The overwhelming impact of bTB restrictions on the day-to-day running of a farm was today brought home during a farm visit in Carmarthenshire arranged by the Farmers’ Union of Wales.
First hand evidence of the impact of bTB restrictions was outlined during the visit to Penlan Argoed farm, Penlan Road, Carmarthen, run by FUW members Roger and Alison Evans and family.
Mr and Mrs Evans run a herd of 350 dairy cows and have been dealing with the challenges of bTB restrictions since April 2008. Due to the restrictions all unwanted dairy bull calves have had to be put down and beef calves, normally sold at two to three weeks, have to be reared on the farm.
Mr Evans said: “The130-head beef unit now involves a lot of extra work and puts pressure on farm buildings, especially over the winter months. We also had to change our grazing system in order to cope with the high stocking rate that has been forced upon us.
“The cows in milk are split into two groups - early lactation and late lactation. Due to three successive wet summers and as our stocking rate is currently at 3.3 LSU/ha we decided that the early lactation group would have to remain indoors until they are confirmed well in calf at about 140 days.
“This move was taken to reduce the pressure on the grazing land and to allow better quality pasture for the late lactation cows, especially as a lot of the farm is sloping and prone to poaching when wet.”
Due to the high stocking level, growing enough forage became a problem for the family farm. Feeding rationing on the farm is currently based on a semi-total mixed ration (TMR) system with flat rate concentrates being fed in the parlour.
“bTB restrictions have brought many challenges our way and we’ve had to work hard in order to resolve these problems.
“For example a lack of forage has meant that we had to extend the forage part of the ration by feeding brewers grains and sugar beet pressed pulp in the TMR. We also have to buy in additional silage as is needed, either as a standing crop or as silage from a clamp.”
In the past the family has invested heavily in order to increase their output which was already relatively high as their cows are producing on average 8,000 litres per annum.
“It was a case of grow or fold,” said Mr Evans.
The farm now boasts a 30/60 swing over herringbone parlour with a 22,000 litre milk tank and has a cubicle building for 155 cows. But even with the constraints of bTB restrictions Mr and Mrs Evans are looking to the future with an additional building of 50 cubicles and a feed passage for the fresh calver group planned for this winter.
“Our first priority at the moment is to be clear of bTB as early as possible so that we can sell all the beef cattle and increase the dairy herd to 400 cows in order to reach our goal of producing 3.5 million litres of milk per annum,” added Mr Evans.
“In the past we have bought in cattle from local herds and marts but our long term aim is to breed all our own replacements thus operating a totally closed herd in order to minimise disease challenges.”
The family also has plans to replace the older section of the dairy housing with a new more spacious and comfortable building to benefit the higher yielding cow.
Succession is important to Mr and Mrs Evans and they are keen to delegate more responsibilities to the younger generation in the family. “We are lucky our children are keen to farm, and we are keen to see them carry on with our farming tradition,” said Mr Evans.
The family are quite aware that more challenges lie ahead especially in terms of tackling tighter environmental restrictions in light of the effects of climate change. “There is no doubt that challenging times lie ahead of the industry.
“Climate change will undoubtedly bring about stricter environmental controls especially in respect to slurry and farm waste. And farming after 2013, with a reduced or no Single Farm Payment, will also be an obstacle that we’ll have to meet head on,” said Mr Evans.
Speaking after the farm visit, FUW’s dairy committee chairman Eifion Huws said: “The Evans family has a well run farm in Penlan Argoed and they are an example to us all. They have proved that, whatever obstacle is thrown in their way, where there's a will there's a way!”
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