9 April 1999

Stocks market gains, but…

Lambing has gone well

and policy changes made

last autumn are paying

dividends for Margaret and

John Dalton. Robert Davies

reports from Wales

AS the last ewes and lambs are turned out, the partners are relieved they didnt put ewe lambs to the tup. It has shortened the physically exhausting period of winter feeding and lambing, and will reduce the number of later born lambs. These would have hit an expected over-supplied market after the retention of more older ewes on many farms.

Margaret believes many of these were tupped late when the cull price failed to improve. While mortality rates could be high, this will still result in a glut of lambs, she feels.

To everyones relief the last of the 1998-born lambs have been sold. The nine tail-enders weighed 8-11kg deadweight and realised 111p/kg. The single lamb born last August weighed 16.5kg. It graded U3L and realised £2.90/kg deadweight.

"I suppose overall our lambs made £10 to £15 a head less than in the previous season. We just have to hope the market improves and the efforts we are making to improve lamb quality will be rewarded."

The last eight heifers the partners decided to fatten rather than sell for 62p/kg as stores have also been sold. They ranged in weight from 440kg to 588kg on the hoof and averaged 85p/kg.

"We had to feed them a lot of silage and some barley and sugar beet pulp but the extra 20p/kg they made means we were right not to give them away," says Margaret. The experience means she and John now have the confidence to try finishing cattle again.

Johns successful bid for a contract to spread process semi-solid sewage sludge is causing head-aches. Land is still very wet and vehicles have caused some damage. He admits the problems are making him very stressed and he is praying for a dry spring.

But being set up to spread solids has won him a contract to handle 2000t of a byproduct of protein extraction from maize and soya from a local food colourings plant. John is offering free 15t/ha applications for ploughed land and analysis indicates that these will supply N, P and K worth £25-£28/ha (£10-£11.30/acre).

Despite recent dry weather parts of the farm are still waterlogged. Silage has lasted well but suckler cows are being turned out as they calve. To avoid severe poaching they are going on dry fields which have little grass so the Daltons expect to continue feeding silage outside for some time.

"This winter convinced us that we have neglected drainage for too long," says Margaret. "We looked at the cost of bringing in a contractor to clean and reform all our ditches and make sure field drains were unblocked, but decided it would be better to do the job ourselves. We bought an 11-year-old machine for £8500 and are using the skills of one of Johns contracting staff, who is an experienced Hi-Mac operator."

Work has revealed many silted drain outlets and the benefits of clearing the blockages are already showing. The aim is to renovate all boundary ditches over the next year.

Margaret and John finish their three years of being featured in Management Matters far more depressed than when they started. While John can show that the £400,000 plus he has invested in contracting equipment over the period has increased profits, he and his mother are convinced that further investment in the farm will not improve the businesss true bottom line.

"I feel that family-run livestock farms have a future as a way of life, but not as profit-generating businesses. More and more families will need to earn income off the farm to stay on the land," he maintains.

Looking back over the three years, Margaret sees little market place benefit from efforts to produce better quality cattle and lambs. She is also dismayed by the ever increasing burden of paperwork and the rising cost of getting professional help to deal with it.

"Looking ahead, I feel it is inevitable that I will have to find the time to do more myself, but that begs two questions. Who will do my work on the farm? And how will the business pay them?

"I believe it is very important that farmers weekly goes on reporting life on individual family farms month by month. Politicians and civil servants need to be told how their actions threaten the existence of people who do a pretty good job of maintaining the landscape and putting food in their bellies." &#42

After three years, FW bids farewell to the Daltons at Gelli Garneddau. In that time, much money has been ploughed back into the business to boost profits. Now, it seems, off-farm income may play a bigger part.