Welcome cash from lambs
Poor inward cash flow, an impending court case and some hefty machinery repair bills meant the year did not start well at Gelli Garneddau. Robert Davies reports
WITH just a few tail-end lambs to sell, and no subsidy payments arriving, income is always low in January, when the Daltons bank manager makes his annual visit.
This year they were able to tell him that the Christmas poultry enterprise had done as well as the year before, despite a £500 rise in labour costs.
A determined effort to sell more birds to private customers has paid off, it seems, although figures are not yet final. An overall price increase of 22p/kg (10p/lb), and the 88p/kg (40p/lb) premium on higher retail sales should have covered the extra cost of producing 550 turkeys, 100 chickens and 130 ducks.
The decision to spread labour demand by dry-feathering 170 turkeys a few days early looked like a mistake when the outside temperature started to rise. But the cold returned and the longer-hung birds were easier to draw and truss than later-killed ones.
"They also looked tremendous, which is very important for direct sales," says Margaret Dalton. "So, too, is the opportunity for the customer to be reassured by a visit to the production unit."
Most of the poultry sheds have been cleaned, and some are already housing older ewes that are due to start lambing on Mar 1. The flock has been scanned at a cost of 42p a ewe and is due to produce 638 lambs, or about 1.75 lambs a ewe.
Early lambers have been split according to the number of lambs they are carrying, and are being fed silage and concentrate.
Most ewes are still out. There is little grass for them, but ground conditions are good. Those carrying twins and triplets are getting silage and a little concentrate, but single bearers are on silage and what they can forage.
Some inward cash flow has come from the sale of 24 finished lambs. These weighed an average of 36kg and realised £1.34/kg.
The cattle are doing well, despite a shortage of space caused by failure to complete the erection of a second-hand shed.
The cows are being fed silage alone and the calves have access to a creep feed made up of sugar beet pulp, barley and fishmeal.
When the barley in store ran out, 10t was bought at £106/t delivered. Protein will also be finished soon and will be replaced by whatever is the best buy.
The bank manager seemed to be happy with the state of finances, and the way that John Daltons now separate contracting business is repaying the cost of tackle that was previously owned by the farm. Arctic conditions at the start of the year stopped sludge injection work, but allowed tankers to be used to spread 477,750 litres (105,000gal) of slurry on 23.4ha (58 acres) at Gelli Garneddau.
The tackle was also used to spread slurry on five other farms, providing a valuable income boost.
A prosecution by the Department of Transport threatens the future of the contracting business. Mr Dalton has been charged with not having a road haulage operators licence, and the adjourned case is due to be heard before Aberystwyth Magistrates on Feb 18.
He believed that his JCB Fastrac was exempt, as the sewage sludge he was moving was an "agricultural article" as described in the Act. The case is being watched closely by other contractors who use Fastracs for speedy haulage between farms.
A conventional tractor used for contracting broke down recently and is going through a £1500 complete engine rebuild. A £400 fuel pump repair has also been done on a 1994 farm tractor, three new bearings have to be fitted to the silage feeder and £500 worth of accidental damage has been done to the farms JCB loader. The Daltons hope the latter problem is covered by insurance.
Meanwhile the partners continue to improve their computer skills. All current year records have been input by ADAS consultant Margaret Griffiths, and Mrs Dalton has used the PC to make a VAT return.
Margaret Dalton dispenses rations to a group of triplet-bearing ewes. Good ground conditions have enabled the ewes to stay outside.
• A 125ha (310-acre) less favoured area beef and sheep unit in mid-Wales farmed by Margaret Dalton and her son John, who also operates contracting services.
• Managed in association with an ADAS full-farm advisory package.
• Quota for 435 ewes. Scotch Mules are put to Rouge tups and the female progeny used to produce Texel sired prime lambs.
• Quota for 85 sucklers, Hereford x Friesians, Welsh Blacks and Longhorn x Welsh Blacks, used to breed Charolais cross stores.
• Small poultry enterprise.
• One full-time stockman, and variable number of full and part-time contracting staff.