16 August 2002

Winter fodder making leaves no time to spare

One day at the Royal Welsh

Show was the only break in

a hectic work schedule at

Pen-yr-Ochr over the past six

weeks. Robert Davies reports

MAKING winter fodder and reseeding have been uppermost in Edward Wozencrafts mind over the past few weeks.

"We have been so busy that there has been no time to stop and think," he says. "I know we made 105 big bales of hay on land we have at Dolfor, but I have not got round to counting silage bales."

Mr Wozencrafts gut feeling is that there will be enough for an average-length winter. Conservation was delayed and protracted by poor weather, but he is confident that silage quality is good, thanks in part to a £2600 investment in a new tedder.

The next job will be to bale and cart wheat straw from 28.3ha (70 acres) in Shropshire, which he bought for what he describes as "a very fair price". A local contractor will be hired to do the baling and the top will be taken off the farms stock lorry to transport the straw.

Before that could happen the vehicle had to go though its statutory annual inspection. It failed and £130 was spent on new parts, which he and a friend fitted before a retest.

The first lambs are almost ready to go. They should weigh between 15 and 20kg on the hook and Mr Wozencraft plans to book some of them into the abattoir near Llandrindod Wells that has been refurbished by the farmer-owned Welsh Meat Company.

"Naturally, as a shareholder, I am keen to support the company. But I also believe it is important to have as many competing outlets as possible. I am very worried about the damage even a modified 20-day movement restriction will do to the auction market system.

"It seems to me, and I know many other farmers feel the same way, that the government would like all finished stock to be sold deadweight. But auctions put the floor in the market and we would all be much worse off if they closed."

He is also anxious to see light hill lambs going to southern Europe. The trade would allow him to ease grazing pressure by selling lambs that are not likely to be suitable for mainstream outlets.

Ploughing and reseeding 5.6ha (14 acres) reduced the available grazing area. But sheep have not been short of grass so far this season and they look well. The partners have not had time to dip, so a pour-on was used to protect against fly strike.

Concern that the efficacy of the chemical has diminished means that dipping is now a high priority, though it might still be delayed if the straw supplier in Shropshire starts combining.

Some land is reseeded each year, but heavier stocking resulting from the foot-and-mouth crisis prevented ploughing in 2001, so more land than usual is out of commission.

"I think it is important that we keep trying to do a bit of pasture improvement. One of the fields done this year had been untouched for 20 years and its productivity was low."

A contractor did the ploughing, but Mr Wozencraft did all the seed-bed preparation and sowing, using a mixture of grasses and clovers suitable for heavy grazing by sheep.

He and his wife thoroughly enjoyed their day at the Royal Welsh and would have liked a second. His interest in harness racing and horses in general put the judging of the Welsh Cobs at the top of his must watch list, but he found time to be impressed by the overall quality of the livestock.

Another regular day out was lost in early August when the local agricultural show was cancelled for the second year because it was to be staged on a farm.

"It is a shame that so many events are not taking place because of the 20-day rule," says Eunice Wozencraft. "Rural communities are under pressure and we all need to get together as often as possible."

As the peak sale time for breeding sheep approaches, the partners hope that their commitment to scrapie genotyping will pay off. They tested 203 ewes and tups through a scheme financed by the Welsh Assembly, and are waiting for results from 40 ram lambs tested last week through the National Scrapie Plan.

"More people are getting interested in the scrapie issue and there is a growing market for tested sheep. This should bring a price premium," says Mr Wozencraft. &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 Pen-yr-Ochr, Llangurig, Powys, home farm for a business extending over three blocks of land totalling 184ha (442 acres), farmed by Edward and Eunice Wozencraft.

&#8226 All land is classified as severely disadvantaged. One 53ha (131 acre) rented block is unfenced hill grazing. Much of the land is extremely steep and exposed.

&#8226 The business runs 850 Elan Valley-type Welsh Mountain ewes, including a 60-head nucleus flock of elite females that are part of a group-breeding scheme. Forty crossbred suckler cows are run with Blonde and Limousin bulls. Calves are marketed as stores.

&#8226 The partners are members of community group linked to a technology transfer project focus farm, and are involved in scrapie genotyping scheme.

&#8226 There is one part-time worker and casual help hired as needed.