Weather looks hay OK

29 June 2001




Weather looks hay OK

Brilliant late June weather

brought the unexpected

bonus of 126 big bales of

super quality hay.

Robert Davies reports

NOTHING really compares with June hay made of young grass under ideal conditions, says Ceiriog Jones.

"When I heard the weather was set fair for a week, it seemed sensible to cut and bale 10ha (25 acres) of off-lying land. But putting the bales in store would be a fire risk, so they will stay out for a couple of weeks."

The conserved grass was the tail-end of the flush of growth that occurred when the temperature rose at the end of May. This boosted lamb weight gains, and put extra flesh on 196 old ewes due to go for killing. But the benefits were short lived because soils that were waterlogged and compacted during the spring dried out fast and set like concrete.

"Over the last year the weather seems to have swung from one extreme to the other, making it very difficult to plan grazing management. We managed to sell the cull ewes and 29 store cattle, but the return of the 170 yearling ewes that were trapped on away wintering means we are ending the month a bit short of grass."

The situation will be eased when the first 50 finished lambs are sold in a week or so. These should weigh around 38kg and Mr Jones is already trying to find an abattoir prepared to pay a quality premium.

"Foot-and-mouth has changed the whole market-place. If the auctions stay closed for much longer many producers who enjoy the cut and thrust of deal making will not return. I have always supported live and deadweight selling, but there must be a question mark about the future of auctions, especially if the proposed 20-day movement standstill is imposed."

Mr Jones paid commission to his local market for finding an outlet for 158 of his cull ewes. Some of these were under 15.5kg and made quite low prices. Overall they averaged £13.19/head after deducting costs.

The other 38 ewes were bigger and weighed an average of 19.8kg on the hook at a Stockport abattoir. These returned £21.80 apiece after costs.

Several buyers were interested in the 41 store cattle Mr Jones wanted to sell, but the price they offered for the 12 smallest heifers was so poor that he decided to hang on to them. The other 10 each weighed about 350kg, while 19 steers averaged 340kg. The average return a head for the 29 stores was £441.

"I suppose the return from the cattle was just about acceptable in the circumstances, and the £16 average cull ewe price was better than the £9 average last year. But values remain a long way below what they were four years ago," says Mr Jones.

The ewes that had an extended stay on a Shropshire farm returned in excellent condition after 51 of them were blood-tested. The hope is that they will continue to grow until the autumn, and make prices that justify the decision to spend extra money running them away from home rather slaughtering them on the welfare scheme.

"There could be very firm demand for breeding sheep, even though they might have to be sold over the telephone, on the internet, or through a video auction."

All the lambs have been dosed three times against intestinal parasites. Adult sheep were contract-sheared two weeks earlier than usual, and the woolsacks have already been delivered to the BWMBs Denbigh depot.

Mr Jones has also bought 9t of small bales of feeding straw for drying off the ewes after weaning.

Believing cattle prices could improve next year, he jumped at the chance to buy 13 three-month-old Limousin cross calves. The seven heifers and three bulls cost an average of £160 each. They will stay inside until lamb sales ease grazing pressure, and he believes that they are the type of cattle that "will grow into money".

Provisional farm accounts indicate that the business is still in the doldrums, with livestock valuations down and subsidy payments running at 50% of what they were three years ago. "People cant just go on farming without making profits, and it seems inevitable that the industry is in for a very big shake-up," says Mr Jones.

"Things could get really desperate in the hills at the back end of the year. There is certain to be a two-tier market and there might have to be some sort of a buy-up scheme for the small lambs that normally go to southern Europe."

About 3ha (7.5 acres) of permanent pasture that was "well past its sell-by date" has been reseeded, and the damaging effects of the weather on patches of the 1.6ha (4 acres) reseeded last September have been repaired. Farmer-contractor Alun Williams moved on to Cilgoed this week to start spraying docks, thistles and nettles.

Bringing up a family on a farm located some way from a main road, Mr Jones was reassured by an NFU visit to the North Wales Police helicopter base.

"I was very impressed with the mapping system used that could get the machine and a paramedic to our farm in minutes, and an injured person to hospital very quickly," he says. &#42

FARMFACTS

&#8226 An 81ha (200-acre) farm in north Wales owned and run by Ceiriog Jones and his wife Mair who are also tenants on a further 18ha (44 acres). There is 10ha (25 acres) on an 11-month let.

&#8226 Most land is steep, classified as severely disadvantaged. It carries 600 Builth Wells-type Beulah ewes, 250 ewe lambs and 60 spring and summer calving suckler cows.

&#8226 Older ewes not breeding replacements are put to Bluefaced Leicester tups to produce Welsh Mules for sale as ewe lambs or yearlings. Bull calves, once finished on farm, now planned to be sold on green CIDs.

&#8226 Mr Jones was a Welsh Sheep Strategy scholarship winner in 1998. The farm is one of three in Wales selected for an MLC co-ordinated technology transfer project.


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