Stores of high quality hay will see out winter
The dry spell that allowed
conservation of some
excellent fodder at Cilgoed
broke just in time to avoid a
serious grazing problem.
Robert Davies reports
CEIRIOG Jones is delighted with the quality of the 300 big bales and 540 small bales of hay now in store, and he expects the 400 big bales of silage made will feed well.
"We were fortunate to be able to rent 15.3ha (38 acres) of extra grass. Conditions were near perfect and I cannot remember making such good hay. Hopefully, we now have enough fodder in store for the reduced number of stock we expect to winter."
The space available to store straw is also full with a mixture of 17t of big bales that cost £42/t and 11t of small bales that were delivered for £52/t. Another 40t will be required over the winter and he had hoped to forward buy for staggered delivery, as he did last year, but firming demand has made suppliers keen to operate a spot market.
Parts of the farm were beginning to burn up badly and with the planned reduction in stock numbers only partly achieved, grass was getting short. Fortunately, Mr Jones had already decided to keep most of this years lambs in store condition to finish in February and March.
The system worked well last year when he picked up a premium-earning contract with an abattoir supplying Marks & Spencer. While there is nothing on paper he has been told that the company is committed to marketing Welsh lamb early next year.
"While we are overstocked it makes sense to forget about finishing in the autumn, when markets are glutted, and keep lambs ticking over cheaply until October or November. The system gives us more marketing options."
If the M&S contract is offered he will have to supply lambs that classify R or better for conformation and 2 and 3L for fat cover. This was not a problem last winter. Meeting the 16-22kg weight specification will be even easier now that he has bought his first set of lamb scales.
The £355 investment follows the farms selection as one of three technology transfer units that will be monitored by the Meat and Livestock Commission as part of the EU-funded Welsh Sheep Strategy project. Eight local farmers have been asked to join a community group and will meet on the farm next month to look at all aspects of management.
Getting involved in the scheme has already brought the offer of a free foot rot vaccination programme. The condition is not particularly troublesome most seasons, but there has been an unusually high incidence scald this year and the footbath has been in regular use.
With summer holiday help from his children Charlotte and Clwyd, he has checked and condition scored all the ewes at weaning. Those carrying a little too much fat have been housed for a month and fed good quality straw.
The aim is to have rising condition into tupping. Housing relieves pressure on available grazing to ensure there is good grass for flushing the ewes. Other ewes will be allocated according to condition to fairly bare pasture or silage aftermaths.
These have been dressed with a 26:0:11 fertiliser and 15t of nitrogen has been applied to grazing areas that were looking rough.
Generally, the ewes and lambs are in good condition. The 32 selected for culling, including 15 fleshy younger sheep with udder problems, sold for a "pathetic" average of £7.50 a head after deductions.
"The cull ewe market is in chaos. It is almost impossible to give away some small hill ewes and the position seems certain to get worse as numbers at markets increase. It would help a lot if the MLC stopped collecting levy on killing ewes."
Mr Jones is worried that the poor cull ewe price and collapse of prime lamb returns will rebound on the autumn breeding ewe sales. He will sell 150 Beulahs and is preparing himself for a small cheque.
A hired Belgian Blue bull went lame so Mr Jones has invested in his own. The long-bodied, well-grown, five-year-old cost £840 at a local sale. That day at market, and judging Beulahs at two local shows, showed him just how depressed farming has become.
"I try to remain optimistic, but it is difficult when I look at prices and the frightening way my stock valuation has fallen over the past three years. Talking to others it seems that everyone is having to think twice about investing any money, which cannot be good for suppliers or farms.
He though the 70p/kg realised by 31 lambs that were ready at weaning three weeks ago was bad, but the market has continued to weaken.
"I am backing the proposed all-Wales red meat co-operative because it is a case that we pull together now or never. If everyone sticks together we can have the strength to deal with powerful supermarkets."
The continued improvement in the beef trade means the decision to buy 10 extra units of beef cow quota rather than reducing the herd to 50 cows should pay off. So, too, should the purchase of Saler bulls from a neighbour. These are putting on 2kg a head a day and should be ready by the end of October. *