16 October 1998


John Alpe

John Alpe farms in

partnership with his parents

at New Laund Farm,

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

AN UNUSUAL combination of untypical weather and bizarre prices have made September quite bemusing. As farmers, we have to accept the weather and make the most of it. I only hope the same doesnt happen with regards to current livestock prices. Im not at all sure where the current decline will lead. The farmers future seems bleak at the moment.

We started to house dairy cows at night in late July. On Sept 10, horrendous downpours forced us to bring them in full-time and feed full winter rations. Milk production fell, but we considered this less important than severely damaging grazing land. The water sodden ground would have provided perfect conditions to cause major poaching.

Amazingly, after 14 days, the weather changed dramatically and things really dried out, bringing some warm, calm, pleasant autumn days. Consequently, the cows went back out to grass during the day, causing milk production to rise again. This is the first time we have ever taken this course of action.

Breeding sheep prices have taken quite a knock. Sale prices for mule shearlings and ewes have averaged £35 less than last year; gimmer lambs have dropped similarly.

Finished lamb prices had been quite reasonable throughout the summer, but dropped quite remarkably at the end of August. They now cost £10 less than this time last year.

The biggest shock, however, has been the value of cast sheep. We sold our cast Mule ewes in early August for around £18, although slightly lower than last year, it was not terrible. But our Swaledale cast ewes, which we sold in mid-September, in reasonable condition, averaged £4. This is unbelievable, bearing in mind the previous years average of £16. It highlights a worrying trend, especially when you consider that in more remote parts of the country culls are virtually worthless.

We also buy a few Swaledale shearlings to help keep stock numbers up. This year these have cost £35 less. The £12 price drop of our cast ewes makes horned shearlings look a lot cheaper than normal, but the fact that sheep are depreciating to virtually nothing is very disconcerting. &#42

Gerald Murphy

Gerald Murphy runs a 107ha

(275-acre) farm in partner-

ship 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


OUR harvest is now complete, apart from maize. Our wheat turned out to be a nice suprise. We were worried that it might be a total write-off, instead it made a small profit. Maize is now about a week away from harvest.

However, last week we harvested four acres of maize for buffer feeding. We noticed an immediate response from cows following the introduction of maize. In our experience maize is the best buffer feed for cows at grass. Starch in maize seems to compliment grass very well. Another benefit is that cows like maize and are anxious for it every day whereas cows will only eat enough grass silage in bad weather, making it difficult to ensure they get enough concentrate every day.

All stock are still at grass full-time. We will start the last rotation on Oct 20 and it should finish in the last week in November or the first week in December.

At the moment, the only place we are tight for grass is with dry cows. These are grazing in a leader follower system, cull cows and young thin cows graze first with more mature cows following. We will probably have to give these older cows silage to slow down the rate at which they are baring off paddocks, as they dictate the pace at which animals are moved.

All youngstock are now on concentrates. We are giving them an 80:20 mix of soda wheat and soya at 1.5kg/day. Our spring born calves have been on concentrates since early August. We bought 2t of a blended concentrate bagged for £140/tonne, which has worked out at £7/calf over the past two months.

Some people believe spring-born calves will reach their target weight without supplements at grass, but we have never managed to do it on this farm. We generally introduce 1kg of meal at the beginning of August or when grass quality starts to deteriorate. Its hard to quantify the response, but it certainly increases the value of animals by more than £7/head. &#42

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


SO where do we, as pig farmers, go from here? The average all pigs price AAPP is down to 58p/kg and we are losing money so fast that the Royal Mint couldnt keep up.

What do you do to rectify the situation? We have trimmed costs to the bone and are trying to produce pigs as cheaply as possible. At the end of the day you cannot just go on and hope it will get better so we have decided to cut sow numbers in the outdoor unit. The market for 7kg pigs has all but gone and there is no immediate chance of return.

Unfortunately, we had to make a member of the outdoor staff redundant. Its not a job that I enjoyed doing, but he took it on the chin and said he fully understood.

I find it annoying that supermarkets are the growth industry at the moment. No doubt their expansion is being fuelled by huge margins made from primary producers. Has anyone in government circles realised that if supermarkets take prices back in line with market prices, inflation would come back as well.

I find it odd that during years of high inflation, coupled with a weak £ we managed to make some profit. I find it very unpatriotic to hope that the £ weakens.

In the end our harvest went reasonably well. A wet year actually suits our light land. Spring barley yielded well, but grain size was a bit on the small side – too many tillers. I am going to cut the seed rate back to 1cwt/acre with only 50 units potash at sowing time. With the fertility from pig slurry, I think that is all we will require.

We normally buy fairly large quantities of grain at this time of year. In most cases it would be barley rejected from the maltster. Unfortunately, when it suits them, they lower the spec so far that they will take almost all the barley on offer.

I dont know if its the really hot weather we had in September, or sheer bloody-mindedness, but we have been having a problem with over-lying in farrowing houses. I am quite convinced that modern hybrid sows have mothering ability bred out of them. The stupid devils just sit and look along their teat line, see a piglet struggling and then go and lie on top of it. The joys of pig farming. &#42

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

THE way things are going well be lucky to extend grazing to mid-October, let alone late December. Heavy rain has, once again, made grassland management difficult.

Maize was harvested in two lots, with the earliest cut on Sept 21 and the last on Oct 4. Janna, a variety that we have grown for several years, still seemed to yield as well as newer varieties Semira and Antares.

We worked hard to sow Italian grass seed within a few days of harvesting maize, only for some of it to be washed away by torrential rain, resulting in parts of fields having to be re-drilled. Quite a costly exercise, for what is supposed to be a cheap early bite.

At the end of September some of our steepest ground, which had been sprayed off earlier, was direct drilled with an Aitchison seed drill. It appeared to do a good job and grass seed germinated quickly. However, it is too early to tell how successful it will be.

After several months of debating whether or not to turn part of the farm organic, last month we finally applied. Much of our cow grazing is steep and down to long term clover leys. Clover content has built up over the last five years with paddock grazing and dependency on nitrogen has reduced. The majority of grazing ground is now having only one or two fertiliser applications each year, in the last two years.

Rearing calves on whole milk and antibiotic use are two other areas where we are well geared towards organic production. Calves are already reared on nurse cows. Cows live outside all year round, yields are relatively low by modern standards, and cell counts run at around 70, so I do not anticipate mastitis cases needing antibiotic treatment to be a major problem. Only four mastitis cases were treated with antibiotics last year.

Our biggest possible disadvantages will be that we cannot use nitrogen very early and late in the grazing season to boost grass growth when growth is generally slower. We will also not be able to purchase forage from inorganic farms in drought years. &#42

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