With livestock sales marking the end of the grazing season, and the costly winter feeding period upon us, I've been reflecting on the financial standing of my motley collection of livestock.
One of the exercises was an in-depth analysis of the profitability of running the scotch ewes out over the common, done with my boy as I ferried him back to school one Sunday evening – and yes he's loving Brymore thank you very much.
Picking apart the performance of the blackface flock on the common is a relatively simple operation. They are gathered and handled a minimal amount of times, and receive a very low rate of inputs, which we tallied as we trundled up the M5.
Accounting for this labour and factoring my own time at a realistic rate was easy enough, and the cost of the inputs included such outrageous expenses as a trace element bolus, a fluke drench, and a quick swim around the sheep dip.
Tup costs are almost nil, as I sell one or two a year, buy infrequently, and rotate several homebred tups which initially cost no more than a store lamb.
And, please, only bleat about spending more on my inputs and tups to achieve better results from your second home in the south of France, or from the back of your chauffeured Bentley.
The expenditure slowly climbed as we got down to the finer points . At least a small part of the annual fencing/ maintenance costs must be apportioned to the hill ewes, as holding such wild-eyed creatures for dipping and tupping requires some infrastructure.
The cost of wintering the replacement ewe lambs is modest, but also adds to the total. Then there is some land rental value to consider, and simply owning the ewes has a cost.
Tallying everything against the value of lambs and draft/cull ewes sold, I'm about £4 a ewe in front, before any environmental or single farm payments.
Seeing as these payments turn up when they feel like it, and could evaporate without trace should I upset the wrong inspector, I'm not sure I'd want to rely on my beloved scotch ewes.
On the cattle front, although beef prices are up on the year, I don't need to unravel the knotty sums to know there is no margin.
We lose hat-fulls of money raising cattle, and I only do it because I have a deep and abiding love of bovines…. and because I'm evidently a bit stupid.
This has been on my mind as we select stock for sale/slaughter. Being down with TB last year, unable to sell suckled calves, the youngstock numbers built up.
I'm reluctant to cash the lot in now we're clear, as it's safer to minimise the roller coaster in cash flow and logistics TB troubles bring.
Probably I should reduce the breeding herd, but there we run into my stupidity again.
Reading the farming glossies, I see I'm not alone feeling the pinch. One comic ran a report on a study of farmers in some Northern hill area, who are apparently struggling.
I'd guess that the landscape actually pictured might be about 370 miles from the area studied, which blunted the account rather, although the text sounded all too familiar.
And now, I'm not sure where these thoughts took me. My conclusions included seeing a better profit in a rotation of Sitka spruce plantations…. but they take a lot of kick-starting with highly contentious monocultures, and are no less volatile.
Also, that the difference in potential values between lowland ground and thin bony uplands is greater than ever.
While, ironically, I know many lowland colleagues have caught an even bigger cold in this difficult year, they're playing a more elaborate game, with bigger bills and subsequently higher risks.
Stories are coming in from farming pals around the country of numerous arable men who're tens of thousands down on anticipated yields – hundreds of thousands even.
And many of those counting on maize silage to feed the milk cows or put the shine on their fattening cattle now know the clamp won't be full. The gap is going to cost an arm and a leg to plug.
This all raises questions about the wisdom of food security policies, which I can't answer. Let's hope for an easy winter eh?
Right, back in peasant-ville, I'm off to clean out the sheep dip with a mind to starting the ewes annual swimming relay. Let's see if getting them all bathed and fragrant puts them in the mood for love.
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