2 August 2002


By Robert DaviesWales correspondent

POOR early summer growing conditions have made management of Gelli Aur Colleges spring calving herd a real challenge and hit income severely, but hopefully the action taken should ensure cows are pregnant.

The cows were turned out to adequate grass in the day from Feb 17 and at night from Apr 2. But a cold, wet spell hit grass growth. This and severe poaching forced the herd back inside for the critical two middle weeks of the breeding season.

Fortunately, there was some spare maize silage and the cows also received 2kg/head a day of sugar beet pulp, costing £200/t. Average yield in May 200l was 20.7 litres/cow a day, which was 1.3 litres/day less than budget and 3.8 litres/cow a day less than in May 2001.

Milk quality also suffered and sent the May milk price plunging to 12.37p/litre. Margins over purchased feed fell to £8664 for the herd and £77/cow. The year before they were £15,068 and £125/cow.

Margin over purchased feed was 12.14p/litre compared with 17.7p last May and a budgeted figure of 13.6p. However, the rolling margin over feed of 16.53p/litre was better than the 16.19p achieved in the same month last year.

"We hope we acted in time to ensure that most cows which had conceived held on to their calves, but there have been more repeat services this year," says farm manager John Owen.

The 104 autumn calving cows, in the second herd, managed to obtain a high margin/cow went out by day on Apr 10 and stayed out at night from 10 days later.

Although they were less dependent on grazed grass, they too lost yield when grass quantity and quality fell. Threshold production for feeding concentrate was cut from 20 litres/day to 18, or 16 for the leanest cows. In May average yield/cow was almost identical with the 2001 figure, but 1.8 litres/cow a day less than the budgeted figure.

Daily concentrate use was 1.3kg/head up at 3.3kg, and purchased feed cost/litre was 1.9p compared with 1.16p last May. Monthly margins over purchased feeds were £10,313 for the whole herd and £99/cow. In 2001, the corresponding figures were £11,804 and £123/cow.

The margin/litre was 14.2p, compared with 17.94p last May and a target figure of 14.57p. As with the other herd, the rolling average margin/litre was higher than the year before at 13.92p, which was 0.32p/litre below the budget.

Mr Owen and project manager Arwel Davies are confident that the development of both herds is on track. But they concede that the very low milk price threatens the futures of even the most efficient producers.

Finding four TB reactors among the 500 cattle on the farm has not helped moral and means that surplus calves cannot be sold. "The first 50-60 good Holstein bulls and beef cross calves will be retained for finishing and the rest will be shot," says Mr Owen.

John Owen (right) and Arwel Davies have managed to overcome seasonal difficulties to keep both the Gelli Aur herds on track.

&#8226 Poor grazing season.

&#8226 Spring calvers housed.

&#8226 Yields fell on autumn calvers.

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