18 February 2000

Sunny spell keeps yield up

Latest ADAS results show

continued improvement in

dairy figures at West Town

Farm. But sheep have proved

a disappointment.

John Burns reports

A SURPRISE spell of excellent weather during the last half of January and the beginning of February saw Andrew Braggs dairy herd back outdoors by day, grazing a good crop of kale.

That helped maintain milk production as well as eking out rapidly disappearing stocks of winter fodder.

He still has over 2ha (5 acres) of kale left, but has had to buy in 14t of organic hay, as well as 9t of organic triticale which cost £200/t.

The Soil Associations organic standards allow up to 3kg dry matter a cow a day of non-organic feeds, though Mr Bragg prefers to use that allowance in the form of bought-in concentrates made up of 50% organic and 50% non-organic (but non-GM) ingredients. The most recent load cost £207/t, up £6/t due to the rising price of organic components.

Mr Bragg has also had to start buying in straw. There is not enough room in his buildings to buy enough at harvest and store it.

So next month his ADAS Milk Cheque figures will inevitably show increased costs and probably reduced margins.

The latest ADAS league tables for the year to October 1999 (see table), ranked on margin over purchased feed a cow, show Mr Braggs herd third in his local group at £1358. That was just £30 adrift of the top figure, and more than double the bottom margin of £646. He is the only organic farmer in the group. The top 10% nationally achieved £1413 a cow.

He is also quite pleased with his ADAS 12-month rolling average costings to January, which showed many improvements. Milk yield rose 7% to 5231kg a cow, and milk from home-grown forage went up by 26% to 3152 litres. The cost of that forage climbed by £47 to £266 a cow, but concentrate use fell from 1142kg a cow to only 890kg.

The herd average cell count for January also made good reading at 195,000/ml, down from Octobers figure of 335,000. His January Bactoscan was 21, fat content was 3.97% and protein 3.23%.

But the sheep enterprise is not faring quite so well. Mr Bragg was disappointed to find that of the 68 ewes and ewe lambs put to the ram last June, no fewer than 13 ewes were empty, and the others proved less prolific than usual. The total number of lambs alive was only 65.

He blames himself for hanging on to ewes and rams far too long, to avoid the expense of replacing them. New rams have already been bought and he is looking for a further 10 or 12 Poll Dorset replacements. One person who phoned about a possible source left only the name Sarge on the answering machine, and Mr Bragg would like to have his phone number.

At least single lambs are ready sooner. The first three went recently, at three months old, and more have since been sold, all through the Organic Livestock Marketing Co-op. The three graded at E3L (19kg), E4L (21.5kg) and U3L (16.5kg). Base price was 315p/kg R3L with premiums of 15p/kg for U3Ls, 20p/kg for E3Ls and 5p/kg for E4Ls.

By comparison, Exeter markets first suckled lamb sale of the season last week saw a top price per live kg of 123p, and a top per head of £50 for a 48kg lamb.

Despite this years disappointing performance, Mr Bragg will continue with the sheep flock, which he regards as an essential part of his organic farming system. In this area grass grows during the winter, which Mr Bragg feels would smother out clover if not controlled by the sheep flock.

His wheat is looking well and as soon as soil conditions allow will be rolled. A light harrowing to help control weeds may be done first.

To meet his obligation to the Countryside Stewardship 10-year programme his staff have been fencing, and he has bought the organic Hart spring barley seed (£540/t) needed to provide the stubble for Cirl Buntings next autumn and winter.

Another big event – the annual inspection of the farm and his records by the Soil Association – also took place recently. "This year the inspector was remarkably efficient. She came complete with laptop computer and looked into everything even down to how many cows I had in the straw yard. Her laptop had a program for working out the correct number for the area available in seconds. Fortunately we were almost spot on," says Mr Bragg. &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 West Town Farm, Ide, near Exeter, Devon, a 65ha (160 acre) farm rented from the Church Commissioners. Farmed organically since July 1992 by Andrew Bragg.

&#8226 Plus 26ha (64 acres) of owned land three miles away, in conversion to organic; 8ha (20 acres) of organic land on an FBT, one mile away; 4ha (10 acres) of organic grass keep five miles away.

&#8226 80 to 85 dairy cows, plus followers, 320,000 litres milk quota.

&#8226 75 Dorset Horn and Poll Dorset ewes lambing in November.

&#8226 10-year Countryside Stewardship project on 91ha (224 acres)

&#8226 Free-draining, mainly sloping land, some steep.

&#8226 Triticale and spring barley grown for feed.

&#8226 Three full-time staff.

ADAS Milk Cheque

(year ending Oct 99)

A Bragg National

top 10%

Milk price (p/litre) 29.499 19.862

Concs (kg/litre) 0.2 0.33

MOPF (p/litre) 25.64 16.19

MOAF (p/litre) 21.12 13.40

Yield (kg a cow) 5,295 8,727

Concs/kg 1,046 2,892

MOPF (£ a cow) 1,358 1,413

MOAF (£ a cow) 1,118 1,169

Lamb numbers were disappointing this year. Early replacements are now being sought.