John Geldard and family farm
175ha (430 acres) near
Kendal in the Lake District.
Stock now comprises of 100
suckler cows with progeny
finished alongside 200+
bought in stores, 1000 ewes
– 160 pedigree Charollais
plus Llyens – and ewe lamb
replacements, with a 25,000
bird poultry enterprise
AS far as the weather is concerned, 1998 is the worst summer I can remember. Never before have I known a year when we could not make hay.
After hearing the weeks weather forecast on August 16, we decided to abandon the idea of hay making. Thank goodness we had only planned to make 20 acres, which will now hopefully be salvaged into big bale silage. But we will need to buy a load of hay. We have already taken delivery of barley straw for winter, during the past week or two.
Despite bad weather, we were very lucky with second cut silage when the contractor came on August 11. We managed to harvest 65 acres of silage, with a 24-hour wilt and no rain on it. Needless to say there is no effluent coming from the pit.
On August 1, we had a family wedding, our eldest son Richard married a local farmers daughter. The weather kept fine and we all enjoyed the day. With their honeymoon and staff holidays we always seem to be busy at the moment.
The first Charollais ram sales this autumn have got off to quite a good start, with prices much the same as last year. The Lleyn sheep sales are about to start and private sales interest on the farm has probably been as good as ever.
On August 10, we cleared out one of the poultry sheds, a daunting task at any time, but when the old hens are worthless it makes things even worse. All the poultry manure taken out was spread over the newly-cleaned silage land, giving us a saving on fertiliser.
We are now bringing this poultry shed up to Freedom Foods standard, before some new pullets arrive at the end of the month. I am pleased that this is the final shed to be approved. Thats until someone else comes up with another brainwave to include in the standards – without considering the costs to producers. *
Christian Fox is taking over
management of 100 cows
and followers, on a 200ha
(500 acre) mixed farm in
West Sussex, with 150ha
(380 acres) of arable crops.
The plan is to increase
profits and lower costs by
producing more milk
WHEN I am supposed to be writing this, I will be somewhere on the Klamath River in Oregon – bobbing about on the rapids.
On my return, I will begin managing the dairy herd at Cucumber Farm, which is a National Trust property occupied by my new employers David and Lady Elizabeth Benson.
Its a mixed farm, some 500 acres in total of which 74 are permanent pasture and 39 are designated ESAs. The farm is picturesquely draped across part of the South Downs, and down into the Singleton valley.
The herd comprises 100 black-and-white cows, currently operating a high input, high output system. A lot of attention has been paid to breeding, and these are large but well put-together cows. None of your Dutch toast-racks here.
Profitability and milk production costs seem to be enveloped in a fog of meaningless figures; yes margin over concentrate rears its ugly head again. My first job is to establish the position on profitability, using all the facts – not just concentrate use – and set up a simple system to monitor costs.
Cucumber Farm is well suited to grass production, its easy-draining chalk dries quickly, but if good covers and a feed wedge can be maintained it should prove well suited to an extended, flexible rotational grazing system.
Having come from a very wet, heavy clay farm, I would rather try to manage a dry farm any day. I believe its easier to maintain a wedge of grass and push it out into a drought on a dry farm, than be unable to get cows out on a wet farm in early spring. Remind me I said that during the next drought.
It is fair to say that grazing has not been a priority feed to date, and some work is needed to improve pasture quality for autumn. The current calving pattern is from August to March which offers some scope for block calving quite quickly.
I have to say that the farm is tidy, well run and has a friendly atmosphere. The standard of stockmanship is high and whatever else I do, I will do well to maintain the standard set by my predecessor.
I have heard a rumour that white lice are allowed onto the farm in winter – and I thought the hate mail would stop when I fled Crouchlands. *
Miles Saunders farms in
partnership with his parents
on an organic, mixed 370ha
(915-acre) farm in Oxfordshire.
Main enterprises are 200
milking cows and followers,
190 Mule ewes, 50 beef cross
stores and 70 beef cross
calves. Winter wheat, barley,
oats and beans are also grown
and sold on the organic market
AUGUST has been exceptionally busy. The hay is now all baled and safely in the barn, the harvest is nearly complete and we are starting on the autumn cultivations.
Yields have been below average this year, with a high burden of weed seeds.
This has meant that all grain has had to go through the drier and cleaner to get it into a composition suitable for storage and sale. Looking on the bright side, lower yields mean that we dont have to clean out weed seeds from 3t/acre – just 1.5t/acre.
Calving is now underway and all appears to be going fairly well, with nearly two-thirds Friesian heifer calves out of 20 calvings. These fresh calvers are held back in the morning, allowing us to give them 5kg/head of concentrate.
Down calvers are on a ration of 10kg of silage, 2kg concentrate and 2kg straw, put through the diet feeder. They seem to be calving down without any assistance, milk fever or retained placenta problems, at the moment.
We have been working on replacing all the rubber work in the dairy plant over the last month, using silicone pipes and fittings this time. It does seem very expensive. The tube cooler alone has 20 elbows on it at £15 each. Hopefully it will prove a worthwhile investment in time, helping to keep total bacteria counts to a minimum.
August has been a black month for breakdowns, mainly due to our ageing machinery. Our diet feeder is getting very thin and silage broke out in one place. The baler had a gear and bearing go in its gear box. A shaft on the discs broke and the lemon tube – pto shaft – on the hay turner split.
Then to cap it all, staff numbers will be reducing. Our student over the past year is due to leave on September 1, to start college. We have replaced him with a new student for the coming year.
A regular experienced tractor driver/stockman is also leaving for pastures new, so he will need replacing, and one of the casual labour force has also left. In the meantime, we will see autumn cultivations through with extra casual labour. *
John Davies runs an upland
stock farm in mid-Wales.
The main holding at Pentre
comprises 145ha (360
acres) of grass, with some
short-term grass lets being
taken, and hill rights
extending to 97ha (240
acres). The farm carries 101
suckler cows, 975 ewes,
230 Beulah speckled face
ewe lambs and 35 Welsh
HAVING said last month that cattle trade was better in Brecon, this month Im afraid that it was probably as bad as it has been. Our average was 89p/kg for eight steers and 17 heifers, despite being Farm Assured and fully traceable.
If our powerful retailing partners think that what they have done to the pig industry can be repeated in the red meat sector, we surely face a winter of active lobbying at all levels. We must also ensure the consumer is kept fully informed.
We finished second cut silage and managed to harvest 15 acres of whole-crop between the milky and cheesy ripe stage, when the weather was sunny. It will be interesting to see how it analyses.
We have sold the first draw of lambs which averaged just under £40/head. But they are not weighing as well as last year.
Silage aftermaths have now responded to warmer weather, a bag an acre of Swordsman fertiliser and some slurry which they received.
The grass situation is looking considerably better than a month ago. However, some of the Mule ewe lambs which have been drawn for the first sale are scouring on the lush grass. We have now given them a drench of Oramec.
The Ministry of Defence range has had its compulsory sheep gathering for dipping against scab. It is a requirement that all sheep are gathered and for the range has to be left clear of sheep for three whole days.
Any sheep which are turned back onto the range must be dipped during those three days. As with all things, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link. But, thankfully, it seems to keep scab under control.
Myself and my two brothers run a lorry between us. This allows us to buy our straw off the field and haul it home. We collect some straw from the Newbury, Berks, area.
Talking to the boys there, it seems as though all agricultral sectors are in a similar situation with current low prices for all commodities. I guess its united we stand and divided we fall. *