Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Lessons in knowledge transfer from Georgia, the painted cow

Visitors to Beef Expo last month may have been rather taken aback to see a brightly painted cow on the EBLEX stand, which bore more than a passing resemblance to a Mondrian painting and looked quite unlike something you would expect to see at an agricultural show.

Georgia with EBLEX board member Paul Westaway,
Farming Minister David Heath and EBLEX's Katie Brian
Georgia proved to be a big hit at the annual event, prompting a lot of questions and being “papped” throughout the day by visitors taking photos on their mobile phones. She even posed for a photo with Farming Minister David Heath. Georgia did, however, fulfil a more serious purpose, as she communicated an important message to the farming audience. The coloured panels were designed to represent the different cuts of meat that can be produced from a beef animal, with the aim of encouraging farmers to think about the end product of their labours. By seeing themselves as meat producers rather than cattle producers, the hope is that they will give more thought to the specification of their animals when they send them to slaughter, thus maximising their returns.

Selection for slaughter is one of the five areas of focus of the Better Returns Programme, a well-established knowledge transfer initiative which is a key part of our drive to improve the efficiency of the beef and sheep industry. Of the approximately 60,000 beef and sheep farms in England, over 20,000 have voluntarily signed up to the BRP and we encourage more to join at every possible opportunity.

Finding new ways to communicate knowledge transfer messages is an ongoing challenge for the BRP team, who have a major presence at key industry events, which this year include Beef Expo, North and South West Sheep and the Livestock Show, as well as arranging almost 300 farm events each year.

The creative juices were obviously flowing when ideas for this season’s events were discussed, as, in addition to Georgia, the EBLEX stand at Beef Expo featured a 1:10 scale model of a cattle handling system, enabling cattle handling expert Miriam Parker to talk visitors through the key factors affecting the design and operation of a handling facility. A ‘muck carpet’ provided a very visual (but not too smelly!) representation of the application rates for muck and slurry and the vet’s area included such horrors as a liver infected by fluke and pneumonia-infected lungs, encouraging producers to minimise the risk of these conditions and therefore reduce the cost to the industry of condemned organs.


BCS sheep models with EBLEX's Liz Genever and Katie Brian
The regional sheep events (North Sheep and South West Sheep) proved just as interactive, with new, tactile body condition score (BCS) models making their debut appearance, designed to help farmers judge whether sheep are at target at key points during the year. To bring them to life, the BRP team made eye-catching wooden sheep to attach the models too, painting them in ‘traffic light’ colours to show farmers what BCS they should be aiming for. This was just one area of a busy EBLEX stand, which included everything from ultrasound scanning of live ewes to a butchery demonstration by one of our in-house butchers, who talked to visitors about our work in developing new cuts to encourage people to cook with lamb.

A painted cow or some colourful wooden sheep are no substitute for the detailed technical information available in the comprehensive range of BRP manuals and other literature, but they do provide an effective way to draw people on to the stand and give our technical experts a hook to engage with levy payers and offer their expertise.

Hopefully you’ve already had the chance to see our team in action at one of these events, if not our events calendar gives more details of where you can find us over the summer. If you’re an English beef or sheep farmer and are not already a member of the Better Returns Programme, you can sign up here.