5 July 2002

Rain and cold put brakes on grass growth

Cold and wet weather

made an unwelcome return

to Pen-yr-Ochr recently.

Robert Davies reports

EDWARD and Eunice Wozencraft were forced to house some cattle again after heavy rain caused poaching and slowed grass growth.

"The stock were making a terrible mess, and some of the calves looked miserable and were not doing well," says Mr Wozencraft. "Fortunately we had some silage left over, so it made sense to bring the dozen or so with very young calves back into a shed.

"They are out again on some drier rented land, but all the cattle would benefit from having some real sun on their backs."

Lambs, especially the Suffolk crosses, are growing well despite the weather. The partners hope the first will be ready to sell by the end of July, weighing about 38kg liveweight. A few pure Welsh lambs were weighed a week ago and averaged 28kg.

Mr Wozencraft has given a lot of thought to how lambs will be marketed this year. Having invested £250 in the Welsh Meat Company he hopes some will go to its refurbished abattoir near Llandrindod Wells. He also expects to continue marketing some on the hook through the Hamer International plant at Llanidloes.

"But I am also determined to sell a large number through auctions. I am convinced that if farmers do not support markets we will lose them, and that would be damaging for the whole industry.

"I am really pleased to hear that Farmers Ferry is restarting live exports in August because we need as many competing buyers as we can get, and as many light lambs as possible must be exported."

About 28ha (70 acres) has been shut off for silage. Normally this would be cut in mid-July, but slow growth could mean a short delay. The new £2600 tedder bought in the spring will be used first on hay cut on the smallholding where the partners started farming.

As soon as the silage crop is cleared, farmyard manure removed from the buildings and fermenting in heaps will be spread.

The weather is not the only reason why grass has been in short supply. An area reseeded in 1998 has been almost completely taken over by soft rushes. It will need reseeding, but some new tile drains will have to be laid first.

"When we drained it last we did not stone fill over the tiles and I dont think water can get through. An IGER grassland consultant has also suggested that the very fine seed-bed we prepared four years ago could have been ideal for the germination of dormant rush seeds."

Early summer cash flow is mainly in the wrong direction. The arrival of a £1600 beef special premium cheque brightened one morning recently, and Mr Wozencraft was very pleased with the price realised by two steers that were too heavy for the Safeway Producer Group scheme.

They weighed 690kg and 685kg when they went under the hammer at Welshpool, and each made a little over £620. A batch of 20 cull ewes sold the same day made between £13/head and £20/head and a total of £303.

But the first of three suckler cow replacements needed cost £630. The Simmental cross heifer with Belgian Blue heifer calf at foot was relatively cheap as many Limousin cross cows with bull calves made over £900/head.

Shearing was a bit different this season. Contractors still did most of it for 50p a sheep, but 100 Welsh hoggets were used to train four new shearers, and to improve Mr Wozencrafts own skills. British Wool Marketing Board trainer Greg Evans, who recently sheared in New Zealand, ran the one-day course.

"For me the most valuable aspect was learning how to hold the sheep and stand to reduce the backache I always get. Seeing an expert shear a hogget in 40 seconds also gave the new shearers a target to aim for."

One meadow on the farm has been reclassified under the Cambrian Mountains Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme. The exceptionally biodiverse area is now eligible for a £95/ha annual payment if it is not cut before July 15.

ESA payments are received on around 70ha (173 acres) of the farm, mostly for not improving areas of semi-natural grassland. The £3000 a year cheque is always very welcome. So too are capital grants towards dry stone wall renovation and the double fencing of new hedges.

The latest capital project is the repair of banking adjacent to a frequently used public footpath that runs through the farm. More ESA money is also coming through the local commoners association, following a new agreement for land on which 30 farmers have grazing rights. The first half-year cheque amounted to £1360.

"The ESA scheme is due to end in four years. I hope we can transfer to the Tir Gofal agri-environment scheme but there is a long waiting list," says Mr Wozencraft. &#42

Capital grants have helped the upkeep of drystone walls and this banking next to a public footpath.

Edward and Eunice Wozencraft have turned cattle out again on some drier rented land after heavy rain finally abated.

&#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 hired as needed.