Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Ensuring your livestock meets consumers’ needs

Steve Powdrill, AHDB's National Selection Specialist, runs our programme of Farm to Fork events, helping beef and sheep farmers to understand more about how to market prime beef or lamb. He writes about the importance of finishing livestock to their full potential.

As a beef or sheep farmer it is important that you think of yourself as a meat producer. You are providing a product to an end market, the consumer, so you need to understand what people want to buy. Around 49 per cent of prime beef and 40 per cent of prime lamb currently fails to meet ideal target market specifications, which has a significant impact on the price farmers are paid for their stock.

I spend a lot of time out and about talking to farmers and processors and, at this time of year, I’m seeing a lot of animals being brought in to abattoirs that are either under or over-finished. It is important to market all stock to their full potential and don’t rely on weighing animals alone – after a certain point stock will be adding more fat than meat, and consumers do not want an over-fat product. Equally, it’s important to ensure stock are not too lean as under-finished stock also have the potential to be out of spec, all of which reduces returns and has a knock-on effect to the consumer.
At times abattoirs can be fully booked up for several weeks, dependant on supply and demand, so I recommend that you plan in advance and keep in touch with your local abattoir about their specific waiting times.

Weather plays a huge part in finishing in terms of stock and feed quality so feedback  as to how stock are killing out is vital. If you’re selling deadweight, check kill sheets and assess how your animals are performing.

To help the industry understand more about selection, we run practical ‘Farm to Fork’ events across the country (previously ‘Live to Dead’ events) that allow farmers to handle live animals and make their assessment of fat cover and conformation using the EUROP grid. They then see the same animals on the hook in the chillers along with the actual classification, so it is a good way to compare the two results. These events also give people the opportunity to discuss various market requirements, factors affecting killing out percentages and dressing specifications. You can find the latest ‘Farm to Fork’ events on our website.

The beef and lamb industry needs to work together to increase the proportion of livestock meeting specification, as this will result in improved returns to farmers and an industry that is better focused on meeting consumer needs.

You can play your part by making use of the great resources AHDB produces as part of the Better Returns Programme. These are available to download from the Better Returns section of our website They will provide you with information around understanding the end consumer, through to practical advice on how to handle your livestock.

Find out more about understanding your market and their requirements in the BRP manuals Marketing prime beef cattle for Better Returns and Marketing prime lamb for Better Returns

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

It’s the season to test your livestock for parasites

Lis King, AHDB Sheep Scientist, gives a timely reminder for sheep and beef farmers to monitor their livestock for worms and liver fluke 

Internal parasites (worms and liver fluke) pose a significant threat to animal health and performance. Farmers are encouraged to plan their grazing strategies to reduce the risk of infection and use available monitoring tools. Autumn is a high risk period for liver fluke, and this coincides with some of our Challenge Sheep farmers finding high worm egg counts in their flock’s faecal matter.

Fit mature stock should not require worming but young or thin stock may require a wormer. Look out for risk forecasts on the National Animal Disease Information Service (NADIS), Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) and Control Of Worms Sustainably (COWS) websites and speak to your vet for advice.

The peak fluke season is predicted to be later and shorter this year following the hot dry weather. In spite of this, high snail numbers have been observed in some areas of the country. Fields with a lower risk of fluke infection are drier, better drained with no persistent wet patches. Those that have been re-seeded, contain brassicas or were not grazed earlier in the year are also lower risk. Sheep are more likely to die from liver fluke infection during autumn than cattle. Symptoms of the disease in cattle are less obvious, including reduced feed intake, loss of body condition and slower growth rates. 

Testing for worms and fluke will help to avoid unnecessary treatments and checks whether treatment has been effective. It can also inform decisions about which stock to treat, what to treat them with and when. Importantly, it will allow you to differentiate between liver fluke and worms, particularly as infection with liver fluke can produce similar symptoms to haemonchus (worms).

Testing tools include: faecal egg counts (FECs), the coproantigen test, blood (ELISA) test, post-mortems of dead animals and abattoir liver returns. When using FECs it is important to remember that the results need to be considered with other information such as age, stocking density, time of 
year and performance levels.

In cattle, treatment decisions should be based on the likelihood of cattle having grazed infected pasture that season and on their treatment history. Using FECs to test for gut worms at housing is not useful because treatment needs to be targeted at the immature stage of the lifecycle when eggs have not yet been shed.

Top tips given by SCOPS and COWS include:

· Don’t get caught out by treating too early. Monitor to determine the need and timing of treatments

· In lower risk situations, consider treating sheep with closantel or nitroxynil rather than triclabendazole. Re‐infection (when treated animals are put back on to contaminated areas) is still a concern.

· Worms (including haemonchus, which can produce signs similar to liver fluke disease) may be the problem.

· Investigate losses. A post mortem is still the best way to establish whether liver fluke is present.

· Monitor abattoir returns carefully for evidence of liver fluke.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Red meat and its links to the environment and climate change

There is constant debate around red meat and the impact it has on our environment. James Wilde, Head of Media and PR at AHDB, explains how the organisation is trying to tackle negative messages around farming and climate change and help farmers to learn more about the impact of their farm businesses on the environment.

In the last week, the Government has sought the advice of climate experts on whether to set an even more ambitious target than its current one for reducing carbon emissions. It follows a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), showing rapid action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid devastating impacts from climate change.

As a consequence, the issue of climate change has had a very high media profile, with a number of articles from the likes of the Independent and the Guardian advising a reduction in consumption of red meat leading to a reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions is a must. The only dissenting voice in this debate has been that of Climate Minister Claire Perry, who has come under fire for her comments about her own preference for eating lots of local meat and her refusal to advise people about a climate-friendly diet.

It is a fact that methane, which is a natural by-product of how livestock break down their feed, does contribute to greenhouse gases. However, levels of methane emissions are comparatively low in the UK, with livestock production responsible for five per cent of total Greenhouse Gas emissions, and the industry is working hard to reduce these even further through breeding and feeding initiatives.

It is also balanced by the fact that grazing cattle and sheep manage permanent pasture as an effective carbon sink, they aid biodiversity and they make use of agricultural land that could not be used for growing crops. Effectively, take livestock off it and you take a massive amount of land out of food production at a time when our population continues to grow.

Put in context, livestock production in the UK has many positives which are rarely mentioned in the media coverage of these stories. Food production should be matched to the parts of the world where the land is most suited for the product being grown, the UK is a sustainable place to produce red meat due to our climate and geography, with few inputs required.

However, unfortunately and despite AHDB’s best efforts, many media outlets fail to seek out this balancing opinion. AHDB is using both traditional and social media to provide the industry and the wider public with clear facts surrounding meat and the environment. For more facts on climate change visit the AHDB Beef & Lamb website.

We also challenge misinformation whenever we can and attempt to inject balance into conversations which are being aired in public. Often a measure of success can be to keep things out of the media!

What is important is that we speak with a consistent voice – from farming in the UK and across the globe – to ensure we present an authoritative, robust and realistic view of how livestock farming benefits the environment.

AHDB information on climate change

Our Landscapes without Livestock report provides a visual guide to what impact a reduction in beef and sheep farming would have on some of England’s most cherished landscapes
We have also produced a series of three roadmaps exploring the environmental aspects of beef and sheep farming in more detail.

For more information, visit our corporate publications area to download: Change in the Air, Testing the Water and Down to earth.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Ensuring housing is suitable for dairy bred calves

Sarah Pick, Knowledge Exchange Manager – National Assistant writes about the most recent AHDB-funded calf discussion group meeting which focused on calf housing and its effect on youngstock health and performance. 

The discussion group was set up last summer in partnership with Meadow Quality to encourage farmer-to-farmer learning and discussion on improved youngstock health. Eight calf rearers form part of the group, which is facilitated by Nick Gibbon of Belmont Vets.

The group meets every three months, with each rearer taking it in turns to host the meeting. At the last meeting, the conversation focused on calf housing and ventilation specialist Dr Mike Wolf from the USA led the discussion

Adequate housing is essential for promoting calf health; one of the major causes of mortality and poor performance in youngstock is pneumonia. The disease can often be avoided if buildings are well designed and managed with good ventilation and drainage.

Dr Wolf gave us some top tips on how to assess whether housing is suitable:

1. Housing
One of the best ways to assess if the housing is adequate is to keep accurate records of calf weights and incidence of disease. Calves should be growing at least 0.7kg/day up to weaning and should be double their birthweight by this time. Pneumonia incidence is also important to record, with fewer than 15 cases of the disease expected in every 100 calves reared, or 15 per cent of the batch.

2. Ventilation
Good ventilation removes stale, damp air which helps ensure viruses and bacteria can’t survive for long outside the animal. Large sheds are unsuitable for calves due to their low bodyweight, they can’t generate enough heat to drive the ‘stack effect,’ resulting in less air movement. In these cases, mechanical ventilation should be considered. It must be designed to the height and specific requirements of the building and it’s best to seek expert advice. This will determine the duct diameter and length, the fan capacity and diameter of the outlet holes in the duct.

Ventilation can be assessed in a number of non-evasive ways. The presence of flies and cobwebs are a sign of poor ventilation. Flies can be reduced by using fly tapes early in the season. Also, after feeding look at the distribution of calves within the shed. If they are all huddled in one area, this area must be providing them with their preferred environment so try and replicate this across the shed.

3. Drainage
Adequate drainage is particularly important as bacteria thrive in wet conditions. By removing moisture the risk of disease is reduced. It is recommended that concrete floors have a minimum slope of one in 60 across the whole pen, and one in 20 for areas with expected high moisture levels. This will allow effective drainage of water and urine from under straw. This is particularly important when calves are being fed using machines as often more moisture is produced.

4. Bedding
Bedding reduces contact between the calf and the floor and any soiled straw, it also keeps the calves warm. Where possible, calves should be cleaned out every three weeks to reduce moisture and bacterial load.

Remember changes to calf housing do not need to be done all at once. You’ll soon start to see the benefits when small changes are made as and when time and money allow.

For more information on designing or making alterations to calf housing please read the BRP+ document ‘Better calf housing’ available on the AHDB Beef & Lamb website. Alternatively watch our videos Assessing calf buildings and Assessing ventilation.

Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) are running a campaign on calf health that focuses on reducing respiratory disease. You can follow the campaign online by using the #calfhealth

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

How do you get your hands on funding to test for BVD?

Eleanor Kane, herd health project Manager at AHDB, writes about the recent funding developments for BVD control in England through the ‘BVD stamp it out’ initiative and explains the benefits to farmers in taking part in the BVDFree England scheme.

There is a national drive to eradicate Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) from the English herd, in response to the negative effects of this disease on fertility and productivity. This year £5.7 million of funding has been made available through the Rural Development Programme (RDP), which is being delivered by SAC consulting, aligning with the BVDFree England scheme.

Scotland, Wales and Ireland are steaming ahead with their BVD control programmes, whereas in England only 8 per cent of breeding herds are engaged in BVD elimination through either BVDFree or a Cattle Health Certification Standards health scheme (CHeCS). This disease undermines the drive to improve the efficiency of our beef and dairy industries, as immunosuppression caused by the virus makes animals increasingly prone to secondary diseases such as pneumonia and mastitis, limiting their health and welfare.

By registering for the ‘BVD stamp it out’ funding, you can opt to join the BVDFree England scheme and upload your results to the national database. One of the benefits of joining BVDFree is being able to work towards a herd status of ‘BVDFree test negative’, once you have completed two consecutive years of testing negative for BVD. The searchable database,, allows you to check the BVD status of animals individually tested for BVD virus, or for herds with a BVDFree or CHeCS status. This data can then be used to promote the health status of your herd, or to check the status of animals you are looking to buy.

The funding is available to all registered cattle keepers in England, but you must attend an initial meeting with your vet. After this, you will receive 2 on-farm vet visits, with £61.80 available for BVD testing. The first visit is to blood sample a minimum of five youngstock to establish if your herd has been exposed to the BVD virus. On the second visit your vet will explain the results and you will work together to determine the next steps needed to eradicate the disease or for your herd to remain free of BVD. For herds with positive results there is £440 available for a PI hunt, that identifies any virus positive animals in the herd. This is a vital step in eliminating BVD, as PI (persistently infected)  animals will continue to spread the virus in your herd for as long as they remain alive. 

With the rest of the UK, Ireland and Europe further along the road to eliminating BVD, the requirement for health status when trading is going to likely increase in the next few years. Therefore as there is only limited funding available and with cattle being brought indoors for the autumn, now is the time to get involved, start testing and working towards your herd BVD status.
You can access this funding through your vet practice. For practices not already involved, email: For more information on BVD testing or to check the status of a herd, visit the website:

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Staffordshire young sheep farmer gets involved with Love Lamb Week

Tom Chapman is one of the National Sheep Association’s Young Ambassadors for 2018. He has a tenancy farm in Eccleshall in Staffordshire and is supporting this year’s Love Lamb Week.

My background is in dairy farming, but my grandad was a beef and lamb farmer which fuelled my interest to start working with sheep.I am very fortunate to be able to run a county council farm in Staffordshire and have set an ambitious five-year target to increase flock numbers from 400 Mules to a closed flock of 800 homebred composites. The National Sheep Association’s Young Ambassador scheme really appealed to me, as I wanted to meet other like-minded sheep farmers who are passionate about farming and enjoy it not just as a job but as a lifestyle.

Love Lamb Week is a promotional week that gives the sheep industry an opportunity to really promote messages about the great work sheep farmers do and the quality meat they produce. This year we’re looking at how to get consumers to break tradition and consume lamb all year round rather than just during special occasions. Lamb is so versatile and it can be so quick and easy to cook for a mid-week meal. I also want to shout about the sustainability of lamb and the fact that our countryside wouldn’t look the same without sheep in the landscape. By buying lamb consumers are helping us to support the countryside and sustain farming.

Inspiring the next generation of sheep farmers is really important to me as I feel I have a responsibility to teach those interested in farming all about it. There’s so many people today with a disconnection to food and how it’s produced. I hope to be able to take on an apprentice one day to give them the opportunities that I’ve been fortunate to have. I also breed and train sheep dogs, which help me no end with the flock. I have about eleven working dogs, and I just couldn’t do it without them! They are part of what makes my job so great.

During the week itself, I have challenged myself to cook a lamb dish every night for my partner, as she is the one who cooks most of the time. I think she’s looking forward to it. I encourage all of those involved in the sheep industry to get involved with the campaign and download the logos and images from AHDB Beef & Lamb website to really show consumers how passionate we are about the lamb we produce.

For more information about the campaign, visit AHDB Beef & lamb and follow the story across social media by using #LoveLambWeek and #LoveLamb.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

How to control enzootic abortion in ewes with vaccination

Lis King, AHDB Sheep Scientist, discusses the measures farmers can put in place to proactively
control enzootic abortion in their flock.

Globally, there is an urgent need to slow the development of drug resistant bacteria in both human and veterinary medicines. The sheep industry has been tasked with reducing antibiotic use in three areas: new-born lambs, lameness and abortion. Sheep farmers can plan ahead, prevent disease occurring and protect their animals whilst doing their bit for the environment. All whilst saving time and money. A win for all.

The most commonly diagnosed cause of abortion is Enzootic Abortion of ewes (EAE) which is infectious and responsible for around 50 per cent of sheep abortions in the UK. Yet, it is preventable through a highly effective single vaccine which lasts the lifetime of the ewe.

EAE is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia abortus. Generally there are no symptoms, with the first sign being a premature stillborn lamb one to two weeks before the expected lambing date. However, the disease can also result in full-term stillborn or weak lambs and can affect litter mates to different degrees, for example; one can be dead and one alive.

Ewes that abort can contaminate pasture or bedding and the bacteria is then picked up by other ewes. Aborted ewes should be promptly isolated for at least three to four weeks with bedding, aborted material and dead lambs destroyed.

The cost of abortion is variable but estimates are around £85 per aborted ewe so any abortion should be thoroughly investigated. A simple laboratory test will diagnose EAE. Treatment with long-acting oxytetracycline antibiotic will reduce the risk of further abortions but should only be given once EAE is confirmed. If left untreated, infected ewes and surviving ewe lambs, are more than likely to abort in the next pregnancy. Once a flock has the disease it may persist in these carrier sheep.

It’s often thought that using antibiotics to treat abortion, without any diagnosis, is cheaper than vaccination. However, a one off vaccine, which equates to around £2-3 is less than the cost of repeated antibiotic treatments. So switching to vaccination to control enzootic abortion could put an end to whole-flock antibiotic treatment of ewes in late pregnancy. 

All ewes must be vaccinated at least four weeks before they go to the ram, as options to vaccinate in-lamb ewes can be limited. Three vaccines are currently available in the UK: MSD’s Enzovax, CEVA’s Chlamydia and Benchmark’s Mydiavac. If unsure, discuss with your vet about what would be most suitable for your flock. 

Any flock that buys in replacement ewes is at risk of introducing EAE and should vaccinate for prevention rather than risk the expense of disease. Together with robust biosecurity measures, changing to vaccination can reduce lamb losses, maximise ewe productivity across your flock and reduce antibiotic use. A win win situation!

For more information see the BRP manual, Reducing lamb losses for Better Returns or check out our infographic.

You can also follow the online conversation by using the hashtag #VaccinesWork from 8 September and get involved with helping the agricultural industry to reduce antibiotic usage. For more information, you can visit