Better lamb trade, dairy worries at Washfold

AT Washfold Farm in North Yorkshire, there is some uncertainty over dairy income with a take-over of the milk buyer, but at least sheep income is improving; and its time to overhaul the machinery after a busy contracting season. Simon Wragg reports

THE rising lamb trade is welcome news at Washfold with prices increasing from 157p/kg to 166p/kg during November.

For those sent deadweight to North Country Primestock, the increase of 9p is worth almost £2 a lamb with a carcass weight of 19.5kg.

“Lets hope it keeps rising as we have over 400 lambs to go after the year end,” says Brian Metcalfe.

It is still a far cry from the strong trade seen three years ago. Then, profits were almost guaranteed.

But there is a strong argument for keeping a sheep enterprise, particularly for the rough grazing rented from the Ministry of Defence, he says.


  • Metcalfe Farms, 632ha (1560 acres) over four farms and run in partnership by parents and three sons

  • Land mainly medium loam over limestone. Farming from

  • About 263ha (650 acres) of land rented from MoD for
    900-ewe Mule flock

  • Recently expanded dairy herd. Now 350 cows averaging 9500 litres
  • Arable area of 223ha (550 acres) growing wheat, maize and set-aside
  • Contracting business covering 4050ha (10,000 acres) of grass, maize and whole-crop cereals

Elsewhere, acceptance of proposals for the Countryside Stewardship scheme has seen 6m grass strips being left around arable fields at nearly Gale Bank Farm.

A total of 9ha (21 acres) will attract payments of £583/ha (£236/acre).

The Metcalfes are also taking advantage of payments for repair and maintenance of stone walls to ensure boundaries remain in good order.

Contract wallers will be used over the winter and a large amount of wooden fencing will also be replaced.

Gale Bank is also home to half the dairy replacements. A new 160ft x 90ft barn will provide extra accommodation on top of the 100 heifers already housed.

Dry cows from Washfold could be moved across in future allowing an extra 20-40 cows to be milked with the main herd, says Philip.

Given the market for replacement dairystock, he is glad they have not had to sell any heifers.

Most have been absorbed by expanding the existing herd. “Prices would hardly cover the cost of rearing,” adds Philip.

Milk production has recovered with the inclusion of maize in the ration. Output is now 31 litres daily for each cow.

Fortunately a lower butterfat (3.74%) has eased some pressure in milk quota.

However, more leased quota will be bought in the next fortnight.

“The market seems to be calming down after rising to over 9ppl; its back into the 8pppl bracket but still too high.”

In addition, the family has secured 200,000 litres of used quota for next year at 23ppl.

A further 200,000-300,000 will be bought in future funded by the sale of a derelict house and 12ha (30 acres) of off-lying land.

Income from milk is facing an uncertain time. Express has recently taken over Glanbia to whom the Metcalfes sell milk, and the company has served notice on all existing contracts.

That, says Philip, means it is decision time. Either they stick with the current contract, which has the benefit of a level milk price throughout the year helping cashflow, or switch to a new Express contract.

“Payments are seasonal, but at least we could benefit from a better volume bonus as were sending away over 9000 litres a day.

That is worth 0.85ppl,” he says. The Metcalfes have until April to choose.

Much of the contracting work has finished. “Its been a good season with the weather working with us most of the time.

“But we needed an extra couple of tractors and trailers to finish the maize after a sharp frost shortened the season,” says David.

Now, the grass machinery is being stripped of all wear parts in readiness for next season.

Some kit will be replaced. After three seasons a triple-gang mower will be traded in as well a JCB loading shovel.

“Whats clear is the relentless rise in machinery replacement costs. The gap between trade-in value and purchase price is getting wider. For the JCB its increased almost £2000 net over 18 months.”

But at least with the majority of the seasonal work complete the family can take a break. “Holidays are important, if only to keep the mind right,” says David.

The staff are also looking forward to the annual works dinner. Although all costs have to be monitored, this is one tradition the family hopes to retain.

“Its a cost, but our staff are a valuable asset,” he adds.

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