Tourism business hopes to expand

Deilwen Breese has inherited a half share in Cefn Crib after the death of her father Gwyn Rowlands.

He was an active 73-year-old, but in recent years he had become reliant on the part-time labour of grandsons John and Arwyn.

The 110ha (272-acre) neighbouring unit also shared some of Gogarth’s machinery on an informal basis, and Mr Rowlands was happy to accept his family’s help with the farm’s book-keeping and form filling.

However, he remained wholly responsible for running the farm’s site for 52 static caravans and small number of touring pitches.

Mrs Breese now shares ownership of the tourism enterprise with her mother, and is attempting to input her father’s detailed paper records onto the Gogarth computer.

She plans to continue day-to-day site management in addition to running her own farm tourism business.

Ideally she would like to upgrade and expand the enterprise, but anticipates that the Snowdonia National Park Authority is likely to oppose the creation of extra pitches.

“We should be able to go ahead with improvements my father was already planning, which are necessary to meet ever more demanding customer requirements,” Mrs Breese forecasts.

“Expansion is a much more tricky issue, which is a pity when there is such strong demand for static site places in the area.”

While she is very upbeat about the potential, she is worried about the possibility that Gwynedd County Council could scrap small business rate relief.

That would double the charge levied on the site and her self-catering accommodation at Gogarth.

The extra work on the caravan site has forced her to resign as clerk to the local Pennal Community Council after 30 years.

But she is determined to continue to represent farm tourism on several local and national bodies.

This she feels is vital during the transitional period following the Welsh Assembly’s decision to take over the strategic role of the former Wales Tourist Board.

John Breese has agreed to take on all the additional farm and caravan site bookwork, using a new computer the two businesses will supply.

He has already worked with the local office of the Farmers Union of Wales to complete Cefn Crib’s IACS form, and those for Gogarth and the farm rented earlier this year.

“The job was made more difficult by changes to the form itself, for which I cannot see any reason,” says John.

No immediate management changes are planned for Cefn Crib.

About half the land is hill and the farm is well suited to carrying its 400 Welsh Mountain breeding ewes and 24 suckler cows.

Being owned by Mrs Breese and her mother, the unit will be run as a separate business. But, inevitably, there will be more integration with the rest of the family’s land.

This will require a sound accounting system that fully costs shared labour and other inputs.

At Gogarth the 240 ewes sponged to take the tup early lambed with few problems, and almost no losses.

A test weighing has revealed that some of the February-born lambs have reached 30kg and the first draw for sale will be made soon.

“With luck they should make good prices, but we would have been better off lambing in January,” says John.

“If lambs had been ready three weeks earlier they would have made over £4/kg.”

The ewes are being fed sugar beet and a small amount of concentrate.

Some of the early lambs have been ordered by local retailer Will Lloyd Williams, but some time will have to be spent on the telephone to find the best outlet for the rest.

Lambing of the main flock is almost complete and losses have been lighter than usual. Ron Breese’s hip problem meant that, for the first time in several years, Mrs Breese helped with lambing.

However, her husband will have had surgery at Aberystwyth before the next Management Matters from Gogarth.

The fact that a Charollais ram managed to get in with and serve some of 200 ewe lambs being wintered in Shropshire has exacerbated a shortage of spring grass for ewes and lambs.

“We have 70 ewe lambs that we cannot turn to the hill because they have lambs at foot.

They are eating grass that should go to the main flock so we have to sell around 40 of them as couples.”

The first 10 of these young ewes with their good quality lambs topped the market at Dolgellau when they realised £75 a head.

Mr Breese admits he was a bit disappointed with the price, which was the minimum he was prepared to accept.

Neither the unplanned pregnancy of the ewe lambs nor recent hikes in the price of diesel have put the partners off away-wintering.

“We managed to place sheep for 50p a head a week on a very good farm, where the owner looked after them so well that we did not have to visit them very often.

There is no way we could run them and feed them at home for the same money.”

Mr Breese has to cut the winter stocking rate to meet the Tir Gofal agri-environment scheme rules, and to ensure there is enough spring grass for ewes and cows with young progeny.

A batch of 20 barren ewes and an old ram were sold to ease grazing pressure and were knocked down for between £20 and £30 a head.

The cold weather that slowed grass growth this year reduced the impact of a delay in the delivery of 28t of nitrogenous fertiliser.

“It has been too chilly to spread it anyway, but that did not stop me getting very cross with the supplier.”

Despite a lot of shopping around the fertiliser still cost £146/t, which Mr Breese regards as a very high price relative to stock values.

Cows are being turned out as they calve and supplementary feed is being stopped as soon as possible, but some calves have had to be treated for severe scouring that has resulted in serious dehydration.

“The early born calves were fine and are doing well at grass.

But some sort of bug has developed in the shed so the sooner all the cattle are out the better.”

While the Limousin bull bought for £1200 in 2004 continues to sire nicely shaped calves, the partners feel that store cattle buyers will become even more selective in future.

This has attracted them to the EU-financed beef quality improvement programme being run by Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales).

If their application is successful they could get a 40% grant to purchase a bull with outstanding breeding value figures.

“We hope to improve herd performance and to market the sort of high quality calves that buyers will be prepared to pay a premium for.”

Somewhat reluctantly Mr Breese returned the £11,000 the business was overpaid when the second single farm payment cheque arrived.

But he heard that at least one farmer in the county spent his overpayment before it was reclaimed.