3 April 1998

Trailering saves lamb loss

Trailering saves lamb loss

Lambing is going well at

Whelan Farms. But the

arable business faces a

tough year, and milk quota

is adding to dairy costs.

Suzie Horne reports

PLANS to reduce lamb losses caused by mismothering have worked well. Deaths are down by 90% to just a handful compared with last year.

Ewes and lambs are no longer walked long distances to fields at turnout. Instead they are taken in a trailer, a simple but effective solution, says manager Robert Kilby.

"This years tegs have been brilliant mothers, even better than last years are as second lambers," he notes.

Less mismothering has also eradicated mastitis. Ewes are milking well and shepherd Hugh Churcher and his team have had to do very little bottling.

However, lamb birth weights are higher than last year, which has increased the number of complicated lambings and associated losses. "Were still losing too many because they are not all under one roof," says Mr Kilby.

All lambs have been routinely treated with Spectam at a cost of about 10p each to avoid a repeat of last years watery mouth outbreak.

Field losses are down 70% on last year. About 10 lambs were taken by foxes and badgers and a few died from mismothering by the end of last week.

Extra cash welcome

By that time, Mr Kilby hoped to have 2000 lambs turned out and just the tail-enders left to lamb. While the weather has been generally kind, sheep grass could do with more sun to give it a boost.

Arable work is up to date, so much so that Andy Crow has been able to go contracting, bringing in some welcome extra cash.

As in most sectors, cash is a sore point on the arable front at Whelan Farms. Sentry Farming policy in recent years has been to sell forward at least 20% of the expected grain tonnage by the end of February. But, like almost every other grower he knows, Mr Kilby is sitting tight – not one grain has been committed. "It will take a strong man to hold off until harvest though."

The budgeted £83/t looks almost unattainable, once again putting the focus firmly onto inputs. Some spray prices are 30% down on last year, but the widespread use of Cheetah (fenoxaprop-ethyl) on wild oats has already taken up any slack on this front. "It will be a very hard year," observes Mr Kilby.

Grafila and Eiffel peas went in "exceptionally well"; all 56.7ha (140 acres) being drilled, rolled, fertilised and sprayed within a five-day period. Lack of moisture after drilling has led to poor results with other pre-emergence sprays in the past two years. This time Mr Kilby is hopeful of better thingsfrom Bullet (cyanazine + pendimethalin) following steady rain the day after drilling.

First-cut date

Silage grasses are well ahead of last year, with a tentative target date of May 10 for first cut.

Milk price cuts have knocked a clear £100,000 off dairy income this year and the response is to keep output up even though this means buying in extra quota.

Mr Kilby recently bought 16,000 litres of clean 3.85% butterfat quota for 50p/litre and 25,000 litres of used 3.91% for 34p/litre. Butterfat levels had been rising and would have meant a 1.5% overshoot – the new quota should keep production for the milk year at about 0.5% over quota, avoiding super-levy payments.

Increasing cow numbers to the planned 200 next year will mean buying another 60,000-70,000 litres of quota, probably in May. Cows are still milking well, averaging 7700 litres. Out of 64 heifers scanned, 60 were in calf and the remainder are still running with a hired Aberdeen-Angus bull. &#42

Pastures new: Shepherd Hugh Churcher (left) and trainee manager Charlie Asher turn out another load of ewes and lambs. Trailering to the field is proving an effective way of reducing mismothering.

FARM FACTS

&#8226 A 649ha (1604-acre) arable, dairy and sheep holding owned by John Whelan and farmed by Sentry Farming.

&#8226 Chalky soil with some clay over chalk in Kent.

&#8226 356ha (880 acres) mixed combinable crops, including non-rotational set-aside.

&#8226 Dairy herd currently stands at 195 cows averaging just over 6500 litres.

&#8226 1300 ewes lambing mid-March, mainly Mules, some Scotch half-breds.

&#8226 Six full-time staff.