New project helps suckler cow farms stay in profit

The end of direct production subsidies need not mean the end of suckler cow farming in Wales, according to Julie Jones of Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Production Wales).

With the help of Ms Jones, Ieu and Buddug Jones and their grandson Gareth are hoping to improve the margin generated by their 86 sucklers by almost 7000 a year on their 151ha (373-acre) holding at Blaenau near Llanwrda, Dyfed.

The farm is one of many beef and sheep farms involved in the Welsh Assembly’s Farming Connect project and as such receives technical advice from a number of agencies.

The unit is also part of a management discussion group.

Julie Jones, a senior technical consultant employed by Hybu Cig Cymru, told farmers attending a farm walk at the unit, that analysis of the technical and financial performance of the herd had highlighted two key areas for improvement.

One was to increase calving rate from the current 86% to 95% by identifying empty cows earlier and swapping bulls between different cow groups.

Another would be to improve calf growth rates by supplementing end of season grazing with creep feed.

And a more strategic approach to the rationing of the same amount of feed currently used could increase the average steer sale weight by 80kg to 480kg, and heifer weights by 60kg to 400kg.

She calculated that improved herd fertility would be worth 2800 a year and better calf growth rates 4180 a year.

If this could be achieved the gross margin/ha of the suckler herd would rise from 105 to 220.

This improved margin would be better than the current 177/ha generated by the farm’s 1000 Tregaron Welsh ewes.