Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Interested in DIY Artificial Insemination?

Before joining AHDB, Amy Fawcett AHDB Beef & Lamb Knowledge Exchange Manager worked with cattle as an Artificial Insemination and Embryo Transfer Technician for most of her career. She now leads on a number of AI projects within AHDB.

Earlier in the year we ran a number of Artificial Insemination (AI) courses across the country in conjunction with XL Vets Training Services and Westpoint Farm Vets. They were so popular with our producers that we have approved funding for a further 250 places.

We had eighty expressions of interest for fifty course places. I know that giving producers the ability to perform AI themselves enables them to serve cattle at the correct time and reduces service costs whilst putting them in control of their own breeding strategies.

Traditionally AI isn’t widely used on suckler farms, but I know from experience that the rate of genetic gain that can be achieved within a herd by using AI is incredible. The cost of a straw of semen from a bull with good, high reliability EBVs is a fraction of the cost of buying and keeping a bull on farm.

Using AI enables producers to select bulls that are suited to their herd’s breeding programme and is an ideal way to introduce different bloodlines into the herd. Sires can be chosen for both maternal and terminal traits and sexed semen is now available for some high maternal value beef sires, enabling producers to breed their own superior replacement heifers. Using AI sires to breed replacements also removes the need to replace stock bulls when it’s time to serve their daughters.

Although using AI can seem like more work than simply running a stock bull, there are numerous suckler herds across the country that are doing it successfully, both with the use of synchronisation programmes and from observing natural heats. Everyone that I have spoken to that is using AI, would now never look back as the quality of calves coming through far outweighs the bit of extra management required to get cows in calf and are better than those from any stock bull they could afford to buy.


We will be running the courses until March 2020 and they are available to suckler producers with 30 or more breeding females. AHDB is also offering funding for 50 per cent of the course.

This work fits in with our 2017-2020 strategy and one of our priorities is driving greater on-farm uptake of superior genetics by increasing the use and understanding of estimated breeding values. Enabling producers to perform AI on farm means they have the potential to improve profitability by increasing the genetic potential of their herd.

Hear first-hand from James Shouler, a suckler producer from Oxfordshire, who attended a course in 2017. In this short video he talks about the benefits of being able to perform AI on his herd.

I also ran a webinar looking at the practicalities of Artificial Insemination and synchronisation in the suckler herd last March, which you can watch on our youtube channel

The funding will also be available to final year agriculture students who can successfully demonstrate how they will use the skills gained on the course in their future career.



Any students applying for funding should download and complete a short application form and return it to amy.fawcett@ahdb.org.uk

For more information including how to book on a course, see beefandlamb.org.uk/returns

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Farm Bench: being prepared is the secret

Doreen Anderson, AHDB’s Farm Benchmarking Manager, gives us an insight into,the new-look Farm Bench, cost of production tool, and how it can help your farm business. 

Farmbench is a whole-farm benchmarking programme from AHDB. It is user-friendly and intuitive and will help you to understand and compare your full costs of production at both enterprise and farm level.

This new system replaces AHDB’s sector specific benchmarking programmes and will help farmers measure and manage their whole-farm performance. Through Farmbench farmers can learn from others, compare costs and identify best practice. Farmbench is now live for beef and lamb, potatoes, cereals and oilseeds enterprises, with dairy coming on board in 2018. It allows mixed farms to enter their costs in one go. Individual farm data is kept confidential, but it is still possible to share anonymous, aggregated data.



By calculating costs of production and benchmarking together we have the keys to a healthy, resilient agricultural industry.

For livestock

Capturing data does not have to be difficult or complicated. Key information should be recorded about the stock and how much feed, medicine and bedding is used. From this performance can be evaluated. Information can be recorded by using:

  • Notebooks 
  • White and black boards in sheds/farm office
  • Calendar/diary
  • Invoices – purchase and sales 
  • Mobile phones/tablets
  • Flock/herd management tools
  • Electronic Identification (EID) 

Why benchmark?

By using benchmarking in a group situation, you can compare your business with your peers operating in similar circumstances. You can identify the business with the lowest costs and best margins and find out how they do it. Calculating costs of production and net margins can allow you to set targets and monitor your progress against these targets. Using a benchmarking tool like Farmbench, you can plan for a variety of scenarios, such as:

  • Rotation and budgets 
  • Changing cropping mix or level of crop inputs 
  • Adding or subtracting labour/ machinery/buildings/land
  • Planning for new crop diversification rules

For more information on using Farm Bench and how to use it for your business visit the FarmBench website.



You can also view a number of video case studies from farmers who are using FarmBench to understand their cost of production and make their businesses more resilient.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Helping the industry to be experts in stock selection

Steve Powdrill, National Livestock Selection Specialist, has been in the agricultural industry for more than 40 years. This blog looks at how AHDB Beef & Lamb are helping livestock producers to increase the number of animals meeting supplier specifications.

In 2015 45 per cent of lambs and 48 per cent of cattle failed to meet target specification for fat or carcase conformation. With processors focused on fulfilling customer requirements, animals that are not meeting specification are having a significant impact on producer profitability.

This is why AHDB Beef & Lamb are focusing heavily on helping livestock producers to meet processor specification by running events and promoting messages. As part of this, we run a number of ‘Live to Dead’ events across the country that aim to give those involved in agriculture an insight into how best to select and judge livestock that are ready for slaughter.



Each workshop is extremely hands-on and is run by us in conjunction with MLC Services Ltd. Attendees are given the opportunity to handle live animals to assess fat cover and conformation, but also see them post-slaughter so classifications can be compared and contrasted. All events are accompanied by a discussion around factors affecting killing out percentages and dressing specifications.
Earlier in the year we also recruited a team of selection specialists. Based across the country, the team are available to give selection talks and demonstrations to beef and lamb producer and stakeholder groups. You can view the specialist in your area by visiting the selection area of the AHDB Beef & Lamb website.
So far, the team has been involved with 13 selection sessions, and this includes delivering events to agricultural students, new staff members at AHDB and other similar organisations, as well as a number of livestock producers.

We also produce a range of publications to help producers meet target specification and deliver what consumers want.

By holding the events and promoting the specification message, we’re aiming to increase numbers of livestock meeting specification that will result in improved returns to producers and an industry focused on consumer requirements, which is a key objective in creating a profitable and resilient industry.


Visit our website to find a range of selection publications. You can also book onto our ‘Live to Dead’ events through our events page.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Are SQQ weight bands still fit for purpose?


Jo Tuck, Head of Data and Analysis, in our Market Intelligence Team, writes about our consultation on prime lamb price reporting and why we are looking for representatives from the sheep industry to share their views on whether the most frequently used price measure for prime lambs, the Standard Quality Quotation (SQQ),should be amended.

Following on from producer and industry feedback AHDB feels it is time to look into Standard Quality Quotation (SQQ) weight bands and see whether they should be amended to bring them in line with current market conditions. The way we produce lamb has changed from when the original weight bands were set and now is the right time for an industry-wide consultation. The SQQ is an average price for lambs marketed within predefined weight bands and has been used consistently over many years. It is also used as an indication of the ‘target range’ for marketing lambs.


In spring 2017, we talked to a number of auction markets and processors, who offered a range of opinions, with the majority of them suggesting that the SQQ weight bands should be changed. Following this, we have teamed up with experts from Hybu Cig Cymru Meat Promotion Wales and Quality Meat Scotland to get a wider breadth of opinions and industry expertise from across the UK.



It is now your chance to share your opinion as to whether you think the SQQ is still fit for purpose. By filling out our survey, you can share your views on the current system, as well as how you feel it could be changed. The short survey asks you to rank three auction market weight bands from; no change, removing the ‘light weight’ band or redefining all weight bands. Results of the survey will allow us to make a decision on the future of the weight bands that works for our levy payers.


You will be able to take part in the survey until 31 December 2017 and the feedback will then be analysed. Results will be available in the New Year and if changes are needed, the changes will be implemented in spring 2018.

For more information on the consultation and to complete the survey visit our website

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A farmers’ view of Strategic Farms


Elbridge Farm in Kent is home to Verity Garrett and the Holdstock family. Recently joining the Strategic Farm initiative, the farm holds 230 pedigree sussex breeding cows plus followers and 200 Romney x ewes. Verity explains why she wanted to become one of the Strategic Farms and share advice for the younger generation of farmers.

1. How long have you been working on the family farm?

I grew up on the farm and so from that point of view I have always been involved in farming, but I have actively been working back on the farm for 4 years. Before that I was working for Tesco as a Technical manager in their fresh produce sourcing team following a degree in Agri-business management at Newcastle University.

2. What attracted you to the Strategic Farm initiative?

I saw it as a great opportunity to really look into both our ways of working and expenditure in the livestock arm of the business. It is a fantastic chance to have access to industry expertise and is a great learning platform from both leaders in the industry and the fellow farms involved in the study. I have been conscious for a while that as a farming business we do limited benchmarking and I know it can be a really useful exercise. I also like the fact that the initiative covers both cattle and sheep, as we have only just taken on sheep as part of the farm business.


3. What do you hope to gain from being a Strategic Farm?

I hope that by taking part we will be able to see where our strengths and weaknesses lie and have full transparency of the profitability of the business. Farming a native breed of cattle means our carcase gradings would not be as consistently as high as the continental breeds, but then I also know our inputs and concentrate feed levels will be lower. Therefore it will be interesting to be benchmarked against the other farm types and breeds involved.I am also really interested in the genetics behind the carcase grading, and I am looking to improve our grassland management too.

4. What do you love most about your job?

I love that no two days are the same and working outside on the farm is the best office you can ask for! Working with animals always throws up daily challenges – but I love it and get a huge amount of satisfaction from them especially during calving and lambing.


5. What advice would you give for those just starting out in their careers in agriculture?

There is such a huge range of careers both linked to agriculture and directly in agriculture. The average age of farmers is ever increasing which should be seen as a concern for the industry but also as a great opportunity for young keen people to work in agriculture. People need to be aware that it’s not glamorous or easy, but it’s a fantastic industry with a huge amount of knowledgeable people to learn from.

You can find more about the Strategic Farm project on our website, or follow #StrategicFarms on Twitter.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Meat testing is key to determine consumer needs

Consumer research is essential in helping us to make informed decisions here at AHDB Beef & Lamb. Understanding consumers’ preferences of beef and lamb allows us to feedback to the supply chain and ultimately our levy payers who work to produce the perfect product for consumers worldwide. Here Siobhan Slayven, Supply Chain Development Manager, talks about the latest activity, which is helping us assess consumers’ perception of meat quality

AHDB Beef & Lamb has been working with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) to understand more about the Meat Standards Australia programme (MSA), which aims to improve the eating quality of beef meat. The MSA programme is based on over 100,000 consumer taste tests and almost 700,000 samples, giving a huge database of information.




Working with the guidance of MLA, we’ve now started to carry out our own trials on beef eating quality to see what we can learn from our consumers. This month we ran some of the first beef tasting trials in three different locations. Participants were asked to sample a variety of beef cuts, which ranged from forequarter cuts to more premium steak cuts. Testers rated the different cuts of meat based on various qualities such as tenderness, juiciness and flavour, along with their perceived quality of the meat and importantly willingness to pay.



The testing was conducted under controlled conditions in individual booths, with each tester being served a different cut, so they would not be testing the same sample as the person that sat next to them. Once all cuts had been rated, participants were asked how much they would pay for an unsatisfactory steak through to a premium steak.



Assessing meat eating quality is really important to help reduce inconsistencies with meat and highlight areas which can be improved. Since the MSA launch, the programme has not only shown an improvement in the eating quality for consumers but has provided financial benefits to producers due to increased premiums for MSA-graded produce. A number of retailer in Australia are also on board, with around 155 Australian brands introducing on-pack labelling.




Working with MLA has provided us with a great opportunity to look at how determine meat eating quality in the UK and raised ideas as to how we could learn from the programmes results.  

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

How do you measure your social media performance? Part 5

In the fifth and final blog from the AHDB social media team, Kate Nolan-Burgess looks at how you can measure your social media presence.

Our series of social media blogs have covered  of how social media can improve your business, which social media platform is best for your business and what content should work well for your audience. But once you’ve put in the work creating content, how do you measure your performance.
Being active on Facebook and Twitter is great, but the only way to know you’re being successful with your activity is to measure your performance. In order to fully harness the power of social media, you should pay attention to some of the key metrics. Here are the top three areas you should be focusing on:
  •         Follower count – This could be the number of followers on Twitter and Instagram and number of likes on a Facebook page. Creating brand awareness is one of the biggest top-level goals marketers have. You shouldn’t focus purely on the size of your following, but look at the quality of your followers and how many interact with you.

  •          Engagement – This is the number one area that you should be concerned with on social media. Simply put, engagement measures the amount of likes, shares, and comments that your social updates receive. Having a large reach and low engagement is a bad sign, because it shows that the content you post is not resonating with your audience. Reaching millions of people means nothing if they aren’t interest in what you have to offer.



  •          Reach/Impressions – Certain social channels report impressions, others focus on reach. This metric shows you how far your message is actually travelling. Total reach shows you how many unique users in total have seen your content. Impressions consist of the number of times content from your page is displayed. A higher number is always better, as it is crucial to improving your brand awareness. Twitter offer a report system that is free for you to be able to track this.

We hope this series has given you an overview of what you need to know to build a successful social media presence, get closer to your customer base and develop your business. Whether your business is already active on social media or you’re looking to start an online community soon, we hope you have found this series useful. Follow @TheAHDB and @AHDB_BeefLamb to be part of our conversations.