Did I ever tell you that we passed our 60-day TB test at the end of January? I probably didn’t. That’s because long experience has taught me that if you write about something, you invariably precipitate the opposite. So, for example, if you write about the weather being too cold or too dry or too wet, the opposite will be true by the time your words appear in print.
I fully acknowledge I could be taking a bit of a chance on the outcome of the next test, but I also have a responsibility to keep you up-to-date. I rarely admit it, but there is a small part of me which is superstitious. I won’t put shoes on a table, although I am told this particular restriction only applies to new shoes, but why take any chances?
Besides who can afford new shoes anyway? I will not pass anyone on the stairs, salt is not a part of my diet for obvious reasons, and I rarely go near a mirror. The reason for this is fairly obvious as well, as I prefer to think I still look like I did in my early 30s. But we still have to get through our next TB test.
There is so much hanging on the outcome of it. For example, we could be selling all the calves we have accumulated, which are now weanlings, or we may have to keep them longer. The implications of the difference between the two options are enormous.
We could get a cashflow boost or we will have to work out how to keep a lot more stock – you cannot plan for either until you have been through the test. It is a bit similar to the stewardship scheme I have submitted. It went off in November, we were to be accepted in December and it was to start in January. Here we are mid-March and we still don’t know the outcome, and there are crops to sow and plans to make.
But by far the biggest uncertainty in my farming life is the one connected to TB. You cannot evaluate uncertainty, but I have no doubt there is a cost associated with it. Then there is the lack of confidence.
I have no confidence at all we will pass the next test. I know of someone who lost 18 cattle out of 47, yet he passed his next test. Who would have thought it? There is absolutely nothing to guide you to the future.
There is nothing to compare with the uncertainty which comes with TB.
Some of our weanlings are housed in a shed designed for cows, as, in these cases, needs must. They regularly escape through the feed barrier, and there are two or three of them which spend more time on the yard than they do in the shed.
Our dogs are never shut in, day or night, and these weanlings tend to hang out with the dogs. Some visitors, such as the postman and the milk tanker driver, come to the back door and say there are cattle loose on the yard.
They are surprised there is no reaction. Other visitors have a different agenda: “There are two Blue bulls loose on your yard, if you go clear of TB I will give you £500 each for them.” So, I mention the name of a farmer I know they don’t like: “So and so was here last week and he offered £600.” To which they reply: “Did he now?
I will have another look at them when I go.” One of the problems with having weanlings loose on the yard is that they are not sure if they are cattle or dogs. The dogs hang around the kitchen door, and I don’t mind that, but I am not so sure I want cattle hanging about there.
The dogs play on the lawn, and luckily the cattle have only been there once. Fortunately, she was out! There is still a week to go in March and already a major processor has dropped the price of milk – so much for volatility. Volatility implies highs and lows. What we have had is two years of terrible lows and a few months in the middle range of prices.
But while we have had the benefit of those few months in the middle, our costs have all gone up, courtesy of the value of the pound. So what is to be done about it?
I used to have a life which took me into most places in the dairy industry and I remember the head of a major milk company telling me he wouldn’t have a problem if the on-farm price of milk was 50ppl – he would only have a problem if his competitors were paying less.
The problem would be he would be instantly uncompetitive, which is why this one price cut is so important and why all the other milk buyers will have to follow suit.
It is a big issue for all of us. It has the clear implication that the on-farm price of milk is set by the less able processor. The price of milk will almost inevitably gravitate towards the lowest price. The only time when the price of milk will be set by those paying high prices is in times of shortage.
There is a lesson there, but I doubt we will learn it. Individuals have to look for individual solutions to their problems and their family’s future, and if this means producing more milk, it is the way they have to go. I have just bought some cows, but even so, we are producing less milk than we were a couple of years ago.
We finished lifting fodder beet this week. I have never played cards for money, but selling fodder beet to sheep farmers in spring must be a bit like playing poker. If the sun is out they don’t want any, but the weather could change and now I have finished lifting, the pressure is on.
They even go to have a look to see how many I have left before they phone, which is a bit like looking over your shoulder to see what cards you have!