Career smallholder Tim Tyne offers expert advice on marking cattle, registering for VAT, cleaning automatic drinkers and the benefits of utilising roof racks.

Clean those drinkers

While automatic drinkers for livestock are undoubtedly a great time-saver, they should never be seen as a ‘fit-and-forget’ solution. They must be cleaned out regularly. Animals won’t drink from a fouled trough, and, in the case of housed livestock on a dry diet, if they stop drinking they’ll also stop eating, and production and health will suffer.

The biggest culprits on this farm are our free-range Muscovy ducks, who seem to think that the sheep troughs were installed solely for their own convenience!

Tail tape for cattle makes ID easier

One traditional method of temporarily marking cattle, presumably dating back to the days when cows were kept in stalls during the winter, thus presenting their bottoms to view the whole time, is by the use of ‘tail tape’. A piece of coloured tape wrapped around the tail of a particular cow enables the vet or AI man to immediately spot the animal in need of his services, even if the farmer isn’t on hand. It’s also a useful means of identification in the milking parlour, so the dairyman – who spends most of his time at the backend of his cows – can identify animals that may need special attention.

The same method can be used to temporarily identify sheep, by wrapping the tape around a horn or, as seen in these cheviot lambs, around a leg. This is a useful way of marking show sheep as there’s no need to discolour the fleece by applying a spray mark.

Ordinary electrician’s insulating tape is fine, and comes in several different colours.

Register for VAT

Register your smallholding business for VAT. Although it’s not compulsory if your turnover is low (which it will be!), you can register voluntarily. The livestock and crops that you produce for sale will be zero rated, as will bought-in supplies of feed, hay and straw, but you will be able to reclaim 20% on all your veterinary costs, fencing materials, fertiliser, road fuel (or at least a proportion of it), protective clothing, contractor’s charges, and so on. And you’ll get 5% back on red diesel.

The paperwork isn’t onerous if you opt for ‘cash accounting’, and a simple spreadsheet on the computer will do all the sums for you, provided that you enter the details of each transaction that you make.

Roof racks are handy

The addition of a roof rack to a small livestock trailer considerably increases its versatility. In particular, it enables you to transport both hurdles and sheep to outlying fields without the need to utilise a much larger trailer. It’s also handy when travelling to shows with a small number of animals as you can carry troughs, hay bales and sacks of feed on the roof, again removing the need for a bigger trailer.

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