John Martin

15 May 1998

John Martin

John Martin farms in

partnership with his parents

on the Ards Peninsula 15

miles 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 for feed and

for sale

I DISCOVERED early in my farming career that education is a poor substitute for common sense.

My college days told me that at the beginning of May, according to the grass growth curve, I should be standing waist deep in grass. But a quick look in any of my fields tells me that theory is not always borne out by practice.

The unseasonal cold snap over Easter combined with biting winds, resulted in limited grass growth in a year when we had hoped to keep costs down with an early turnout. Until a few days ago only calved cows and heifers were outdoors, unsure where their next bite was coming from.

The recent milder temperatures have allowed yearling cattle to go out, although they are still getting a little rolled barley to help with the transition. Heifers averaged 340kg, most having already reached the target bulling weight of 320kg. They were treated with a pour-on to control parasites, in preference to the bolus used in previous years, which is more expensive. I hope the bullocks will have become cash by now, although they are later being marketed this year due to a slow demand as a result of the grass situation.

Only a few older cows have yet to calve, with all young calves now dehorned and having received a pneumonia vaccine to counter any risk. We had been waiting to receive our new double ear-tags which have arrived at last, so all recent additions are modelling this seasons accessory in yellow.

The early lambs have had a bit of a set-back due to the wet weather, so there are fewer sold than we would have liked. But the last 15 sold averaged about 22.3kg and realised £56, going to our regular butcher for local consumption.

The rest of the early lambs are now weaned and well settled. We sold the first 27 cull ewes to average £28 each, but the price has fallen considerably since then.

The green £ revaluation on May 1 will compound problems within the lamb market depending on exports, and any return to exporting beef will also be at the mercy of the currency dealers.

It is disheartening to know that we as farmers can be technically efficient on our farms, but that profitability is determined in dealing rooms.

Conversely it may encourage us to look to tighten our belts, perhaps giving greater efficiency in the future, but I have to look with some envy at the 11 member states who have joined the Euro.

Only a few of John Martins older suckler cows are left to calve.

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