Gloomy future as HCLA freeze effects identified

10 October 1997

Gloomy future as HCLA freeze effects identified

The Dalrymples are pressing

the case for a top-up to

suckler cow subsidies

this season, as

Allan Wright reports

The financial year at Kings Arms ended on Sept 30 and the Darymples can already pinpoint the consequences yet to come of the freeze on HLCAs and the withdrawal of the £50 extra payment on each suckler cow.

The figures are clear enough. Suckled calf income was down almost £10,000, or 12%, in 1996/97. But this was recouped from the additional subsidy on the 174 suckler cows for which they have quota.

"That help has now been removed. We cannot realistically expect it to be recovered from extra calf revenue next year and the whole future of beef production from hill and upland units must be in question," says Robert.

Caroline is equally despondent. "The real point, which seems to escape the politicians, is that when farmers suffer a drop in income, the whole rural community feels the effect.

"When we are forced to tighten our belts, we cut costs. That means less work for the local fencer, less spent at the village garage, no new machinery – the whole community begins to fall apart. Some will even make do with less labour which, in turn, could mean poorer land and stock management.

"People come to the countryside and say how nice and tidy it looks. Well, that will no longer be the case. Lack of maintenance and investment will soon make it look tired and depressed," she says.

Robert takes up the theme: "Nobody in the towns would settle for the net income or the return on capital of hill farmers – certainly not that of those in the really high hills where they have to sell everything as stores.

"We were told that the £50 was a one-off payment. But the BSE crisis is still with us and market returns for beef make depressing reading. The latest scare about red meat supposedly causing cancer will only add to the problem. The stark fact is that suckled calf returns are down and there will be no more £50 compensation. Cull cow returns from the OTMS scheme are also way down.

"You have to wonder if it would not make sense to put away some suckler cows and keep more sheep. It has never paid in the past to jump in and out of things, but I am giving the matter some serious thought."

Not that the sheep returns are all that rewarding. Caroline has done the figures for the first 11 months of their year and they show 1591 lambs sold deadweight to the end of August at an average £50, compared with £54.50 for 1144 at the same time last year. Live lamb sales, at £54 apiece for 127, compared with £50 for 298 last year. The extra £9000 of total lamb income has come from an increased crop rather than the market.

Next years crop is already underway. The 30 Suffolk and Texel tups went out to work on Sept 25, and 100 ewes were tupped in the first six days. The pleasing start to a new season lies with attention to detail.

"For two months before tupping time we go through the ewes every week, attending to sore feet and moving those which are too fat onto bare pasture, so that everything gets a real boost when they are flushed on fresh grass for 10 days before tupping.

"Vasectomised rams run with the ewes for 17 days before tupping, and all the ewes are wormed and given both a vitamin drench and a copper bolus, so that we have done all we can to ensure healthy stock and a successful conception rate," says Robert.

The rams wear marker harnesses with the crayon changed through four colours, not by date but by numbers of ewes tupped.

Batch the ewes

"That is to allow us to batch the ewes in groups of 200 for lambing and we follow up by having three scanning sessions to give maximum accuracy in detection of triplets. That allows us to organise feeding according to the number of lambs a ewe is carrying."

Meanwhile, the cattle that have been away on rented grass have returned home to better pasture. "We have much more grass than last autumn. The rain came at just the right time and that has also helped our reseeded field – probably our best ever."

Robert reckons the secret there was a double rolling in the cultivation sequence before seeding so that the grass seed went into a shallow seed-bed, allowing an even germination and emergence.

Ewes receive a vitamin drench and copper bolus (inset) before rams, fitted with marker harnesses, are set to work.


&#8226 Kings Arms and Crailoch Farms, at Ballantrae on the Ayrshire coast, run as one 262ha (650 acre) unit by Robert and Caroline Dalrymple.

&#8226 Grass the only crop – for grazing and high quality silage. It is an early area but land near the sea is sandy and burns easily in summer.

&#8226 Suckler herd of 180 cows mated to Charolais sires and progeny sold as yearlings.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 900 Mule and Texel-cross ewes lambing from mid-February. About 300 hoggs are also lambed.

&#8226 Farm staff of three.

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