13 August 1999

Price upheaval and end of CPAShits prospects

Plans for the dairy herd

remain unchanged at

Metcalfe Farms, despite the

upheaval over milk prices.

Simon Wragg reports

A BULK tanker pulling away from the dairy gives a clear sign that morning milking is over and Philip Metcalfe can catch up on the paperwork. The drizzle and cloud match the gloomy outlook for dairy prospects.

"Its not good news. As from Aug 1 weve had a 1p/litre price cut by Waterford – now Express – which has effectively wiped off £30,000 from the bottom line straight away," he says.

The average price is now just over 18.5p/litre for the 350-cow herd. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission report into the sale of raw milk was a shock to the system, he says. "We thought it was a foregone conclusion and would find in producers favour. Its beyond belief what its suggested."

Dairy income has also been hit with the removal of the calf processing aid scheme. Instead of the £38 a bull compensation, the Metcalfes are looking at getting about £5 a head for the Holstein-types which could cut calf sales by £5800 a year. "Just our luck weve hit a run of bulls."

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Metcalfes eagerly await the commercial release of sexed semen this winter. "Were Cogent members and hope to be using it. We can put dairy bulls on to heifers and better cows for replacements and cover the rest with a beef bull."

Further clawback of income will come with the falling milk quota leasing price. Having secured 500,000 litres this spring between 6.8-7.1ppl, a further 130,000 litres was secured this week at 5ppl for 3.86% butterfat supplies.

"Weve always made a point of getting some cover and its usually paid to do so. This year is different. Having crashed through 6ppl, lessors are thinking 5ppl looks a good bet and we will look to get more quota under our belt if the price comes down further," adds Mr Metcalfe.

On the management side, there has been a notable slip in cow fertility. Up to 80% of cows presented to the vet are normally in-calf, but that has fallen to 50% recently.

"We have a regular visit from our vet, John Watkinson, and we both think its down to the hot weather. Were keeping a close eye on it."

On a high-output unit, letting cows slip past 365-day lactations isnt as much of a concern as on a low-output system, says Mr Metcalfe. "But we want to keep within a 400-day lactation."

The family remains committed to the high-input/high-output route and stand by their decision to keep the herd at 350 cows to make best use of labour. "Its hard to see where costs can be improved."

Up on the rough grazing rented from the Ministry of Defence, Philips brother, Brian, has just finished weaning lambs from the 900-ewe Mule flock with the help of shepherd Jimmy Pattison.

"Weve got a 182% lambs speaned from ewes put to the tup which isnt bad," says Brian. "Were to start sending them off soon and prices look back on last year."

While the ewes are held on bare pasture to dry off, lambs have been split with half grazing silage aftermaths and the remainder on kale/stubble turnip mixes. Finished at 38-42kg liveweight, these are sent through Leyburn market and North Country Primestock from September.

Cull ewes will soon be drafted out and replaced by 180 gimmer lambs purchased last year, but values will be down due to the disastrous state of the skin trade. The outlook for cull Mules looks bleak, says Brian. "At least this years wool cheque covered the cost of clipping – just."

On a brighter note, the fine weather has helped the contracting team move apace and investment in new kit has helped operations along, he adds. &#42