Standstill means plan vital
By Hannah Velten
ALTHOUGH there are signs the Over 30-Month Scheme could be reinstated in England and Wales within the month, cattle will remain on farms for some time and tight management is vital to cut financial losses, warn experts.
Overstocking problems have been compounded due to loss of markets and movement restrictions, with some beef finishers as well as dairy and suckler producers being stuck with cattle over 30 months old.
Overstocking on dairy and suckler units is set to rise at a time when producers would usually be looking to cull cows from herds as autumn approaches.
David Cooke, Promar Internationals national dairy strategy consultant estimates an average of 14-15 dairy culls/farm are already complete passengers. "These cows are giving no milk and are eating precious silage/grass stocks needed for winter."
When possible, cull dairy cows should be tightly stocked at 24/ha (10/acre), on sacrifice land to provide a maintenance diet without breaching welfare codes, he advises.
When housed, they should be offered a straw/hay-based ration with minimal concentrate.
To further preserve grass/silage stocks, unproductive lactating dairy cows should be dried off. "Decide on the break-even litreage based on the feeding system and establish whether cows are producing enough milk to cover feed costs," he says.
But some suckler producers may be able to keep designated cull cows productive, says Pembrokeshire-based Promar beef consultant John Crimes.
"Culls that are on the list for poor fertility, not age or physical health, may get back into calf when given more chances or it may be possible to keep milky sucklers useful by buying in calves for them to rear."
But cull cows are only part of the over-stocking problem on one Cheshire-based dairy unit. "There are cows everywhere on-farm but no way of marketing them," says Alan Gardiner of Oak Farm, Styal, Wilmslow. There are 25 cull cows and an extra 20-30 freshly calved heifers and cows that would normally have been sent to market.
Grass stocks are getting tighter and Mr Gardiner is concerned that he has neither the housing or forage to see these extra cows through winter. "If OTMS movements do not begin soon, the only option may be to apply for the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme."
According to the Intervention Board, disposal scheme payment for over 30-month breeding cows and heifers is £900 a head and averages £320 a head for other OTMS cattle, depending on their weight.
These other cattle include finished beef cattle reaching 30-months old before sale which are a problem for Berwicks-based beef producer Keith Redpath, vice-chairman of the National Beef Association. Apart from an extra 18 cull cows running with the herd – numbers will rise after autumn calving – he has three over 30-month finishers remaining on-farm.
"These will have to go on the OTMS when it finally restarts. But I am keeping paperwork so I can appeal to DEFRA for compensation for the financial shortfall caused by movement restrictions."
Forward planning is essential in areas where beef finishers can be marketed, says Mr Crimes. "By keeping good records of age and performance, producers can plan ahead for movement licences so stock can be moved before they are too old. In some cases it may be necessary to house cattle and finish them intensively." *