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Good Evans: Keeping costs in check isn’t always that simple

Insights

This month, Roger Evans looks at controlling costs to combat the current depressing milk prices, and has discovered a novel way on injecting some realism into the equation.

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I use my mobile phone as an alarm clock. It works quite well and I keep the charger by the bed so it’s doing two jobs at one go. And when it goes off you know that, if you don’t touch it, it will go off again in 10 minutes time.

This is a feature I use most days, and that 10 minutes is a very important part of the day. It gives you time to stretch and have a bit of a scratch and think about the day ahead.

There was a time in my life when my daughter used to take delight in buying me novelty alarm clocks. I particularly remember one that blew a bugle as in an army reveille, and one that looked like a chicken and had a strident crow. It was at about this time I developed my habit of using very bad language.

So I stretch and scratch this morning and I remember I need to do my Dairy Farmer article, as in I should have done it yesterday. So, in a sort of gentle panic, I wonder what I’m going to write about this month.

Yesterday was a Saturday and it was a good day as I’ll explain later. I usually go to the pub on Saturday nights, well not usually, always. But I stayed in and read the week’s farming press. Plenty of advice for dairy farmers in the press these days.

Keep your costs down, “ don’t spend much money”, “increase your yields without spending money on extra feed”. Yeah!

It’s amazing what you can think of in those 10 minutes. So we are in a sort of milky recession. I remember Ann’s father telling me how in the 1930s he went to Welshpool and bought some weaned calves, kept them for two years, took them back to Welshpool and sold them for less money. Now that’s a real recession.

Another farmer I know was telling me how tough it was too. “We worked from dawn to dusk, ate our meals on the run… if Granny died we didn’t have a funeral, we buried her up the garden.” And “If you were lucky you spent Christmas Eve with your arm down a rabbit hole, trying to catch your Christmas dinner.

It’s not quite like that, but it’s starting to feel like it. I know of a dairy farmer who lives, shall we say, in the West of Scotland. He often works things out in cost of litres of milk. It always used to amuse me, but there is an underlying reality to it that we shouldn’t ignore.

The reason I had a good day yesterday was because I was in Cardiff to see Wales beat South Africa. I have a good seat, I’ve had the same seat for 30 years. It cost £80 to sit in that seat yesterday. So if you apply the West of Scotland reality check to that and you are getting 25ppl for your milk, the seat costs you 320 litres of milk. I’m getting 24-point something and then my buyer takes another 0.5ppl for capital investment, so I’m getting nearer 24 pence. That’s 330 litres of milk which is, and this is very real, seven churns. It all gets a bit scary.

So on the face of it “don’t spend any money” is sound advice. But as is usually the case, it’s not as simple as that. Three years ago we bought a ‘new’, second-hand loader. It was a lot of money just the same. We would have liked a new one but couldn’t afford it. As part of that deal, we had two new tyres fitted. That’s always been a problem. Because if you fit the new tyres on the same axle they have a different circumference to the worn ones so it ends up that the one axle is trying to go faster than the other, if you follow me. So we put a new tyre on each axle and the dif can cope with that, but if you go on a wet field and you have a worn tyre on each axle you end up getting stuck.

Complicated isn’t it? So we definitely need two new tyres, as in a month ago, as there’s something called an inner tube protruding out of one. But to do a proper job we really need four tyres. They are quite wide tyres and they cost £675 each, which is £2700 or about 11,000 litres of milk. Told you it was scary.

But this loader has done 6500 hours now and we‘re aware of another, the same make, which has done only 2500. Ours is on finance so I could swap and keep payments the same and there would be four new tyres on the next one. This ‘new’ loader has been working in a timber yard. I don’t think sawdust is a good lubricant but I know cow muck definitely isn’t. But it doesn’t stop there does it. If dairy farming is to go on, you have to have a bit of kit to do it with. Which brings us to our scraper tractor. Ours is struggling. The last time it broke down, the mechanic said the “next time it breaks down it’s finished”. He used a word I used to use to my cockerel alarm clock.

It’s not easy to find scraper tractors. But we’ve found one. It’s not special, but we are going to go back to the theory that if we have two there’s half a chance one of them will go. It’s £2000. Or 177 churns of milk!

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