14 June 1996

Summer sunshine cant lift BSE blues

The arrival of summer has failed to lift the gloom of the BSE crisis overshadowing the beef enterprise at Inglewood Edge. Jeremy Hunt reports

WITH about 100 cows still to calve over the next four weeks, thoughts of the long-term implications of BSE on the beef business at Inglewood Edge dominate much of John Halls waking hours.

These tend to be when the rest of the family are asleep, because he is still working "the night shift". Fortunately the calving has gone well and has certainly been the most trouble-free for many years. "It is difficult to say why. We could make ourselves sound very clever and say it is all about good management, but it is probably more like good luck."

John admits to having anticipated more problems this spring because the cows were carrying plenty of condition. But apart from a few "coming backwards" all have gone smoothly.

Over 500 cows have calved during the past 11 weeks; this seasons calving has been slightly extended because a bought-in bunch of 14 replacements started dropping their Limousin calves in early March. Most homebred calves are by Belgian Blue bulls.

There are still over 100 cows inside. Some – those furthest away from calving – are still on slats but are moved into the straw yards as cows and calves are turned out. "Cows are usually out to grass within two days of calving, by which time the calves should be well suckled and we have had time to castrate, de-horn and vaccinate them."

Lambing is now finished and lambs are growing well even though grass growth has been slow during May.

The oldest are now eight weeks and 50 "dry" Beltex-type ewes have already been clipped. A trip down country for John, to attend the Belgian Blue society annual meeting, gave him the chance to drop off the wool bags in Nottinghamshire from another 150 Beltex-type replacement hoggs on rented grazing.

One of the Inglewood Edge Beltex tups was featured on the breed societys stand at the NSAs Northsheep event in Co Durham last week.

But BSE dominated most of John Halls conversations at the event. He feels a lot of people have been badly let down through the handling of the crisis. Useful advice has been given to the Ministry of Agriculture and its scheme operators but it has been ignored.

"Farmers are coming off worst in this saga. The system is working against them. And even if the ban was lifted tomorrow the beef sector would continue to feel the effects because of lost public confidence and the switch to other meats."

"Many Cumbrian store and suckled calf producers are still shell-shocked by the losses they have suffered by having to sell stock on to such a depressed market. But no one wants to go into the winter with the ban still in place. At least cattle sold in recent months had the prospect of a summer at grass. But buying cattle to finish inside with the ban still in place is very serious." &#42

John Hall at the Northsheep event.