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.
I HAVE to write this 10 days in advance of publication and hope by then the situation regarding foot-and-mouth will be clearer.
As we take in the sad sight of pyres burning around the UK and outbreak sites looking like measles on a childs back, we are trying to organise day to day running of the farm.
Lambing 1100 sheep and calving more than 40 cows is imminent and if we cannot get prime stock away, accommodation and feed will become a serious problem. Consumers have stated strongly that they want to buy British meat and we must try to fulfil that. But some meat plants are trying to source at lower prices than they were before the outbreak: Is that profiteering or what?
The endless thirst of processors and supermarkets for more profit from lower prices affects primary producers most. Advertising is about price, price, price. No mention of high standards of production, hygiene and welfare. At the NFU conference it emerged that for every £1 spent on food, only 9p goes back to primary producers.
As for the cost to the government, just think how much the present little exercise is costing and how many hospitals and schools it would have funded. Can we afford to pay for supermarkets and their shareholders hunger for cheap food? Do not forget foot-and-mouth disease was imported and we must keep our disease-free status to export high quality livestock all over the world.
We did manage to get some slaughter stock away. I was stopped twice on the way there – so much for not stopping on your journey. Then I got lost in Black-pool, ending up on the prom and having to enlist the help of a taxi driver to take me to the abattoir.
While washing out the trailer, suddenly all gates were locked with no-one being allowed in or out. A hopping sheep was suspect; I think everyone is a bit twitchy at the moment. I had visions of having to send an SOS for food parcels and pyjamas. However, after what seemed like many hours all was well and we were allowed out. *
No stopping on the way…but Gordon Capstick was stopped twice by the authorities to check paperwork when taking licensed cattle for slaughter.
Miles Saunders has been
farming organically since
1989. Main enterprises on
his 370ha (915-acre) Oxon
farm are 250 milking cows
and followers, 80 beef cattle
and 200 Mule ewes. Wheat
and beans are also grown
IN COMMON with farmers across the country, the foot-and-mouth crisis has come as a shock.
We have been doing as much as we can to cut risk of the disease spreading to our farm by putting down footbaths, soaked straw for vehicles and using a knapsack sprayer for disinfection. Our farm staff are extremely worried and are leaving their cars at the end of the drive.
It is difficult to know how far to go, but animals under stress are more likely to contract a disease, so calf de-horning has been delayed until the threat has diminished. We need to spread dirty water on to pastures, but this has been postponed as well.
One thing that has become a daily ritual is finding information, either through television news, Ceefax or web-sites.
Movement restrictions will cause big problems soon, with some dry cows about to calve in buildings away from the main farm. We cannot bring them back because we would have to cross two main roads. Although I have some trouble, my thoughts are with those farmers that have actually been affected by this dreadful disease.
Fortunately, our ewes were on the right side of the road when movement restrictions came in and have finished grazing dairy pastures. They have now been housed and separated into groups, depending how many lambs they are expecting.
Scanning results were slightly disappointing with an estimated lambing percentage of 178%. They all look in good condition, most having a condition score of three. Dry weather in February really helped get ewes in shape.
Last year was the first year I used Huskvac to control lungworm in heifers. In the past an anthelmintic was used after lungworm appeared. Growth rates last summer were far better than in previous years, with animals gaining an extra 50kg over summer. Heifers have continued to grow well and there has been no sign of lungworm over winter. *
Fortunately, Miles Saunderss in-lamb ewes were on the right side of the road when movement restrictions came in, but he was less lucky with his dry cows.
Christian Fox manages 130
spring-calving cows and
followers, on a 200ha
(500 acre) mixed farm in
West Sussex, with 150ha
(380 acres) of arable crops.
He is aiming for high profits
and low costs by maximising
use of grazed grass
CALVING is now in full swing here at Cucumber. It has largely gone well, apart from a couple of heifers having trouble with very large calves.
One rather minor side effect of foot-and-mouth is that we are unable to sell our non-replacement calves. This has placed a lot of pressure on our meagre facilities and they are consuming rather a lot of saleable milk. Still, perhaps a small price to pay compared with those who are losing serious money or stock.
Grass is almost as scarce as MAFF-approved disinfectant. Growth has been non-existent so far this spring. The saturated ground has remained too cold for grass to grow, whatever T-sum authors may say.
Cows are out grazing by day, but we are strictly rationing grass to ensure we dont run out before growth finally takes off. To make up the grass gap I have brought brewers grains which, together with silage, form the evening ration. Needless to say this is being self-fed behind a wire.
My ability to increase profit on this farm has been greatly hindered by my inability to drive a tractor properly. I have managed to re-model several parts of the cowshed this winter. This may have improved airflow but has not improved cash flow.
We are milking once a day, which may seem an unusual policy but I have been unhappy with the condition of older Holstein-type cows that really dont do very well on this system. They are one to 1.5 condition scores less than Friesian cows.
While many would consider this a good time to get out of farming, I believe it is a time of great opportunity. We have therefore decided to take the plunge and will move in April to run our own cows in Wiltshire.
At least, that is the plan: Having purchased 200 of our 300 cows we are unable to move them to the new farm. Many of them are due to calve shortly and it is looking unlikely that we will be able to start milking when we planned. As ever, we live in interesting times.
This will surely be a winter that will go down in history; record rainfall, flooding and foot-and-mouth – Im already preparing for the summer drought. *
Foot-and-mouth movement restrictions mean Christian Fox is unable to sell non-replacement calves which are consuming rather a lot of saleable milk.
John Yeomans farms 89ha
(220 acres) of mixed hill
and upland near Newtown in
mid-Wales. The farm is split
between hill and upland,
with the hill land in two
blocks running up to 426m
(1400ft). It is stocked
with 70 suckler cows,
including some Limousins
and 540 breeding sheep,
AS I write on St Davids Day the future looks grim. I always try to keep my ramblings light, positive and hopefully mildly humorous but this is so different.
We are in an exclusion zone and thoughts of cattle growth rates, feed rations and the like seem pretty trivial as people lose their lifes work and we all lurch from news report to news report with the dark shadow over us.
The practicalities of no stock movements are proving difficult in day to day farm management as lambing looms and space here is limited. As usual, some of the media are already talking about this "British" disease exported to Europe like BSE.
Lets hope tighter controls on food imports will arise from this tragedy. I think the government is realising that although we are less than 2% of the population the ramifications of problems for UK farmers are enormous.
Our boys, like many others in the area, are off school and they too are worried that their cows will have to be slaughtered. One bright part of the day was a call from Phil Rees our Barclays manager.
I know most people dread a call from the bank manager, but he was phoning to offer help and support from himself and his assistant Brian Wilson – not from the Beach Boys.
It is important at dark times like this to know our banks are with us and it was Phil who had found exclusion zone details through the MAFF web-site. Although we have phoned helplines, Im still not sure what being in an exclusion zone means.
We are hoping to spread 125kg/ha (50kg/acre) of 46% urea by the first week of March. This could be followed by a second dressing in late March to provide grass at home if movement restrictions are still in place.
With our ground in seven blocks of various sizes early grass growth will prove important if we are unable to take stock to the hills. Two pieces of low phosphate rented ground will receive 250kg/ha (100kg/acre) of a sulphate of ammonia/fibrophos mix at 17:20:10.
For now all I can say is good luck to all of you. *
Stock movement restrictions will bring difficulties for John Yeomans as this years lambing season looms.