Tighter supplies might bring rise in pig fortunes

12 February 1999

Tighter supplies might bring rise in pig fortunes

Farming has gone hand in

hand with politics in recent

weeks, with Anthony Lee

making two trips to London.

On the farm, milk output and

quality has been under the

spotlight and, fingers

crossed, the pig job looks like

improving. Tim Relf reports

PIG prices are set to move up, and pretty quickly, reckons Anthony Lee.

A lot of farmers have been forced out of business, supplies of weaners are tightening and it wont be long before finished animals are back at or above break-even price. "Allowing us to claw back some of what we have lost."

Anthonys even had a small wager with some of his pals at Western Quality Pigs, the co-op through which stock is marketed, that deadweight values will be back at 85p/kg by the end of next month. "If they are higher than that, I will be happy to have lost the bet."

Despite the more optimistic outlook, Anthony was keen to join the pig march in London last month, taking his grievances to Downing Street. While he accepts the pig business is controlled largely by simple supply and demand there is, he says, "resentment" among farmers at the double standards in government policy towards imports.

Another trip to the capital was also made for the NFU agm, the first Anthony has attended. Farm Minister, Nick Browns, speech was eagerly awaited. "It was the same as the one he gave at a Devon NFU meeting, except without the jokes," says Anthony.

Back at Dowrich, the day-to-day farming continues, with the Lees conscious that the Mar 31 end of the milk year is looming. The aim is to arrive at that date with production about 1.5% above the farms quota, hopefully enabling any threshold to be taken advantage of. (Dowrich has 1,193,439 litres of owned and 40,000 litres of leased quota.) "If we get the rationing right, the cows will do the rest."

But changes to the diet have been forced rather than chosen. When the first-cut silage ran out, switching to the remnants of that cut in 1997 sparked a fall in yields. The every-other-day collection figure which, on Jan 2 had been more than 6500 litres, fell to little more than 6000 by the middle of the month.

Upping the sugar beet pulp in the ration – to 1kg a day for the low yielders and between 2.5 and 3.5kg a day for the high yielders -helped reverse this. But then the move to last summers second-cut silage prompted another downturn.

Initial analysis of this silage suggested a dry matter as low as 17.1%. "I would have thought it would have been 22%-plus," says Anthony, who is planning to have another sample analysed.

Home-grown fodder beet will also soon feature in the diet, after its lifting was completed by a contractor earlier this month. "We were so sick of waiting for the weather, we even started hand-pulling a bit." Yielding about 62t to 74t/ha (25t to 30t/acre), there is now a 300t pile drying off ready for use.

More straights have also been bought forward, with rapemeal and maize gluten, for delivery next winter, taken at £73.50 and £75/t, respectively, last week. "It is speculating, like playing the Stock Exchange," he says. "Prices could well come down even more, but it is cheap now, so it would be unwise not to get some, just in case it does not.

"No one dreamed the price of soya would fall as much as it has. A year ago, I bought some for delivery this winter for £160/t."

At the same time as keeping a close eye on yields, milk quality is also under scrutiny in these wet, dirty winter months. But despite big efforts to improve them, somatic cell counts remain stubbornly in the no penalty/no bonus category. "We have slipped into the penalty band a few times. But, unfortunately, we have not tried the bonus yet."

Figures now suggest that making it into the bonus band by culling the worst-offending animals could cost more than it returns. With a total output of about 100,000 litres a month, the extra quality would mean £200 more to the bottom line. "The difference in price between a cull cow and a replacement is £300 to £400. And there is no guarantee that the new one will be much better."

So the less radical option of treating problem cows with antibiotics has been pursued. But it is not that easy, as the goalposts keep moving. One cow that, in January, had the highest count – more than 5,000,000, and contributed 6% of the herds total – was recorded at just 39,000 in October.

Some animals, though, are regular offenders. One, for example, recorded more than 1,100,000 in November, December and January. That one, needless to say, is not Anthonys favourite. &#42


&#8226 A 235ha (580-acre) family farm in mid-Devon, run by Anthony Lee, his father Michael and his brothers, Roger and Christopher.

&#8226 Dairy herd of 220 Holstein Friesians averaging 5800 litres a year.

&#8226 Outdoor pigs reared from 220 sows.

&#8226 Potatoes grown on the farm and on rented land.

&#8226 Strong emphasis on co-operative marketing.

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