26 July 2002

Trials of sodden silaging

Rain normally interferes

with silage making and our

Management Matters farm

in Scotland was no

exception. But as

Shelley Wright discovers

the Smith brothers have

plenty of other things

to think about

A FINE dry summer at Towiemore in the north-east of Scotland came to an abrupt and soggy end last week, just as Graeme and Colin Smith were in the middle of silaging.

"We spent the previous few days helping our neighbours with their silage," says Graeme. "Then we moved to our own farm and, after cutting about 40 acres and getting it safely in the clamp at Towiemore, the rain started."

About 10ha (25 acres) was left in the fields as the rain continued through the weekend, leaving Graeme hoping for better weather this week. Colin, on the other hand, was not too worried about the weather forecast. He was more interested in remembering where hed left his passport so that he could get away on holiday to Canada.

The farms 100 hoggs and 500 breeding ewes were clipped in early June, and the wool cheque, which they received within a week of delivering the fleeces, will not only pay the shearers, but will leave the brothers a surplus of about £200.

Lambs have grown well on the grass this year and in the next fortnight the first 30 or 40 singles should be ready for selling.

"We aim to take them to 40-42kg," says Colin. Where they will be sold has not yet been decided. "We will wait until they are ready and then see whos offering the best money."

Returns look more promising than last year with market prices averaging £1/kg liveweight at the moment. "That should give us fully £2/kg deadweight, which will do very nicely," says Colin. "Last September we were down at £1.45/kg deadweight which left very little margin. But at £2, everyone in the chain can survive."

Casualties in the sheep enterprise have been low this year, although they did find a dead ewe last week. "I went out the next day and found she was still dead. Very disappointing," says Colin wryly.

Claim forms for the 2002 Suckler Cow Premium Scheme have arrived at Towiemore. Colin is unimpressed with the changes that allow up to 40% of claims to be made on young heifers.

"SCP should be confined to cows and heifers that are in calf. It should be a scheme to reward breeding and feeding, not just feeding," he says.

The brothers still have insufficient suckler cow quota to cover their 80 sucklers and 20 heifers, although they did buy another three units of less favoured area quota recently, at an average of £400, bringing their full amount to just over 90 units.

"We bought the quota just before all these new CAP proposals were released in Brussels," says Colin. "The difficulty now is whether or not to carry on buying or leasing more quota when we dont know if Europe will accept, or reject, the plan to move from headage to area payments from 2004."

Claim forms for the 2002 SCP scheme do not have to be submitted until Dec 6. "So we will sit on the fence a while yet before deciding," Graeme says.

Both believe that any move to area-based payments will be a good idea, mainly because it will do away with the mounting paperwork the existing livestock schemes demand.

And they are for the principle of cross-compliance, where subsidy payments will depend on farmers meeting animal welfare and environmental conditions.

"I think most farms now are farm assured," says Graeme. "But there are always some who let the side down. So I am all in favour of cross-compliance."

In the meantime, the subsidy system offers the brothers the chance to make money fattening bull calves bought from dairy farms in Ayrshire.

They now have 70 black-and-white cross calves being fed a diet consisting of ad-lib barley, combined with a mineral and protein supplement.

"They will be sold fat from January onwards and we will be able to claim bull premium, extensification and slaughter premium on them," says Colin.

All are fed with a loader, which is not difficult, he says. The only time consuming chore is bedding. "We have looked at the possibility of buying a straw chopper, which would make things easier and, we are told, could cut straw use for bedding by 25%.

"But the cost of a new one is about £7500 which is more than we would like to spend," says Colin.

He would rather find a second-hand machine, although there are few on the market in Scotland. Colin, however, would travel to look at available second-hand machines as far away as East Anglia provided, of course, that the price is right.

One pen of bull calves will be used this year to compare crimped barley with the traditional ad-lib barley/protein mix.

"We have decided to try 20 acres of barley for crimping this year," says Graeme. It is undersown and will be harvested at 35-37% moisture, with the straw baled and wrapped behind the combine.

"We saw the additive at a show last year and decided to have a go. In theory, it should cut our input prices on cattle feed by about 40%."

The crimped grain is meant to be extremely palatable and, at that moisture, can be fed straight without a protein supplement. "The ration we use at the moment is 13% protein. And the crimped grain should only be 0.5% below that," says Colin. &#42

Colin (left) and Graeme Smith are looking for a straw chopper to reduce the time they spend bedding up the cattle yards – but second-hand ones are hard to find.

&#8226 Towiemore, near Keith, Banffshire, a 136ha (336 acre) tenanted farm farmed by Colin and Graeme Smith in partnership with their mother.

&#8226 Land is classed as LFA, ranging from 500ft to 800ft above sea level.

&#8226 An additional 309ha (764 acres) of heather hill land is rented, as is 30ha (74 acres) of grass on seasonal lets.

&#8226 The business runs 80 Limousin-cross suckler cows, plus 20 heifers, as well as 500 breeding ewes, plus 100 hoggs.

&#8226 Arable includes 35ha (86.5 acres) feed barley and there is 4ha (9.8 acres) of set-aside. The rest of the land is in grass.