The new storage barn was finally completed in mid October, allowing the transfer of all straw bales, from various buildings, to this purpose made store in time for housing cattle, due by early November.
The Lewes based barn builders, GE White, run by brothers Garry and Jason White, gave an excellent service and once the South Downs National Park Authority finally entered the real world and got their act together (agreeing that our original proposal was actually acceptable), Whites had the building up in double quick time. We moved some 2,000 tonnes of chalk base to set the barn down in the hillside, so making it hardly visible to the two thousand homes projected to overlook the farm – due to rising sea levels and global warming you know!
The restored 12/12 herringbone parlour is back in operation, much to herdsman Simon and Emma’s great relief; although tinged with some disappointment on my part after nearly seven years of our robotic experience. It is a simple fact that robots are great if there is a fair milk price, but at the figures we have seen – and are still getting and indeed look like getting for a while – it simply doesn’t add up. Jam tomorrow doesn’t pay the bills.
I read last month of a new robotic unit being set up in Chile with some 84 robots and 6,500 cows. They will need their own engineers in permanent attendance to ensure the cows get milked, because three units were more than enough of a headache here!
Last month we suffered anxiety most cattle farmers recognise, with another 60 day TB test. It followed the trauma of a severe interpretation test in July after which Deathra took one in-calf heifer and three cows from the two farms as reactors. In the end all three laboratory results came back as negative, so three good milkers and a smashing first calver taken at a derisory imposed level of compensation were lost, leaving less animals to produce for us. Not even a sorry from Deathra, just a blank refusal to accept their operatives are anything but perfect, when, for a fact, they made at least four mistakes the day they tested our animals. The whole department appears out of touch with reality, and with their prevailing superior attitudes, one has to wonder if they even want to get on top of TB. They have nice steady career jobs the way they are going. Why change it? The cattle and the worry are not theirs.
One thing Deathra should do immediately is include the whole of Sussex in the area where roadkill badgers and deer are collected free of charge and officially tested, as our neighbouring counties are. There is clearly a disease source here in West Sussex which needs finding. Why is the area excluded?
We have now had three clear tests. And we have lost these four animals. Having said that, the Animal and Plant Health Agency have now counted the severe interpretation test as a clear result, which thus makes us clear. This means instead of having to contemplate killing our newborn calves we can keep and/or sell them to our regular rearer and so reduce the pressure on winter feed.
What has this country come to? Here we are, protecting badgers like a rare species, when they do nothing but damage to farms, private gardens and other wildlife, almost wiping out the whole southern English population of hedgehogs and costing the country’s taxpayers in excess of £100 million annually in TB compensation. Neither do they have any obvious value as food, no valuable skins or demand these days as shaving brushes, while breeding like proverbial rabbits.
We took time out last month to travel to Argyll to see the fast growing forest – the first visit in some 16 months – and were duly encouraged. The first of some 750,000 sitka spruce, planted in 2011/12, with many already approaching 15 feet in height really make for an impressive sight. On the higher ground, up to 800 feet, growth is slower but the trees look generally vigorous. We met our agents on site and, among them, the business and development manager for Scottish Woodlands who, on seeing the land for the first time, could hardly believe the growth rate. Probably because it is an old, fertile dairy farm – but also the wet mild winds, constantly blowing in across the Clyde from over the Irish Sea, contribute significantly.
It was encouraging to have read a few weeks beforehand that timber/forestry is presently returning the highest annual increase in value of any type of available investment in the UK, including London property. If anyone is interested there is a lot of land up there needing planting!
It appears our various local contractors have had a wonderful run at the huge acreages of maize grown this year in West Sussex. Most of the increased acres are doubtless destined for the various anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. Maize grown under contract for these plants makes a great alternative to cereals and should eventually also improve the prospects for all arable farmers. But these plants have to work within their planning conditions, aggravating as that may be. Presently there are some local problems.
What growers really need is more AD plants across the country to return arable cropping to a profitable future. The cost of building those developments is huge and the cash returns (feed in tariffs) from generating the energy seem to be reduced rather too often, making them increasingly less viable.