Monday, August 18, 2008

Farm Talk.

Been to Welshpool Livestock Market this morning. Fat lamb trade was respectable, the 'killers' were selling well, and the 'dairies' were on fire. Translation for non farmers coming up.

I was a bit too late for the fat lamb trade, which will be of particular interest to me over the next few weeks as my lambs become ready for slaughter. I'm told that good lambs were making about £6 over their weight in kilograms today - £46 for 40s. That's not great, but not disastrous either.

'Killers' is a shorthand description for cull ewes, female sheep which are no longer suitable for breeding because they are too old, too knackered, or have lost their teeth. When I was young, such sheep were worth next to nothing, but immigration from the Indian sub-continent has created a market in Britain for old ewes. They eat them. Also, some lowland farmers buy the best of these cull ewes to produce one more crop of lambs. They will be maintained on good pasture and given supplementary feeding. The tup will be introduced to them early, so that next years lambs will be ready for market around Easter, when the old girls will make that final journey to the abattoir, for onward passage to the plate.

Dairy cows were very expensive. Most heifers (first calvers) were making over £2,000 each. I'm told that they are especially expensive in Mid and North Wales because it remains illegal to bring animals in from South Wales and most of England because of blue tongue restrictions. The blue tongue zone has recently been extended to all of Wales, but until all animals are vaccinated in our area, bringing dairy replacements in from outside remains banned. So shortage is driving the price up.

I haven't taken much notice of dairy cattle for decades. We retired from milk production about 30 years ago. I admit to finding today's Holstein dairy cows to be hideously ugly. When I was a stockjudge in my youth, Holsteins would have lost out to the old British Friesian every time. At one time I was a member of the Welsh stockjudging team, trained by Mr Edwards of Abermule (I think). The competition involved placing 4 animals in order of merit and explaining to a judge our reasons for doing so. In those days a good dairy cow had a nice straight topline, and flat plates, which was the area between the hips and the pin bones. Mr Edwards would have marked down the Holstein on confirmation grounds - and their udders also tend to be too pendulous, promising only a short productive life. But they do produce a lot more milk though.

I don't suppose many of you are interested in all this stuff, but it was my ticket to the city lights when I was a lad. The Smithfield Show was held in London and we used to stay in the Regent's Palace on Piccadilly. Happy days.

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