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Cowmen Comment: Rosie Collingborn "The way things are going, replacing it could be a decision for the next generation"

Rosemary Collingborn and her husband Joe farm a closed herd of 100 pedigree Friesian type cows, 60 young stock and breed bulls for sale. She has served on the MDC Council, Veterinary Products Committee, the RSPCA Council and was WFU dairy chairman.

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There is one word to describe last year’s grazing season in the South West, and that is phenomenal. Never in living memory has grass performed so well in a grazing year which provided the right combination of sun and rain, plus a bit of magic.


However, having kept the cows out till mid-December the previous year, we were disappointed to have to bring them inside in October despite our new cow tracks. That’s because our dry early autumn allowed us to spread the build-up of FYM from the last two years and we did this on the dry half of the farm. Coupled with a large amount of autumn reseeding, this meant when it did turn wet, we were short of grazing – and hence the cows came in earlier.


The silage clamp is stacked high this year and is of quality ranging from very good to moderate. The height means we have been moving the face back slowly. I hear in Scotland they are hosing the face to stop secondary fermentation. We feed in ring feeders and allow the cows to top up on the face, but they have been burrowing into the good silage which has caused a large number of eye infections.


All these factors mean the cows have not been yielding as well as we would like, but our valiant helper Steve has now sharpened the shear grab and is creating a sheer, cold face and yields are starting to rise.


As you might surmise, the major problem is not the shear grab, but milk price. All the good costing figures we have had so far this year can only go one way now, and that is going to be steeply down. Earlier this year, we had even been looking at milking parlours. We could never have dreamt back in 1974 the new herringbone we had just put in would still be there 40 years later.


The way things are going, replacing it could be a decision for the next generation. Our wooden cubicles are nearly as ancient, but having made the decision not to increase cow size, luckily the cows still fit, and are also well suited to our grazing system. Historically a mixed farm would benefit from other enterprises balancing the one that is down, but this year farming overall is unprofitable. Beef and suckler income are showing losses and cereals are way down.


As Charles Dickins’ Mr Micawber put it: “Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19 and six, result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds ought six, result misery.” I expect many of us can remember times when there were more bills than income, a rigid overdraft limit and suppliers clamouring for payment. We would prefer not to return to those times.


The timing of this year’s Single Payment will be welcome, but it may not last long. Some farmers who have been on shortterm milk contracts are in even more desperate straits, being unable to find a milk buyer at all. How quickly things have turned round! More fortunate farmers will need to be keeping an eye on their neighbours’ emotional well-being.


In the midst of this upheaval one could wonder how the overall milk market is faring. Doorstep is in danger, declining by 3.2% this past year and 13.9% compared to 10 years ago. What impact will the takeover of Dairy Crest liquid by Muller- Wiseman have? On the bright side, the volume of milk sold overall is steadily increasing, up 2.5% from a year ago.


Other factors are positive. Over in the States, Coca Cola is now producing a milk drink called ‘Fairlife’, a lactose-free product with 50% more protein and 30% more calcium. To have the advertising and distributional might of Coca Cola behind milk can only be a good thing.


Recent American research states it’s the type of food you eat that affects your weight rather than calories, and that fat may actually protect against weight gain. Nuts, olive oil, fish and full fat milk are among the foods that could help to keep you slim.


Bearing in mind also many of milk’s protective qualities are in the fat globules, could we see a swing away from low fat? Will there be a turn round with slogans like ‘Whole milk for a Whole You’, ‘Cheer for Cheese’ and ‘Back to Butter’?

Farm Facts

  • FARM SIZE: 1700 acres (688ha)
  • HERD SIZE: 400 cows.
  • ROLLING MILK YIELD: 8900 litres/cow
  • TARGET YIELD: 9500 litres/cow
  • MILK BUYER: Tesco (Wisemans)
  • SOIL TYPE: Sand, clay and peat
  • RAINFALL: 800mm/year.
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