19 February 1999


John Martin

John Martin farms with his

parents on the Ards Peninsula

south of Belfast. The 65ha

(160-acre) Gordonall Farm

and 16ha (40 acres) of

rented land carry 400

Suffolk x Cheviot ewes, a

small flock of Suffolks and

40 spring calving sucklers.

About 20ha (50 acres) of

barley is grown

IT has been a difficult month, and not only from a meteorological point of view.

Eventually, we managed to get the early lambers hardened off enough to put them outside full time.

But with little grass and wet weather we all seemed to be plodding about in mud and were glad we included a coccidiostat in sheep meal. A few drier days at the start of this month provided the relief we needed. The first 70 ewes to lamb went onto the forage rape on Feb 5, which will also help things.

Lambs are looking well. They are eating more creep meal, but we have had a few cases of join ill. I do not know whether I am getting slower, but inevitably they are still faster than me, even on three legs.

We covered six acres with slurry in the first week of this month. This was not because the ground was dry, but because it was starting to show above slats and we did not know when ground conditions would improve.

A few local farmers spread urea in the first few days of February, but I waited for another couple of weeks until there were signs that temperatures will remain a bit higher. Grass is now starting to grow, so we hope to have enough when the rape runs out.

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of meetings to discuss Agenda 2000 reforms. I attended a meeting of CEJA – The European Young Farmers Organisation – in Brussels, attended by commissioner Fischler.

We questioned him about what guarantees he could give that governments would honour their responsibilities under national envelopes. He said the commission would go by majority decisions and if one country diverted money away from rural areas, there was little it could do. So it seems there is a lot of work to do to ensure rural support will be mandatory.

I also attended the recent Ulster Grassland Society Conference. I was interested to hear that the difference between the cost of grazed grass and silage is now greater than that between silage and concentrates. It seems clear that to cut production costs further we must find cheaper ways to winter livestock.

Kevin Daniel

Kevin Daniel has a mixed

lowland holding near

Launceston, Cornwall. The

65ha (160 acres) farm and

20ha (50 acres) of rented

ground supports 70

Simmental cross suckler

cows, 380 Border Leicester

cross Suffolk ewes and has

28ha (70 acres) of arable

SCANNING at Trebursye this year has proved pleasing, with the ewes carrying 196% and ewe lambs 133%.

Five barren ewes have since been culled and the eight empty ewe lambs will be kept for a second chance.

Ewe lambs are still outside grazing last autumns reseeded pasture, which has grown well during the mild winter.

Ewes are now shorn and housed. Last years experiment of shearing half the flock encouraged us to clip all ewes this year despite the wet autumn and winter. They came out of their wool in exceptionally good condition, with only a handful needing any preferential feeding.

During the eight-week housed period before lambing, we aim to run ewes through a foot-bath containing zinc sulphate once a week. This should minimise feet problems, which can be a real concern over a long period indoors.

Mucking out pens half-way through also stops heat building up in the dung. On one of their weekly outings to paddle through the footbath, they will receive their annual Heptavac P vaccination and a pre-lambing dose of wormer.

To cut the risk of resistant worms we alternate between drug groups annually. This year sees the run of an ivermectin type wormer which although extremely effective has the disadvantage of being more expensive.

On the cattle front, calving is underway albeit 10 days earlier than expected, with two cows giving birth to premature calves. The first caught us by surprise and calved in the cubicles, but the calf did not survive a night in the slurry. A second cow produced an extremely small set of twin bull calves, only one of which survived.

This calf will probably be slaughtered on the CPAS, as the chances of it developing into a saleable bullock are slim. I hope the other calvings progress smoothly.

Some dry weather in early February allowed us to get on with some field work. Slurry has been spread on fields destined for first cut silage and some late drilled wheat has received a herbicide.

As yet, I have resisted the temptation to spread any fertiliser despite reaching T-sum ???. The possible risk of more heavy rain or snow makes early march spreading more sensible.

John Glover

John Glover currently milks

65 Holstein Friesian cows

plus followers on a 40ha

(100-acre) county council

holding near Lutterworth,

Leicestershire, having

moved from another 20ha

(51-acre) holding

county council farm

I HAVE been playing trains round the back of the buildings where the straw is stacked.

Once I drive off the stoned track the ruts to the straw stacks are so deep it is like being on rails and you have to go where they take you. Where the ruts cross is like the points and you can change direction.

The problem with 4-wheel drive machines is that we can make a real mess before we get into trouble and then it takes more to put it straight again. We are almost at that point now, as the pick-up hitch on the Matbro is running on top of the ruts and holding the wheels up, reducing traction. So we will have to dig the ruts out and fill them with hardcore.

Fortunately, there is still quite a lot of that left from the building work we have been doing. The intention is to hardcore an area of the stack yard each year to spread the cost.

The contractors made some deep ruts across the maize fields when we cleaned the cow yards out, but their tractors are on a wider wheel setting to mine and I cannot go that way to finish the field I was spreading muck in.

I do not mind making a mess on some of the maize ground, as it is light and dries up quickly and ploughing and subsoiling will put it back in order.

Cows are milking better this winter than last year, they have more room – now the buildings are finished – better silage and, with more cows, we are soon going to be producing 2000 litres a day for the first time. For us, it is an achievable landmark; about 15 more cows and heifers are to calve by the end of March, so we should peak well above this. Calving pattern and other restrictions at the old farm had kept us about 300-400 litres below this.

At a time when there is little good news about in the industry small achievements such as this can at least give some pleasure for individual farmers.

Louis Baugh

Louis Baugh and his wife

farm 186ha (460 acres) at

Neatishead Hall and 91ha

(225 acres) at Beech Farm

near Norwich in Norfolk.

About 100 autumn calving

Holstein Friesian cows and

followers are grazed on

Broads ESA marshes with

forage from Italian ryegrass

and maize

I WRITE this month from Waikato in New Zealand, taking a holiday and re-visiting the area of my Nuffield Scholarship in 94-95. So what has changed since my previous visit?

All farmers like to discuss the weather. Well it is hot and dry here, last year it was El Nino, this year its the effect of La Nina. Some parts have received little, if any rain, for 18 months. Here in Waikato it was drying out pre-Christmas when two belts of rain gave some relief, but pastures are now burning off.

In December 1995, average herd size was 175 cows. Price/kg of milk solids peaked at £1.37. Farmers were told to gear up for GATT and researchers were looking at the benefits and costs of supplementary feeding of grains and forages.

This included the capital costs of feed fences and feed wagons. I was reminded of the quote: "The more you receive for your milk you will develop a more expensive way to produce it". I hold my hands up – I am guilty.

I did feel the New Zealanders were throwing away their benefits of low-cost production. Would the milk price remain high enough and long enough to write off the capital? No; in June 1998 the price/kg of milk solids was £1.17, a 14.3% fall in price.

The lesson clearly is, extra cash on the income side of the budget doesnt have to be spent. Feeding grass or forage grown on the farm rules again.

Economic Farm Surplus is used as a management tool, adjusted for inflation and not including debt charges or repayment and is expressed as $NZ/hectare. For both owner and share milker alike it has fallen continually and now shows a negative return on operating assets for the owner/operator, despite lower production costs.

On the news front, the new dairy board chairman announced Dairy Board reform ahead of the next WTO talks. This would be the removal of the last area of government support to the dairy industry, to be replaced by corporate structure. More contentious was the proposed abolition of successful dairy co-ops; surely this would be throwing out the baby with the bath water?

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