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 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, bvdfree.org.uk, 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:  BVD@sac.co.uk. For more information on BVD testing or to check the status of a herd, visit the website: bvdfree.org.uk

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 www.ruma.org.uk

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Preparing ewes and rams for tupping season

Katie Thorley, Senior Knowledge Transfer Manager, gives advice around ensuring your ewes are fit for going to the ram in terms of body condition score, as well as suggesting how rams should be prepared for the tupping season.

October is not far away and this is traditionally the start of the main tupping period. You need to ensure your ewes are fit for going to the ram, so it is important to body condition score (BCS) all breeding ewes. Ensuring ewes are on target for the system is more important than ever after a tough year. Go through your ewes and separate into three groups, lean, fit and fat. The lean ewes are those which need priority grazing, supplementary forage or concentrates to get them back in condition to go to the ram. It takes six to eight weeks on good quality grazing to put on one BCS. If they go to the ram lean this could lead to issues throughout the pregnancy and reduced lamb performance. We have been running some body condition scoring workshops - visit the events area of our website to find a workshop near you.


Reduced grass growth this year may have forced you to feed some of your winter feed stocks already, so now is the time to consider your feed options. Calculate your feed requirements to get you through a normal winter with your number of stock. Have you made enough silage? Measure the clamp to work out the amount of silage made and count the number of bales. If you think you will have a shortfall you need to consider your options now. Could you add an additional feed to bulk out the forage, such as potatoes. Could you plant some brassica crops? Consider the best options for your area and system - planning now will save a lot of worry and stress throughout the winter.

Research suggests that feeding ewes a diet high in protein and energy in the weeks leading up to tupping (also known as flushing) will achieve higher scanning percentages. However, it depends a lot on the ewe’s current body condition. Flushing has the biggest impact on ewes between BCS 2 and 4. Trial work has found that flushing ewes at BCS 4 or above did not improve conception rate and flushing ewes at below BCS 2 had no effect on scanning results. In terms of tupping, make sure at least 90 per cent of the flock is at target BCS to optimise flock performance. Thin ewes ovulate fewer eggs and are likely to have fewer lambs. Fat ewes will ovulate more than thin ewes, however higher embryonic death rates may result in lower scanning for ewes that are in too good condition.



In terms of checking your rams, the best way to do this is to carry out a ram MOT, ideally 10 weeks before tupping. It is important that you consider the five t’s (toes, teeth, testicles, tone and treat). You should consider a high-quality protein feed and purchase your rams well in advance of the breeding season, so you can quarantine them for the minimum time of three weeks and allow them to adjust to your system. A fertile, mature ram should be able to successfully inseminate 85 per cent of a batch of 60 ewes in their first reproductive cycle. Ram lambs should be able to get 85 per cent of 40 ewes pregnant after one mating. If these targets are reached, the ram cost per lamb is optimised and the lambing period will be better controlled. 



For more information on how to ensure both ewes and rams are in good condition for breeding take a look at the BRP manual Managing ewes for Better Returns and the Ram MOT leaflet.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Mastitis concern raised at Challenge Sheep discussion groups

Over the Summer, the second round of Challenge Sheep discussion groups have been held on the 12 participating farms, focussing on the data collected after the 2018 lambing season. Following a poor spring, attendees across the groups have reported a noticeable rise in cases of Mastitis. Dr Liz Genever discusses why this may have happened and what farmers should be doing to address the rise, ahead of tupping.


We’ve just finished running all of our Challenge Sheep discussion groups and have had a reoccurring topic across all events with attendees. Mastitis and sore teats have been common this year, in both replacements that we are following for the project but also the wider flock too.

This year’s weather is likely to have had an impact on mastitis. The cold and slow spring, which led to poor nutrition for ewes may have reduced milk yields, leaving lambs to damage the udders when trying to get the milk out. As a result, infections are then common in teats or in the udder. If ewes are cold, wet and hungry, they are more likely to be susceptible to infection.

At the groups, there was a lot of talk about mastitis in ewes with older lambs. This could be due to reduced milk yields from lack of forage supplies, with lambs still demanding milk and therefore damaging udders. In some cases this leads to mastitis.

Udder with acute mastitis

As we know, mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland, usually caused by bacterial infection. But we don’t always think about it as an infectious disease, similar to lameness. Lumps that are felt inside udders are normally abscesses and can vary in size. The abscesses can burst and re-infect the udders, meaning lambs can then spread the infection by cross suckling. If the ewe’s udders are sore, cross suckling is more likely to increase as she will knock the lambs off.

With the current weather conditions reducing grass and forage supplies on farms around the country, it is crucial that only productive breeding animals remain in the flock this autumn. It’s now the time of year that ewe’s udders will be examined generally once they have dried off and before they head towards tupping.

After the bad spring and with farmers noticing a rise in mastitis, it’s is likely that harder culling on udders may be needed. This is justified due to the need to prioritise resources for your best ewes.

Previous research has shown that lambs from ewes with lumps in the udder grow slower, which can have an impact financially. There is also research to suggest that ewes with lumps are at a greater risk of developing mastitis in the next lactation.

Estimates suggest that mastitis costs the UK sheep industry more than £120 million per year in direct and indirect costs. It is ranked as one of the most important diseases affecting ewes. For this reason, farmers should be assessing udders now ahead of tupping and making the best decisions for their flock.

There is more information about tackling mastitis here in the Better Returns Plus – Understanding mastitis in sheep document. https://beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/BRP-plus-Understanding-mastitis-in-sheep-180716.pdf