Jimi Hendrix to blame

I SPENT Christmas Eve bringing maiden heifers from Tillington back to Crouchlands for the winter in our stock trailer; it was pretty wet and windy in the morning, but calmed down a little in the afternoon.

Normally we would run these animals out to graze, allowing them to come back in for food and some shelter, but this year we decided to bring them into the cubicle shed at Crouchlands, keeping them off the wet ground and training them to use cubicles whilst they are small enough to instantly take to the comfortable beds; even if half of them are in there back to front!

Once they have got used to cubicles, they never forget what they are for; where a much larger animal takes longer to work out how it all works.

The day after Boxing Day, I was on the road again with my trailer, this time bringing back the bull and the heifers he has been running with for the past couple of months, which are all in calf by now I hope.

This group have been grazing with no other feed and we did not run out of grass at Tillington; indeed they should have lasted at least another month or so, which could have then gone on to spring, depending on the weather. The stormy weather on Christmas morning and the rain since made any grazing almost impossible, as the grass just got spoilt underfoot. They too are in cubicles, tucking in to some food and very grateful not to be out in the rain.

We had an uneventful time over Christmas on the farm (which we like!), although we did need to pump dirty water to our lagoons due to the torrential rain. The lads were all done by 8am on Christmas morning, but had started the yard-work very early, so that two of them were in the parlour during milking in order to speed things up. The cows took it all in their stride; pleased to be back in their dry warm sheds earlier than usual, with more time to tuck into their food. Their food is going to cost me more from late January onwards as I run out of contract on rapemeal; a contract which I took out last winter and has saved me a lot of money so far this winter. Other contracts ran out a few months ago and we have been staggered (just like everyone else) at the total cost of our feed each month.

Boxing Day saw the hunts all out and various friends and family went to support the Chiddingfold and Leconfield Hunt, whilst others went to see the Surrey Union. Some of the lads had a rough shoot around the farm, coming back with pheasant, pigeon and some duck. It’s a pity that crows, magpies, and jackdaws are not game, as we have plenty of them and they are a real nuisance in the sheds and in the maize silage clamp. At Lady Place near Ripley, we have not only crows attacking the maize ‘Ag-Bags’, but parakeets! Great flocks of these destructive birds can rip plastic sheeting in a matter of hours, making a real mess of things. I understand that a licence to shoot them has been issued as they have taken to sharpening their beaks on the half-timber houses in the area! I am told they originated in Chertsey, and bred in the wild; a local character told me that it was in fact Jimi Hendrix who released the first pair and that he is to blame. They do not belong that’s for sure, and they are certainly destructive.

What will 2013 bring? I can assure you that all farmers are going to be praying for a dry spring, and better weather overall for the year ahead. There is so much planting to do up and down the country, much of it will involve re-drilling failed and poor crops and the damage caused by slugs. Stock farmers will be desperate to turn cattle out early as silage stocks are low with poor quality affecting performance; some have failed to harvest their maize, others have had cattle in much of the summer and are very low on stocks. Feed prices are extraordinary high, and the sooner cattle are out grazing, the more can be saved in crippling costs. Straw is expensive, and again money to be saved if cattle can be turned out.

There is no doubt that bovine TB will feature very heavily again this year as the culling programme is due to start in the summer; no doubt there will be difficulties and a fair bit of tension around the issue. I expect the RSPCA to grab headlines in 2013 as Gavin Grant pushes on with his very high risk strategy of attracting donations through newspaper headlines and high profile action. Even the High Court Judge commented on the £330,000 spent on the political prosecution of David Cameron’s local hunt (Heythorpe Hunt). Grant is unrepentant and we can expect more of the same is the message. I wonder if the young radicals he will undoubtedly attract with this course of action have the money needed to donate, as the traditional RSPCA supporter abandons the charity which in the past has done so much good, but is now rapidly turning into a political monster.

The Common Agricultural Policy will chunter on, with the NFU now pitched against Defra in a battle to protect what is left of the infamous ‘level playing field’, as Defra moves to support more environment protection at the expense of production. We already have rising food prices; it can only go one way if Defra pursues this policy, with more of our industry exported to other countries, giving away our higher animal welfare standards and delivering a hefty kick in the groin to farmers who are already struggling. The 7,500 amendments tabled in Brussels have now been whittled down to 100 ‘compromise amendments’, and the great danger for English farmers is that greater flexibility for member states will give Defra more of a free hand. It’s a sad state of affairs when the greatest threat is your own government.

The ‘Schmallenberg’ virus is now thought to have spread across the whole of the UK, and it will cause serious worries for stock farmers as lambing and calving gets underway in a few weeks’ time.

It was confined to Southern and Eastern England last spring, but the midges have now taken it to most areas, with over 1000 farms officially having the disease detected. We can only hope that in the South East some level of immunity will have established, sparing farmers the worst of the disease.

The immediate issue at hand is the failure of many EU countries to meet the sow-stall ban. Cast your mind back twelve months and it was all about the ban on the caged laying hen, only this time the pig industry has had nine years notice, and despite the millions spent in the UK to comply, many other countries are nowhere near meeting the legislation. The anticipated reduction in the European sow herd, which would have helped to increase pig meat prices, is less likely to happen now. There will need to be a push to make consumers aware of the welfare standards of British pig farming in order to combat imports not up to the new legislation.