21 August 1998


Peter Wastenage

Peter Wastenage, in

partnership with his parents,

farms a 121ha (300-acre)

farm tenanted from Clinton

Devon Estates. He milks

175 cows, rears his own

replacements and grows

40ha (100 acres) of maize

I HAVE always tried to keep politics out of my monthly ramble in the past, but I am afraid I am going to start now. What is happening to the milk price?

All major dairy companies refused to bid at the last Milk Marque selling round – not that there is any collaboration going on in our industry!

These companies need milk to run a profitable business and satisfy their shareholders. Surely the only reason they are not bidding is to put pressure on individual farmers to sell direct.

If this happens, I fear we will see the power these large companies hold. A price will be offered which is only just sustainable for large and efficient units to run at minimal profit.

Both milk buyers and sellers need to sit down and agree a sensible milk price, which is sustainable and fair – creating a stronger industry nation-wide.

The Peninsula Milk Group in Devon is to be admired. This farmer-owned group is producing and marketing its own product. However its size, which I believe is about 100 producers, concerns me.

This is tiny compared with any of the large suppliers. I feel they will be allowed to pick up crumbs from around the table, but as soon as they make a decent bite well see large volumes of cheap milk poured into their area from larger processing groups. But I hope they succeed and believe independent groups should be supported.

Finally a bit of news from the home front. Supposedly, this is a quiet time of the year for us, but we have been making 25 acres of hay. We considered making it into small bales, but soon got over that idea.

Other jobs have involved repairing tracks and water systems while the weather is dry, before winter and our next round of extended grazing.

Direct drilling has not been practised on this farm for several years, but will be tried to improve grass swards on some steeper land. About 27 acres have been sprayed off with Round-up and Dursban. This will hopefully be direct drilled in early September or when enough moisture is in the soil for good germination.

Hopefully we will be able to have heifers lightly grazing on this ground in autumn, and again in early spring. This would be impossible on a ploughed seed bed, especially on steep ground. &#42

Milk buyers and sellers need to sit down and agree a sensible milk price, says Peter Wastenage.

Dennis Bridgeford

Dennis Bridgeford farms

50ha (125 acres) at Petley

Farm in Easter Ross, about

40 miles north of Inverness.

The farm comprises of a

480-sow indoor unit

producing 95kg pigs for

one outlet and 85kg pigs

for a more local abattoir.

A further 320 sows are run

outdoors, with progeny sold

at 7kg. The land not used

for pigs grows spring barley

for use in the farms

mill-and-mix plant

LAST month, I felt that things couldnt get any worse – but they have. I came back from holiday to find that our market has collapsed.

Never in my life have I picketed, but last week pig farmers were found at restaurants throughout the north and north-east of Scotland demanding answers.

Even my annual outing to the local show took a political angle when, as a representative of the National Farmers Union, I met Lord Sewel so that I could put forward our case. He appeared very aware of our problems and will be taking our points forward to both supermarket buyers and the catering trade, but will this do any good?

There is no doubt that our marketing group Grampian Pig Producers is earning its money at the moment, and to date, we are managing for space by the skin of our teeth.

Unfortunately, the recent arrival of summer also brings dirty pens. We have not had such extreme temperatures as the south, but it has been hot and humid. Trying to keep pigs clean in this type of weather is almost impossible, and not a very enjoyable task for stockmen.

There is also the added disadvantage that it reduces growth rates. There is no doubt that there is a place for totally slatted pens, especially when you see how comfortable pigs are in flat decks.

Outdoor pigs have also suffered in this warm spell. Sows can be found lying in wallows from morning to night, resulting in lower weaning weights.

Recently, in the indoor unit we have had incidents of navel bleeding. Although we go for weeks and never have any cases, we then seem to get one in almost every litter. The difficulty is that unless you catch them almost straight away the piglet goes totally anaemic and its chance of survival is slim. There is a theory that it is caused by wood shavings, but we occasionally farrow in straw pens and have the same problem.

All the winter barley in the area has made the malting grade, albeit it with some hefty dressing. We try where possible to wait for spring barley but market supply has dried up. Hopefully with some improved weather some spring cereal will be available soon.

Is the arrival of £60/t barley going to save the British pig industry? Its rather ironic that I have never fed pigs so cheaply – and have never had such a hard time financially. &#42

Low cereal prices allow pigs to be fed cheaply, but financially times are tough, says Dennis Bridgeford.

John Alpe

John Alpe farms in

partnership with his parents

at Whitewell near Clitheroe

in Lancashire. Besides the

tenanted 80ha (200 acres)

at New Laund Farm, the

family own a neighbouring

farm of 36ha (90 acres),

and rent a further 40ha

(100 acres). About 60 dairy

cows and 60 followers,

500 Swaledale and Mule

ewes and 250 store lambs

are run on the farms. Bacon

pigs are also fed on contract

JULY and early August have proved to be difficult as regards the weather. It has been very unsettled with dry days few and far between – alternating with days of torrential rain.

This frustrating weather pattern has obviously had a big impact on silage and haymaking harvest in this area.

During the last few days of July, ground conditions got so bad that we kept our dairy cows in overnight. They actually appeared keen to lie in. The cubicle house must have looked quite dry and appealing after the downpours theyd endured outside.

It transpired that quite a few local farmers had used the same action plan, and some had housed their cows inside during the day as well as at night.

When cows were in overnight, we fed big bale silage in the cubicle house feed passage, which wasnt too difficult.

Bales which were opened seemed quite reasonable. It was cut and wrapped in early July, a similar date to last year. But this year it was so cold during the growing season that grass was nowhere near as mature as last years, and it actually managed to remain standing vertical until it was mown.

However its now mid-August and we still havent managed to make any hay – though we have tried. Meadows designated for hay have been big baled, to avoid the impending prolonged rainy spell.

We now have only 18 acres of standing grass and this must be made into hay. We require a minimum of 1500 bales for calf and sheep fodder.

I am reluctant to buy any hay, so we have decided not to mow any more – unless we have a fighting chance with the weather – until the end of August. Hopefully by then we will have had a short spell of decent sunshine. At least enough to make some hay.

I think the pinnacle of haytime is the last night, when youve finished and youre in the pub – with the barn doors firmly shut – drinking beer! But unfortunately until then, its miserable when its raining. &#42

John Alpe brought cows in at night and fed silage in late July because of poor ground conditions.

Gerald Murphy

Gerald Murphy runs a

107ha (275-acre) farm in

partnership with his parents

in County Waterford on the

south-east coast of Ireland.

Dairying is the main

enterprise with emphasis

on milk from grass. The

mainly all-grass unit carries

110 Holstein Friesian cows

and also grows forage

maize and cereals for

home consumption

WE CUT arable silage at the beginning of the first week of August. Some of it had lodged fairly badly and we were worried that it might have damaged the undersown grass, but thankfully the damage seems to be minimal.

At the same time as arable silage was being harvested, we noticed grass covers were slipping. There was no forecast improvement in the weather, so we knew we had to take some action to protect milk yields.

For the past week we have been walking cows to an out-farm to graze second cut aftermaths during the day. This has lengthened the grazing rotation by three days and so has increased grass covers noticeably.

The increase in covers is not solely due to lengthening our rotation; a big improvement in the weather has also helped.

Moving to aftermaths had an additional benefit, in that we regained a two litre/cow drop in milk yield which had happened in the previous week – again better weather may have helped. It was probably the first time in a month that there was a reasonable sugar level in grass.

At this stage, our grazing rotation is out to 28 days and we hope to gain another two days by the end of August. Up to this year, our maximum rotation length in autumn has been 35 days. However this year, we may lengthen it to 40 days.

When it comes to lengthening rotation in autumn, we cheat a little because we are drying off autumn calvers at just the right time, reducing grazing pressure. This combined with eight acres of arable aftermaths should ensure that we achieve a 35-day rotation by the end of September.

It has occurred to me that I have been gauging the rotation length by remembering which paddock cows were in on the day of one hurling match or another.

This is because our local county hurling team have won through to the GAA, equivalent to an FA Cup semi-final, for the first time in 40 years.

The struggle to get away early on match Sundays makes it easy to remember where cows were on those days. When you read this, I will be involved in what is sure to be a titanic struggle to get final tickets, or probably still drowning my sorrows. &#42

Cows have walked to an out-farm to graze aftermaths for a week because grass covers at home were slipping, says Gerald Murphy.

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