HILL SURVIVAL A STEEP JOB…

20 March 1998




HILL SURVIVAL A STEEP JOB…

By Robert Davies

CLIMATIC conditions at Gwynfaes, Rhandirmwyn, make it hard to use grazed grass. While lowland producers just a few miles away are able to exploit the countys excellent grass growing conditions by extending the grazing season, Stephen Jones can graze only between Apr 20 and early October.

With sloping land running from 210m to 270m (700ft to 900ft), spring arrives late. And a 154cm (60in) rainfall means poaching can be a serious problem. Growing maize is out of the question, so it is not easy to increase milk production from forage above the current 3000 litres a cow.

Mr Jones is attempting to improve silage quality by cutting earlier, even when crops are light, and by going for high dry matter. But he has decided that the best way of making a profit is to improve yields and play the straights market to reduce concentrate costs. He also plans to produce high genetic merit heifers for sale.

Herd average has increased from 5000 litres to 7400 litres in five years. If the milk price:feed price ratio is right he is confident that an average of 9000 litres a cow is easily achievable.

"Should quotas disappear I believe we could double our present milk output of 450,000 litres a year from 60ha," claims Mr Jones. "Our options are limited anyway because we cannot use grass the way some producers can, and we could never make a living from sheep and beef."

But he is worried about the falling milk price. Already margin over purchased feeds has fallen from £1200 a cow to £1045, and with hefty borrowings to service the enterprise needs an extra 2p/litre margin over concentrates to be in the black.

His aim is to reduce the present concentrate cost of 4.5p/litre to 3p/litre. Better silage can contribute, so too can a switch to post turn-out grazing of high yielders on small paddocks sown to tetraploid ryegrasses. The system is designed to eliminate the check in production that occurred when cows came off a complete diet.

Juggling the components of the diet could also shave costs. Mr Jones keeps a close eye of the price of straights and formulates his own least cost 18% protein ration. In early February it contained maize gluten, flaked wheat, oats, sugar beet, molasses and soya.

"I do not believe that the cows need 20% protein for the present level of production, but the quality of the ingredients must be high."

Even if nothing is spent on machinery and buildings, Mr Jones admits that the next year or so will be difficult unless the milk price improves. As on many small Welsh hill farms the income his wife Eluned earns from a part-time job is vital.

"We can try to reduce costs and farm as efficiently as possible, but without fair competition throughout the EU and a higher milk price upland farms like ours will struggle to survive." &#42

Profitable milk production has become very difficult on hill farms such as that run by Stephen Jones.

LOWER MILK PRICE

Coping with lower milk price:

&#8226 Reduce concentrate cost by 1.5p/litre.

&#8226 Improve silage quality and use of grass.

&#8226 Control expenditure on captital items.

Coping with lower milk price:

&#8226 Reduce concentrate cost by 1.5p/litre.

&#8226 Improve silage quality and use of grass.

&#8226 Control expenditure on captital items.


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