John Gordon: Cows are healthy but feeling uncomfortable about the start to the year

AS a livestock farmer I have learnt that you have to be an eternal optimist – you always have to hope next year will be better than the last. On the face of it anything would be better than 2010.

But I already feel uncomfortable about 2011 as six weeks of brutal weather come home to roost. There is a lot of talk of insufficient winter keep. We have bought 200 bales of silage and will probably need to buy another 200 to see us through to the grass.

Ewes are looking well partly because we have thrown silage and molassed tubs at them at significant cost. I just hope the ewes reward us by having enough lambs and there won’t be too many emptys – scanning will be more important then ever.

Finishing lambs is a slow process. Feed is costing around £3 a week per head but at least the finished price has remained firm at an average of around £85 although as I write prices are slipping.

One consolation of the cold weather is the low incidence of pneumonia. Cattle have generally remained healthy. Autumn cows appear to have bulled well and have hopefully settled in calf. Our bull problems continue. This time we have a young bull which ‘corkscrews’ and is unable to serve cows – he will have to go. Fortunately, stockman Doug is very competent with AI.

Spring born calves are thriving on a mix of wholecrop peas, silage and barley. They are on slats so no bedding is needed but we may still sell them quite soon to save silage and move autumn cows and calves onto the slats.

The Pack review has caused a lot of debate. I agree with what it is trying to achieve but the suggested figures are way below where the industry needs them. If people want to continue to have cheap food and a countryside to be proud of our type of farm needs a fair level of support.

The current figures will not achieve this and if these proposals are adopted, the figures will need to be a major rethink or upland livestock farming in the UK will be in real danger of disappearing.

My last few articles have not been as positive as I would have liked, but my father always told me to tell it how it is and that’s what I’ve been doing. As I said in my opening statement you do have to be an eternal optimist – you have to believe good times will come again so we will stick with it!

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