Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Update from Yorkshire Strategic Farm

Following the launch of our network of our Farm Excellence Strategic Farms in September 2017,
we’ve caught up with Yorkshire based Guy Prudom to find out how the last few months have been and what challenges he’s faced. 

We hosted our first meeting at Northfields Farm just before Christmas on a very wet, snowy and blustery morning. I gave an overview of how the farm has developed from the 380 acre rented unit my father took on with 90 suckler cows, to the 1000 acre and 200 suckler cow farm that it is now. It’s not too bad but, when the weather is against you and you’ve not had enough sleep during calving, it can often seem like a challenge.

In early January, the team from AHDB and myself sat down to work out our key performance indicators (KPIs) for the project. These included:

1. Increasing the quality and utilisation of grass grown

2. Increasing cow output, including calves born and reared

3. Improving genetics of heifers to become a multiplier for the breed to increase output value

I also spent time in January getting to grips with my benchmarking figures for Farmbench. Note to myself: go through the VAT accounts at the end of every month and allocate to each enterprise. Something I tell myself to do, but fail miserably at. Thankfully, I’d kept records of our suckler herd output, so I have managed to crack it and it is been very rewarding to see calf mortality figures dropping and output per cow increasing.

February is vaccination month for the suckler cows. Mid-February we vaccinate the entire herd for leptospirosis, bolus the herd for trace element deficiencies and use closamectin pour-on wormer to reduce the risk of liver fluke and other worms. In the past we’ve vaccinated to protect against rotavirus, but this is quite expensive. So this year I looked back through last year’s calving records and only vaccinated the cows that calved in the first six weeks. This has been fairly stress free due to improving the cattle race by installing a backing gate.

We normally start calving around 7th March but not this year. Things started badly with a heifer calving a month prematurely, losing a cow and calf due to infection and then another calf that just did not want to live. A bad start to the calving season, coupled with the bad weather made things seem very depressing.

With the inclement weather we decided to split a shed using crash barriers, so if the wet weather was to continue at least we could have somewhere to put cows and calves under cover. As it happened this has worked really well.

Cows calved in ones and twos up until about 14th March when we got going with 4 – 6 cows and heifers calving a day. This makes life a lot easier as you get into a routine of going around the two farms where we are calving four times a day. 



The first cows and calves went out on about the 20th March onto some fairly plain wet fields. Rule of thumb is that they need 24 hours of dry weather outside and then they can cope with most conditions after that. It is amazing to go around them following 12 or 24 hours of continuous rain, sleet and snow and find them sheltered under hedges and behind stone walls quite content and warm.

Hopefully, by mid to late April I’ll be able to get out of the calving pens and start to look at the pastures. Thankfully, when I brought the cows in for winter there was still a good covering of grass. This has been my saving grace this spring as the cows have something to eat.

The beginning of March saw me taking stock of our silage and straw situation. Thankfully, we have more than enough silage but straw, on the other hand, was a different matter. An expensive phone call later to our straw merchant saw several wagonloads delivered.

Looking at the heap I had purchased and given several comments from senior management I thought I had over done things again. Sat writing this in mid-April I wished I had bought a bit more!

Our network of Strategic Farms will be holding meetings in the summer months and will be announced shortly. To keep up to date visit beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/events

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Challenge Sheep Discussion Groups facilitate farmer-to-farmer learning

Hayley King who is Project Manager for the Challenge Sheep project talks about the recent series of discussion groups and how farmer-to-farmer learning is at the centre of the project.

Since launching Challenge Sheep back in September, we’ve now held over 15 launch events and insightful discussion groups with sheep producers around the country. As project manager, my role is to make sure we collect the data that will help us to understand the consequences of the rearing phase on the lifetime performance of ewes. The project will track 9,500 replacements from thirteen English sheep farms over seven years to understand how flock performance can be improved.

In 2018, we’ve held nine discussion groups around the country on our farms, covering a wide range of topics from nutrition in pregnancy, reducing antibiotic use at lambing and lambing losses, as well as talks around the RUMA #ColostrumisGold Campaign. Each meeting is chaired by the farm’s assigned consultant and vet to ensure the topic benefits the producers from the surrounding area. We’ve also invited external speakers to be involved, like Poppy Frater, from the Scottish Agricultural College, who spoke to our Windermere group about the Live Lambs Project, a project that looks at increasing lamb survival rates by 5 per cent.






There has also been much discussion around the data on farm and analysis of the results, this includes a look into scanning results as well as tupping data. All farmers attending the events have been encouraged to bring along their own data for interpretation and have the opportunity to gain advice from AHDB and the farm vets and consultants.

As project manager the discussion results have been really beneficial as they’ve helped me to understand more about our farms and the story behind their data. However our farmers are learning more each day through farmer-to-farmer learning. Sam Jones, one of our challenge sheep farmers, has found that he’s learnt at least one new thing at every meeting, which makes the meeting valuable for not only himself but the others involved.

The discussion groups offer producers a platform to share their advice on situations where others may need help and also an opportunity to learn from those around them about the management of their flock.

We’ve got more groups throughout the year and would encourage sheep producers to get involved and join in the conversation. The next series of meeting will take place in the summer.

Want to find out more information about your local Challenge Sheep Farm? Information about the project and the farms taking part can be found on the AHDB Beef & Lamb website.


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Log on for the latest market outlook

With uncertainty around Britain’s exit from the EU, beef and lamb producers are repeatedly asking ‘what are the prospects for our beef and lamb in 2018 and beyond?”. Duncan Wyatt, AHDB Lead analyst, explains why this month’s AHDB Outlook webinar will help answer this question and provide farmers with valuable insight for their businesses.

Many of our levy-payers have animals on the ground today that will not be sent to the abattoir until after Brexit – so gaining a better understanding of possible scenarios for each sector is crucial as they look to the future and prepare themselves for the challenges that may lie ahead.

On 15 February the red meat team from AHDB Market Intelligence will host its second Livestock Outlook Webinar which will focus primarily on this issue and give some valuable insight into the future prospects for the red meat industry. We’ll also be giving a presentation on the outlook for feed markets and an update on AHDB’s Brexit activity. This event will give producers and broader industry stakeholders the chance to review recent developments in their sector and see how the situation may have developed since our last forecasts were published in October.

With the sheep industry particularly vulnerable to a hard Brexit, there is much to address as we look forward. Lamb production is forecast to rise to 312,000 tonnes in 2018, although dressed carcase weights are expected to be stable over the coming years with just small seasonal variations. Imports are not expected to recover hugely from 2017’s lower levels and exports should remain stable, although some increases may be necessary if domestic demand continues to slow.

In the beef sector, the legacy of both dairy and suckler herd growth in recent years will lead to slightly higher numbers of prime cattle, but at lower weights in 2018 and 2019. This will keep production relatively stable at around 900 thousand tonnes. Fluctuations in imports will largely be determined by Irish production, and the market overall is expected to continue to balance with exports.

The webinar is an opportunity for you to ask those all-important questions to our panel of experts during the question and answer session which follows the main presentations.
The webinar will give you access to valuable information without leaving your home or office, and will help you remain well-informed of current market trends and provide answers to help keep your business resilient in testing times.
Anyone interested in taking part in our Livestock Outlook Webinar, at 10:30 am on 15 February, can register at: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4726584270924402946 

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Top chefs share tips on how to utilise the whole carcase


Karl Pendlebury, Quality Manager for the Quality Standard Mark (QSM) shares with us the latest digital activity that is taking place to help promote QSM beef & lamb.

Over the last few years we have developed strong relationships with chefs across the country. We know from our research that farmer to farmer learning really allows for great collaboration of ideas and we wanted to apply that to the foodservice industry, allowing chefs to share their great wealth of knowledge with each other.

To do this we decided to create a series of videos that inspire chefs and future generations of chefs to cook beef and lamb. The films are centred around the chefs themselves and the tips and tricks they use whilst creating the beef or lamb dish being filmed. We felt this would give the foodservice sector something to get their teeth into!



We were lucky enough to team up with some really great chefs at the top of their game – that really enjoy sharing ideas and creating dishes that are tasty, nutritious and above all, allow them to work with great quality meat.

The films also show how the chefs utilise the whole beef & lamb carcase, which is a message our Knowledge Exchange team are relaying to our producers, as the more product that can be used, the better financial return.
The idea is that chefs and consumers watch these films and try something different - but ultimately we want them to use QSM beef and lamb in their recipes to serve in their restaurants and really showcase the quality of meat in the scheme.

British restaurants and food service professionals are becoming ever increasing important to beef and lamb farmers. They help to set the trend for consumers cooking at home and inspire people to try new dishes.

The first film features Chef Chris Wheeler from Stoke Park preparing a version of his grandmother’s Luxury Shepherds Pie.



Six videos will be released over the coming months and can be viewed on www.qsmbeefandlamb.co.uk/off-the-block.

To find out more about QSM work contact Karl Pendlebury on 0845 491 8787 or visit http://www.qsmbeefandlamb.co.uk/top-chefs-share-tips-to-increase-whole-carcase-use+

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Do we think about our health when we choose our food?

In this blog Emily Beardshaw, from our Consumer Insight team, looks at whether we actually consider our health when we choose our food.The Consumer Insight team focus consumer habits that
provide evidence of consumer opinion on topics relevant to our sector, to better inform AHDB’s marketing activity.

AHDB carried out research in August last year that found a greater focus on the health benefits of beef, lamb and dairy could drive consumers to buy more.

We commissioned consumer research that investigated reactions to specific health claims related to beef, lamb and dairy products. Key findings included identification of a general interest in following a healthier diet among the younger ages and that there are differences in what healthiness means to different age groups.

It was found that health has different levels of importance to people and is associated with many different meanings. This research project found that, when thinking about food, older people generally associate health with eating a balance of foods and restricting fat consumption, whereas younger people understood it to be the result of balancing a combination of different lifestyle factors such as exercise levels and food preparation methods. People aged 18 - 44 had a greater awareness of specific vitamins and minerals which constitute a healthy diet than those aged over 44. The words ‘natural’, ‘organic’ and ‘fresh’ were thought of as being healthy.

Consumers were aware of multiple negative associations for red meat and generally could only recall negative news stories. However, they had heard of positive messages around beef and lamb being strongly linked with protein and iron.




Messages based around the presence of specific vitamins and minerals and the health benefits they provide were tested to ascertain consumer reaction. As previously mentioned, there was already a high level of awareness of the protein and iron content of beef and lamb, however, consumers were not aware that beef and lamb contained several different vitamins and minerals.



This research has highlighted that we should continue to educate people about the health benefits of primary food products. Although health may not always be the top consideration when people are choosing their food, we should all have sufficient knowledge to be able to make informed decisions, and AHDB has a role to play in helping to inform consumers about the health benefits of red meat.

You can view the full report here

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Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Activities across AHDB Beef & Lamb during 2017…

With 2018 looming, we look back at key AHDB Beef & Lamb activity during 2017.

Looking back to January, we started our recruitment for our Selection Academy. The aim was to find a number of beef & lamb experts that could help us to spread our messages around selecting the right stock for slaughter through events in their regions. We now have a team of nine selection specialists across the country who have all started to run events. Search for a specialist in your region.




February saw the Meat Education Programme take home the prize for the Best Training Initiative at the Food Management Today Industry Awards, for addressing a lack of accessible training for professionals working in the meat industry. The Meat Education Programme aims to help both individuals and businesses enhance their knowledge and understanding of the preparation and cooking of meat, and provide them with certification recognised by the meat industry.
Dr Phil Hadley, AHDB International Market Development Director, was awarded with one of the highest accolades in the meat industry in recognition of his longstanding commitment to the meat sector. Dr Hadley was presented with a Fellowship of the Institute of Meat at The Institute of Meat and Worshipful Company of Butchers Annual Prize-Giving.
We held our Halal Seminar, back in February with more than 80 delegates attending from the sector to discuss the key issues and opportunities. We saw presentations from a range of halal specialists including a talk from Professor Joe Regenstein, a leading halal expert, who looked at how the halal sector can meet consumer needs. We also welcomed our new halal Sector Manager, Awal Fuseini, who is helping us to focus on the needs of the halal industry.



In Spring we launched the search for Strategic farms across the country. As part of our wider Farm Excellence work, the farms will aim to demonstrate clear advances in on-farm productivity by monitoring performance and implementing best practice. With 13 farms on-board, we’ve now had launch meetings across the farms and have more events planned for the next year.

Great British Beef Week, a high-profile campaign to increase sales of beef & lamb by encouraging consumers to purchase mini roasts took place in April. The campaign reached 22 million households through TV, press and digital activity, adding £1.3 million in mini roast sales.

The summer saw the launch of RB209 at the Grassland & Muck event. The manual offers best practice guidance on the application of mineral fertilisers, manures and slurries to crops and grassland. We also ran Brexit 360, a number of panel discussions with AHDB experts that explored the impacts of Brexit one year on for UK agriculture and horticulture. The videos are available on the AHDB’s Youtube channel and are complimented by AHDB’s suite of Horizon publications that give an overview of Brexit and potential scenarios for what the agricultural and horticultural sectors could look like in a post –Brexit landscape.

In October we launched the Challenge Sheep project and recruited 13 farms to take part in a project to track and evaluate the consequences of the rearing phase on the lifetime performance of ewes. We have now had all the launch events and look forward to drilling into the detail of the data at discussion groups throughout 2018.
We announced a €10 million campaign to boost lamb consumption over the next three years. The campaign is a joint venture between France, England and Ireland, and means AHDB secured a €10 million campaign for a €1 million investment, to support the lamb sector. We also launched our SQQ survey that seeks opinions from those working in the sheep sector. The survey runs until 31 December – so you still have time to take part.



The last major beef & lamb event of the year was our annual AHDB Beef & Lamb Stakeholder Conference, which looked at how the beef & lamb industry can make preparations to be ‘fit for the future’. We heard from experts across AHDB, as well as a number of guest speakers. You can view snippets from the presentations here.
For AHDB Beef & Lamb activity throughout the year why not sign up to our monthly e-news?


Happy New Year from all at AHDB Beef & Lamb.

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 funded a number of artificial insemination (AI) courses across the country, run by XL Vets Training Services and Westpoint Farm Vets. They were so popular with producers that we have approved funding for a further 250 places.
We had 80 expressions of interest for 50 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, while 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 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. They also say they are better than those from any stock bull they could afford to buy.
Funding is available until March 2020 to suckler producers with 30 or more breeding females, with 50% of the course cost covered by AHDB Beef & Lamb.

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.
Funding is also be available to final year agriculture students who can 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