The Ley on the Fertility Farm: Costs and Returns
When I first started to clear the scrub on Ball Hill, ready to re-seed it, the local pundits were extremely sceptical, though, I fancy, a little curious. It had never been more than a rabbit run before, and even the rabbits had to move down the hill to find food. The soil is shallow and the slope is such that a crawler tractor could only plough it one way, and that with some trepidation on the part of the driver.
My neighbour said, 'It's all very nice as a piece of spectacular work, but it won't pay you.' I did not think I should lose anything on it and, in any case, I could not make the hill any worse than it was. I had been costing my leys lower down the hill and knew that if I could get a 'take' I should not be out of pocket.
The County Agricultural Committee was at that time quoting £10 an acre for average re-seeding work, and in the minds of many farmers even this price seemed too high when set against estimated returns. I could not get a quotation for Ball Hill, which meant that the cost was likely to be in excess of a price which was considered by many to be prohibitive.
Neither the County Agricultural Committee nor the various other advocates of ley farming have yet been able to provide figures, derived from farm costings, to show convincingly that the re-seeding of some of our best pastures is a profitable proposition. The best that has been offered in the way of encouragement is the vague promise of two or three times the grazing capacity, depending on the quality of the land re-seeded.
But the man who considers his present pastures good is not going to rip up his good old grass, spend £10 to £15 an acre on re-seeding it, and run the risk of an unsuccessful take, merely on the strength of an uncertain prospect of doubled grazing capacity. He will prefer the certain grazing for half the stock and resort to the nitrogen bag for a temporary increase in stocking capacity -- unless he is convinced in actual demonstration -- backed by evidence of solid returns under ordinary farming conditions.
Failing authentic details of this kind I have tried to produce them for myself, and have found that the claims made for leys, which have been guesses in most cases, are extremely modest when compared with the costed returns from well-managed leys.
Ball Hill cost me over £12 an acre. I had no cash crop to take in the first year, yet it paid the full cost and a profit in grazing value in twelve months from the time of seeding. And this was from store cattle only. The returns from milking cows would no doubt have been much more.
The six acres provided me with 304 heifer-weeks of grazing during the first twelve months from seeding. At a charge of 5s. per head per week, which is reasonable considering the high quality of the grazing and the grand condition in which the heifers were maintained, the repayment on my outlay of £74 17s. 11d. was £76.
This return was purely from heifer and in-calf cow grazing. No account was taken of milk returns on two occasions when the cows were turned in to help control the growth. This means, then, that my ley was paid for in its first year, leaving me with grazing of a quality equal to the best in the district in place of a useless scrubby sheep-run that would not support a buck rabbit before. The re-seeding was done in 1943, and will be repeated in 1951, so that the cost spreads over eight years.
An example of the ley as a milk producer was another field -- Underhill Close. Underhill Close grazed milk cows entirely -- again, except for a period when growth was beyond control and a cut of hay was taken.
The seed was broadcast on Underhill Close in April, under Desprez 80 winter wheat, which had been grazed down bare with cows. The grazing enabled the seeds to get a good start without harming the subsequent wheat crop. Cost of manure was £2 an acre, seed £4 5s., labour and power 8s. an acre; a total seeding cost of £6 13s. an acre. Added to this was 5s. an acre for fencing materials, made necessary by the dividing of the field for rotational grazing.
Against a total cost of £6 18s. an acre, there was an income from milk of £59 an acre during the months April to October.
When the cost of feeding stuffs, £91 13s., fed in addition to the grass, are deducted from the gross milk income of £715 1s. 7d., from the cows which grazed exclusively on this field, there is a clear net return of over £50 an acre. In addition, four tons of hay were taken from the field at a time when the grass grew away from the cows.
It is clear beyond doubt, then, that good leys pay handsomely, both as grazing for young stock and for milking cows. While the visible profit is the greater when milk cows are the agents of conversion, the foundation of sound health which young stock undoubtedly gain from ley grazing, probably raises the lower cash returns of this class of grazing to a level of equal value with dairy cow leys.
But if, by cheap mixtures and stinted cultivations, the attempt is made to keep down costs, ley farming will soon land the most affluent farmer in queer street. The best obtainable mixture for the class of land, carefully sown in well-cultivated land which has previously been well farmed, followed by intelligent management, will more than repay the cost of the three- or four-year ley every year of its life.
An example of the simple system of costing which I use for my leys may help to dispel any doubts regarding the value of re-seeding. Extracts from my field record book below refer to the two fields, Ball Hill (or Sheeps Sleight on Ball Hill) and Underhill Close (see map) in the years 1943-45.
Costs and Returns Sheep's Sleight on Ball Hill, 6 acres. Crop, re-seeded to ley. Date Operation Labour (Name and Hourly Rates) Power (at Per Hour) Time (Hours) Materials Cost
£ s. d.
£ s. d.
Clearing scrub A.D. 1/6
- -4 6 0 - - Pre-discing J.B. 1/3 Tractor at 2/6 an hour 35 - 6 11 3 - May 30 Ploughing W.A.C. Contract Crawler - - 7 10 0 - July Discing and rolling W.A.C. Contract Crawler - - 5 0 0 - - Water trough and tapping main R.D.C. - - - 4 0 0 - 1944
Second ploughing W.A.C. do. - - 7 10 0 - April Discing and rolling do. do. - - 5 0 0 - - Manuring do. do. - 6 tons grd. limestone 4 12 6 - - - - - - Compost 7 19 2 - - Labour, etc. do. do. - - 4 0 0 - May 6 Broadcasting seed A.D. 1/6 Hand fiddle 6 30 lb. 0 9 0 - - - - - - At £3 p.a. 18 0 0 - May 1944 to May 1945 Grazing 304 heifer-weeks at 5/- (Details from diary) - - - - Total cost:
£74 17 11
1st year Income:
£76 0 0
Underhill Close, 12 acres. Crop, 3 years ley sown under winter wheat (Desprez 80) Date Operation Labour (Name and Hourly Rates) Power (at Per Hour) Time (Hours) Materials Cost
£ s. d.
Income from milk -- 1944
£ s. d.
Manuring A.D. 1/6 Tractor 2/6 10 - 2 0 0 April 119 17 4
May 89 19 5
July 89 3 4
Aug 110 2 6
Sept. 96 13 8
Oct. 120 8 8
- - - - - Manure 24 0 0 1943
Broadcasting seed A.D. 1/6 Hand 8 - 0 12 0 - - - - - 36 lb. seed p.a. at 85/ 51 0 0 April Dragging Man 1/6 Tractor 2/6 6 -- 1 4 0 1944
Fencing 2 men at 2/6 Hand 8 - 1 0 0 - - - - - Wire £3 3 0 0 Total cost of making ley £82 16 0 - Total Income 715 1 7 Less feeding stuffs 91 13 0 Nett Income £623 8 7
Next: 9. Managing the Ley
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