weeks to the introduction of yet another burden to business – a quarrying tax of £1.60/t. On our builders advice and taking advantage of dry weather around New Year, we have almost completed concreting of a yard.

We have incorporated a holding area and foot-bath pens large enough to treat 80 ewes at a time. This should not only greatly reduce foot-rot problems, but also be finished in time to avoid material cost increases resulting from the tax, hopefully saving about £600.

What has the government up its sleeve next? A loo paper levy?

I cant help wondering what the likes of IK Brunnel would have made of all this bureaucracy, red tape and bodies like the Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency. One thing is for sure, the Empire would have been much smaller. &#42

With the prospect of a new quarrying tax of £1.60/t, Peter Delbridge is rushing to concrete his yard before cement prices increase.

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Peter Delbridge

30 November 2001

Peter Delbridge

Peter Delbridge farms 162ha

(400 acres) in the Exmoor

National Park, near South

Molton, Devon. The farm is

mostly permanent grass,

classed as less favoured and

environmentally sensitive,

and all above 300m

(1000ft). It is stocked with

800 ewes, replacement ewe

lambs, 60 spring calving

sucklers and their followers

WHAT a cracking autumn. Even though the livestock sector is burdened with ignorant ministers and bungling civil servants who have mislaid the blood samples which would enable Devon to gain disease free status, Mother Nature has at least been on our side.

With cattle still out – already a month longer than last year – so far the winter is 20% shorter than anticipated. With little rainfall, their nutritional requirements have been modest and they are in excellent condition. It is strange seeing cows lying around on late November afternoons as though it was August.

Ewes, when docked and given fluke, worm and multivitamin drenches, were also looking well. They too have benefited from lack of rain and excellent late season grass growth.

To cap it all, due to the proposed resumption of exports, the finished lamb price has jumped 50p/kg in three weeks. Although there is only one south west county able to export lamb, I suspect there are fewer lambs about than previously thought and prices may firm further.

I realise I am in danger of becoming over optimistic. But this has been tempered by the speed the animal health bill is proceeding through parliament. It is an unjust, draconian and sinister law, considering we are supposed to live in a democratic country.

With on-farm jobs under control and no markets or hunting to attend, we decided to have a few days away. With no movement licences or biosecurity to worry about for a week, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Tending the livestock was left to friend and neighbouring farmer John-boy, under fathers stewardship. The only other scheduled task while we were away, involved contractors trimming hedges. They looked very tidy on our return late one evening.

It wasnt until the next morning, when we looked over the lawn now resembling the Somme, I deduced garden hedges had received the same treatment. Lawns apparently do not cope well with large John Deere tractors, even with low pressure tyres. Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie Dimmock, come on down. &#42

Hedges looked neat when Peter Delbridge returned from holiday, even those in his garden – although the lawn looked like the Somme.

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Peter Delbridge

2 November 2001

Peter Delbridge

Peter Delbridge farms 162ha

(400 acres) in the Exmoor

National Park, near South

Molton, Devon. The farm is

mostly permanent grass,

classed as less favoured and

environmentally sensitive,

and all above 300m

(1000ft). It is stocked with

800 ewes, replacement ewe

lambs, 60 spring calving

sucklers and their followers

RECENTLY I have taken the attitude of sell what you can, when you can, so it was pleasing to receive enquiries from store cattle buyers.

The steers found a new home quite quickly. It did not come as a great shock that heifers were more difficult to shift.

While it may be relatively easy to sell a lorry-load of this or that privately, it will be interesting to see what is left on farm come December. I suspect it will be the odds and ends that in times gone by would find new homes via a market and probably through a dealer who would then batch them with other producers ones and twos into decent-sized bunches.

The other difficulty arises when fixing a price. I have not met any producer who likes paying commission, especially when one looks at 40 cattle and realises auctioneers will take one to sell them. But with no markets, the value of my cattle sold privately could be £20-£30 out. The sooner we get back to normal trading the better.

Lamb sales have ground to a halt. When they were drawn the price quoted was 150p/kg. After a two-week wait for a licence, the price dropped by a further 5p. I considered this too low, protesting that this was below the cost of production – not knowing exactly what that was.

Unlike colleagues in the dairy sector, we beef and sheep chaps are not good at costing our enterprises. I immediately rang the Exeter University agriculture business unit, which monitors producers accounts, to find the exact cost of producing a lamb. Working on a typical 18kg lamb, variable plus forage costs equalled 96p/kg. Not too bad, I thought. The shock came when I added fixed costs, which amounted to 159p/kg, making a total of 255p/kg and that did not include any wages for me.

While a proportion of the shortfall is covered by subsidy, the rewards for our efforts are well below the minimum wage. I suppose while we are collectively prepared, or forced, to sell below the cost of production, we are not doing ourselves or our neighbours any favours. &#42

Not knowing exactly how much it cost him to produce a lamb, Peter Delbridge investigated – the figure of £2.55/kg shocked him.

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Peter Delbridge

5 October 2001

Peter Delbridge

Peter Delbridge farms 162ha

(400 acres) in the Exmoor

National Park, near South

Molton, Devon. The farm is

mostly permanent grass,

classed as less favoured and

environmentally sensitive,

and all above 300m

(1000ft). It is stocked with

800 ewes, replacement ewe

lambs, 60 spring calving

sucklers and their followers

BANKING cheques from livestock sales has come as a great relief, even though they are smaller than they would have been had foot-and-mouth not reared its ugly head.

Shifting finished stock is relatively straightforward, the necessary licence being faxed reasonably promptly on request. Store and breeding stock, however, are a different ball game. Trying to synchronise purchasers, vets, hauliers and ADAS to follow the lorry is a nightmare. All do their best, but I have come to the conclusion it will be a miracle if I have not gone nuts by Christmas.

Thankfully, surplus breeding ewes have now gone, but future store lamb sales will not be easy, should Devon remains the only at risk county in the south-west. This will prohibit sheep travelling to nearby counties. As I can throw a stone from my high ground into Somerset and have not moved anything onto the holding since sheep were blood tested, I consider this to be draconian disease control.

However, more galling is meeting Welsh and north country lorries on the M5 bringing lambs to south-west abattoirs, presumably because they can be bought for a few pence cheaper in these areas. Clearly the meat industry has learnt nothing over the last six months.

On the positive side, grass growth has gone into overdrive since the beginning of August. This is just as well, as I am carrying large stock numbers.

A spell of dry, warm weather in early September allowed 2ha (five acres) of second cut silage to be baled, which will definitely be needed this winter. I hope the good weather continues and we have a better autumn than last year. This will allow cattle to stay outside, a bonus considering the escalating price of straw, which must now be gold plated.

The government are still fighting shy of an F&M public enquiry. It appears they are lacking the enthusiasm they had for the Phillips report into BSE, but then that could always be blamed on the previous Tory administration. Besides, a public enquiry may highlight the inherent flaws in a global food trade and Mr Blair couldnt have that, could he? &#42

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Peter Delbridge

17 August 2001

Peter Delbridge

Peter Delbridge farms 162ha

(400 acres) in the Exmoor

National Park, near South

Molton, Devon. The farm is

mostly permanent grass,

classed as less favoured and

environmentally sensitive,

and all above 300m

(1000ft). It is stocked with

800 ewes, replacement ewe

lambs, 60 spring calving

sucklers and their followers

THE unsettled first three weeks of July only presented a few two or three-day spells to attempt silage. With everyone keen to go, it was difficult to nail down contractors, so when a high pressure settled over us in Julys last week, both the round bale and clamp silage teams arrived on the same day. I was reluctant to postpone them.

Deciding also to cut 8ha (20 acres) of hay, we cleared the 24ha (60 acres) of clamp silage and the 8ha (20 acres) of round bales in a single day.

At one stage, 16 tractors were working at once. I have not yet worked out the cost/hour of that afternoons activity, but I guess it will take quite a few lambs.

Despite late harvest, grass yield has not been excessive. This is due in part to the later date when grass was closed up and, with foot-and-mouth rampant at the time, being less enthusiastic to apply normal levels of fertiliser. The remainder of the 8:17:25 will now be used as an after cut application to give increased autumn grazing.

It seems we are going to be rewarded for following the biosecurity video – distributed five months late – and living like hermits since February by being forced to sell stock this autumn at discounted rates.

Some within the meat industry forecast lamb prices at above £2/kg deadweight had F&M not reared its head, and the French lamb trade about £3.50/kg dw. So it is depressing to hear some of the prices quoted when I made tentative inquires to local abattoirs.

With insufficient fit lambs to justify a veterinary inspection, I have dipped all the sheep in OP dip that has a 35-day withdrawal. Giving lambs away has now been delayed until late August.

In a similar vein to policemen getting younger; sheep dips look and smell weaker than they used to. The all-seasons dip I used this year had no aroma and the appearance of dishwater. So much so I checked the dilution rate at least three times before I was convinced it was correct. I just hope it will give the sheep the necessary protection. &#42

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