4 June 1999


Miles Saunders

Miles Saunders farms 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 grown

for the organic market

IT is frightening how fast a year goes round. Once again its the end of May and time to start drying off the August calvers.

We use flexible methylated collodion as an aid to drying off. It seems to work well, by sealing off the teat with a plastic skin, and helps to keep flies away.

I came across the product when we started to convert to organic status in 1989. I was given a 1940s vet book by my grandfather. It suggested using iodine collodion.

I asked our vet who said that it was no longer available. So did the pharmacist, who suggested trying methylated collodion. The methylated collodion is stickier than the iodine collodion – which is now available – so we use methylated first and iodine collodion at other times during the dry period.

The thing about organic farming is that most practices have been tried before, but forgotten over recent years.

Silaging started on May 22. The leys are mixed, with the new leys being 95% grass and 5% clover, they needed cutting as the clover was struggling for light.

The second and third year leys are looking good. I think they will yield around 7t/acre of higher quality material as the clover has established itself.

The disappointing field was a grass silage ley that should have been drilled with wheat last autumn. But the weather beat us and it was also too wet for spring cropping. This grass ley is past meeting its full potential.

Another poor field is one the dry cows were on when it poured with rain last October. Looking back, I should have moved the cows sooner because there was lasting damage to the sward. The cows also broke a fence and wandered around a neighbours garden.

The biggest eyesore now is a mass of thistles in a 30-acre field next to the farm. My pride says top them now, but if I wait until they head at the end of June, I should get a much higher kill rate than topping – but I will have to justify this to visitors on farm walks in early June.

Re-living the past . . . Miles Saunders says that many organic practices have been tried before but forgotten over recent years.

John Davies

John Davies runs an upland

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). Stocking is

101 suckler cows, 975

ewes, 230 Beulah Speckled

Face ewe lambs and 35

Welsh Mules

IT is sods law that the year we host our county YFC rally, in early June, is one year when we still had cows housed during the middle of May.

This is much later than normal but grass has been slow to grow during early May. Thank goodness an army of helpers has descended to make the place look tidy.

All young cattle have been injected with ivermectin wormer after a couple of weeks outside and are picking up well. Their weight gain has been disappointing through the winter, so we need some compensatory growth from grass.

We conserved 60 acres for silage on May 1, filling the first pit. And we hope to conserve a further 60 acres at two week intervals for each of the next three pits.

All silage ground had three bags an acre of compound fertiliser together with some thin slurry/dirty water, of which weve had plenty this year.

We have 33 heifers to calve for the first time this year, and so far the first three have calved with no problems. Two-thirds of the heifers are Belgian Blue cross Friesian. They look well but are a little less hardy than Limousin cross Friesians, and also seem to require more foot trimming.

We took in our IACS form and our application for the Tir Gofal land-care scheme. The scheme is over-subscribed, so its a case of wait and see if we qualify for a farm visit.

Recently, we sold some cattle which we weighed at home prior to sending. We split the bunch in two. Some being sold to live auction, and for the first time ever, some deadweight. The results were interesting. It was surprising how much weight animals lost on the way to the live market.

Cabinet posts for the Welsh assembly have been announced. At the time of writing, the minister responsible for agriculture and rural affairs in Wales is a vegetarian, who has limited experience and was relatively unknown.

This is a vital time for agriculture and the Welsh assembly, and people with proven ability should be chosen. For the Labour Party to leave Ron Davies on the back benches is similar to Manchester United putting Ryan Giggs on the subs bench.

Despite slow grass growth earlier this spring, silage making is now under way at John Davies.

Gordon Capstick

Gordon and Mary Capstick

farm 230ha (569 acres), at

Milnthorpe in south Cumbria.

Stocking is 100 suckler

cows, with calves finished

alongside 100 purchased

stores, and 1200 Mule ewes

producing prime lambs.

About 10ha (25 acres) of

barley and 6ha (14 acres) of

soft fruit are also grown.

ONE farmers weekly contributor last month said that five months in farming was a long time. In my case it was five days.

I reported that my barley was growing well, but as soon as FW was in the shops, the barley was struck with wireworm and we had to re-drill. I am paying dearly for my lack of knowledge in that department.

Silage making is just around the corner, but it might be a long corner at my farm. Our grass, on black peat meadows, suffered from the wet spring and will take longer than some years to be ready to cut. I guess we will begin cutting in the second week in June.

There looks to be a good crop of strawberries, but the raspberries are disappointing. They do not like the wet; their roots rot and after 18 months of wet weather many have died off. By the time you read this we will nearly be picking, so we will be watching the weather forecast anxiously.

After listening to the NFU president on the state of the industry and how it is affecting rural economies, I had a lump in my throat. Later I heard that one of the multiple retailers profits has halved to just over £600m and that is unsustainable for the company. Doesnt this make your heart bleed for them?

The dairy industry is in a bad state. I hear that milk is being produced for 7-8p a pint, the doorstep price is 39p a pint and a little bottle of flavoured milk is 60p.

Somewhere producers are missing out, but are still expected to produce milk for less. It seems to be a case of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Old farmers used to tell me "keep the dairy industry happy and the rest of farming will be stable."

All our cows were turned out on cue, followed by the bulls. All the calves are tagged, dehorned and passports back – except those with errors, of course. Quite a lot of the calves are showing good potential and have settled down to summer outdoors.

The sheep have been dosed and dagged, and the lambs injected, dosed and given a squirt of fly spray.

Bleeding heart . . . Gordon Capstick has little sympathy for multiple retailers loss of profits as farmers continue to suffer low prices.

Christian Fox

Christian Fox has taken

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 from grazed grass

INSEMINATING milkers is going well. We served 94% of the herd in the first three weeks and 97% by the end of week four.

I am saying nothing about repeats at this stage – its difficult to type with your fingers crossed. But all cows were re-tail-painted at the start of the second service cycle and most still sport a pale blue stripe.

Having made first-cut silage in early May, the grass has greened up well. I have grazed some of it earlier than I should to try and bring the area into the feed wedge, in stages.

Of the area put aside for silage, I have left about five acres. This will be used as a buffer or made into hay later. If we need the buffer, we can mow ahead of the cows on a feed-by-feed basis. This is cheaper than making and then feeding out silage.

I will not make any expensive second cut. Instead, I hope to keep any longer areas and feed them as saved pasture into the late summer period.

Cows are in late lactation by then and in my experience do a good job.

The Platemeter Discussion Group met recently. We should call it the Red Bull group because it is definitely stimulation for body and mind. Some group members are achieving 11-12p a litre production costs on a Comparable Farm Profit basis – excluding rent, finance and quota leasing costs.

I have just worked out the figures at Cucumber Farm. Last year, 1997/1998 the total expenses figure was 20.6p a litre. This year, 1998/1999, it is down to 18.7p. With the current milk price its hardly something to write home about, but we are only six months into changing the system, so its progress.

The forthcoming year, 1999/2000, could be expensive. All the cows are being milked on, and only nine cows have calved this year, so milk output will be lower. To counteract this, we will use less concentrate and unused quota can be leased out. All we have to do is try to get all the cows in calf within the desired pattern.

Was using gloss enamel with a top coat of varnish as tail-paint cheating?

Christian Fox is keeping his fingers crossed that his cows hold to first service this season.

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