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

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Advice on managing grass and forage stocks

Liz Genever, AHDB Beef & Lamb Senior Scientist, looks at the current weather conditions and suggests ways in which farmers can tackle some of the difficult decisions that will need to made over the coming weeks and months.



The extreme weather we have experienced this year has made for a challenging 2018 so far. The very dry weather over the past few weeks has meant grass growth has been way below average for the time of year, with AHDB’s Forage for Knowledge weekly grass monitoring reporting growth of
21.2kg DM/ha across contributor farms at the end of July, compared to 59.5kg DM/ha recorded at the end of July 2017.

The lack of grass growth has meant farmers are having to feed animals with winter feed stock which will affect supplies later in the year. This issue is further compounded because the bad weather earlier in the spring has impacted silage yields, with most farmers able to get an ok first cut, some may have got a second cut but that’s about it. Farmers should look at options for late silage, including the use of additives and testing nitrogen levels in standing crops so they can get a decent third cut. More information on making grass silage can be found in the BRP manual Making Grass silage for Better Returns.

Farmers should consider creating their winter feed budget now so they can get a handle on how much feed they will need in the coming months going in to the winter period, how much they will have and plan strategies to cope with the deficit.

The BRP manual Planning grazing strategies for Better Returns includes calculations for assessing available forage stocks and is a good place to start when assessing what is available on farm. There is also a feed budget calculator, available online, to help you plan the feed you have and will need.

Once you have identified the deficit you can plan on how to manage it. It may be that top-up purchases are required and you may have to feed more supplements than usual. It is a good idea to look at your flock or herd closely and identify the most productive animals. Consider selling or culling unproductive stock so that the limited resources can be allocated to the best-performing animals.

Livestock performance may have suffered too, so keep an eye on body condition score of ewes in the lead up to tupping, as well as cows, and consider weaning thin cows early. For more information on BCS see Managing ewes for Better Returns and Optimising suckler herd fertility for Better Returns.


If you usually house stock in winter, consider whether outwintering on a forage crop or sacrifice fields is in an option. This will depend on conditions on your farm as crops will need to sown in the next few weeks if being used for winter feed. The BRP manual Using Brassicas for Better Returns can help you plan the use of brassicas.

If this is not an option, look at different options for bedding in preparation for a straw shortage and also be prepared that if straw is in short supply, it may not be an option to bulk out a total mixed ration (TMR). Make sure ventilation is optimum and that drainage in yards is adequate to reduce the need for straw. We have videos on assessing calf buildings and assessing ventilation that can help you identify where imporvements can be made. Further information can be found in the BRP+ documents Better calf housing and BRP+ Better cattle housing design.

Contingency plans will have financial implications, whether it’s buying in extra feed or having to sell animals early which may mean not getting as good a price as you might expect. The key is to start planning now and finding the option that best-suits your business.

AHDB has a created a drought hub where farmers can find the latest guidance on managing the effects of heat stress and drought, including the latest insight from the market intelligence team.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Top London chef talks about the importance of the link between food and farming


Gemma Pamment, AHDB Marcomms Executive (Beef & Lamb) attended a filming day that was part of the Quality Standard Mark’s (QSM) ‘Off the block series’ of chef films. She went to see how the series of short films is helping to promote the QSM to the foodservice industry.

Part of my role at AHDB is to work with Karl Pendlebury, QSM Senior manager, to plan how we can promote QSM activity to our range of stakeholders. The ‘off the block' series of short films was born from an idea that was started in America. The American Pork industry wanted to showcase top chefs’ skills and knowledge to foodservice businesses so created a series of films called ‘Pork Uncut’. Karl saw these had gained popularity across social media and believed we could create our own suite of films to inspire chefs and future generations of chefs to cook with QSM beef and lamb in the UK.

Last week, the AHDB digital team and Karl went to London to film three chefs: Jesse Dunford Wood and Dipna Anand in central London and Dominic Chapman, who’s based in Berkshire. All added their own unique style and personality to the film, but all shared the same message: the importance of provenance, not only for them as chef but also to communicate the story of the dish to the consumer.

I attended the filming day on 11 July, where we met Jesse Dunford Wood, chef and owner of Parlour in Regent Street. It was refreshing to see that he was so passionate about provenance, understanding the raw ingredients and the quality of food he serve to his customers. 




He created three beef and lamb dishes; steak tartare, cow pie and rolled lamb breast. All ingredients were locally-sourced and Jesse spoke with enthusiasm about how, as a chef, he has a responsibility for ensuring his customers not only have an enjoyable time at his restaurant but also appreciate the quality of the food. He made the point around how important it is for chefs to pass on essential skills such as being able to identify where certain cuts are from and being able utilise a whole carcase.

I was fortunate enough to be able to sample some of his creations – and they certainly did not disappoint. The dishes were all packed with flavour and looked stunning. Jesse really did an amazing job highlighting the full potential of QSM beef and lamb and utilising the cuts from the whole carcase. 


There are plans to film with more chefs across the country. The films demonstrate the passion and excitement the chefs have for food and the importance of ensuring that the beef and lamb they source is of top quality. The main message I took away from the filming was that it is very important for chefs to have that appreciation of farming and understand the story from farm to fork.

The short films will be added to the QSM website in coming weeks. Stay connected to our Twitter and Facebook pages for more updates.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Meat masterclass course – getting to grips with the complexities of the beef and lamb supply chain


We are running our sixth meat masterclass this summer. Siobhan Slayven, AHDB Supply Chain Development Manager gives us an insight into what the course will cover and why learning about meat quality is important for the whole supply chain.

We’ll be running a two-day course over two dates this summer; 24-25 July and 31 July-1 August in Ettington, Warwickshire. During the course, delegates will cover a range of topics that look at the factors, which can affect red meat quality, including how to measure quality.

The course has proved popular across the industry with processors through to butchers. It is available to all our levy payers but is ultimately for those who work with red meat on a daily basis and need to understand the importance of quality and how this impacts upon the supply chain. 





We will look at beef and lamb quality from farm to fork and see the different stages at which quality can be compromised. I really want to encourage people to ask as many questions as possible so that all can get the most out of their time with us – it’s an opportunity not only to learn more about our industry but also a great chance for networking across the supply chain.

You will be able to find out more about what AHDB can do for you and gain some great insight from experts in the field. There will be a number of speakers from AHDB talking and giving butchery demonstrations throughout the course. Matt Southam, Head of Retail and Foodservice engagement, and Martin Eccles, Trade Marketing Executive will carry out a practical demonstration highlighting the way in which butchery can influence quality. Awal Fuseini, Halal Manager, will talk about the impact of welfare during slaughter for the halal market. We will also hear from Karl Pendlebury, Quality Standard Mark Senior Manager, who will focus on the importance of quality assurance for the end consumer.

The cost of the course is £150 per delegate and this includes overnight accommodation, all meals and conference material. It will run from 10am until 3pm the following day. 



If you would like to book your place, please contact beeflamb.supplychain@ahdb.org.uk and state your preferred date. Places are on a first come, first served basis.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

How farmers can limit anthelmintic resistance


Nerys Wright, Knowledge Exchange Manager for AHDB Beef & Lamb talks about the recent confirmation of the first case of resistance to Monepantel (Zolvix™) in the UK and the importance of ensuring that best practice is followed when administering wormers to sheep.

We have been using anthelmintics (wormers) for decades for worm control on our sheep farms. However, the worms are evolving and becoming capable of surviving a wormer dose that previously would have eradicated them. Over a period of time, these anthelmintic-resistant worms multiply and can cause poor lamb growth rates and sometimes lamb deaths.

Recent news confirms that Montepantel, a recent addition to the family of wormers, now has parasites that are resistant to it. It is therefore a timely reminder for farmers about the importance of following best practice advice.

Prior to 2010, there were three main types of wormers 1-BZ, 2-LV and 3-ML groups, all with a different mechanism of killing the worms. The introduction of group 4-AD in 2010 closely followed by 5-SI in 2012 provided the sheep industry with two new groups that would firstly prolong the life of the other groups and also provide new options for farms with resistance issues to the older three groups. It is when farmers rely almost exclusively on one wormer group combined with moving sheep to low challenge pasture (ground that has had any recent break from young lambs or lactating ewes) that the selection pressure leads to worms developing resistance quicker.

We support an industry body called Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) that represents the interests of the sheep industry. It recognises that, left unchecked, anthelmintic resistance is one of the biggest challenges to the future health and profitability of the UK sheep industry.



The SCOPS website gives some great advice on how to reduce anthelmintic resistance:

  •  Wormer groups 4-AD and 5-SI should be incorporated into worm control programmes on all sheep farms, their real value is in prolonging the life of the older 1-BZ, 2-LV and 3-ML groups
     
  •  A Group 4-AD or 5-SI wormer should ONLY be used as a quarantine drench on incoming animals and during mid/late season as a ‘one off’ annual drench for lambs. Use at other times should only be done under veterinary direction and only if the full anthelmintic resistance status of the farm is known.
     
  • Effectiveness of products used should be monitored carefully. Speak to your vet or a suitably qualified person (SQP) about how you can do this
  • If you are moving sheep to low challenge pasture after treatment, they must be left on dirty pasture for four to five days prior to moving or you should leave 10 per cent untreated. This is because if you dose and immediately move to a low challenge field, the only worms that will be taken are resistant ones (within the sheep). They will not have any breeding competition from a susceptible worm population. Turning them back to the ‘dirty’ pasture to pick up some susceptible worms or leaving 10 per cent of animals untreated will allow for the resistant worms to mix with the susceptible worms and the speed at which resistance will develop can be reduced. 


It is vital farmers treat their flock correctly with wormers. Best practice must always be followed:
  • Ensure the correct dose rate – dose to the heaviest in the group
  • Calibrate the gun and administer correctly, over the back of the tongue or into correct site if using an injection
  • Know how well wormers are working on your farm and only administer a wormer when it is necessary. 
For more information, please read the BRP manual Worm control in sheep for Better Returns and visit the SCOPS website

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Consumer marketing update


Gareth Renowden, Senior Consumer Marketing Manager for AHDB Beef & Lamb, talks about AHDB’s strategy in relation to our beef and lamb consumer marketing campaigns and how our year-round marketing activity aims to put beef and lamb on dinner plates across the UK.

We’ve seen a rise over the last few years of news stories undermining the nutritional benefits of red meat which, combined with the rise of veganism and flexitarianism, has almost certainly led to people eating fewer meals containing meat. As a result, it’s a constant challenge to maintain public perception of red meat as easy to cook, tasty and an important part of a healthy balanced diet.

Our strategy sets clear objectives around promoting beef and lamb to consumers and we have a busy year-round calendar of marketing campaigns to encourage beef and lamb consumption.

Our campaigns are always well-researched to ensure we reach our target market. Our dedicated consumer insights team carry out thorough market research to ensure we are targeting the right audience with the correct messages to encourage a change in behaviour.

For beef, our research shows that we need to increase consumer confidence and satisfaction while reducing barriers to purchase, such as not knowing how to cook certain cuts, and thinking it is unhealthy. We also know that those who regularly buy lamb are aged over 55, so our activity needs to increase the volume and frequency of lamb sales to younger consumers, demonstrating how versatile and easy it is to cook with.




All our marketing activities focus on a defined audience, which allows us to be very specific in the messaging and tone that we use. Our current campaigns are targeting consumers aged approximately between 20 and 35, or ‘millennials’ to give them their generational tag. Our research has shown that this age group is not watching as much traditional television, so using this form of advertising would not be effective, therefore we are focusing on other channels such as online advertising.

Because of our targeted approach, our marketing activity will not always be seen by all stakeholders. If the advert is targeting millennial consumers through the Simply Beef & Lamb Instagram channel, for example, the majority of farmers will be unlikely to come across it. For that reason, I work closely with our levy payer communications team to make sure we use the available channels to talk about this activity, such as the BRP bulletin, our Twitter account and our monthly e-news.

To find out more about our consumer marketing activity check out the marketing page of our website. You can get involved by sharing materials that are produced for the campaigns through your own social media channels, or sharing images of you creating our recipes. We really need the whole industry to be behind us in promoting the quality and provenance of beef and lamb produced in the UK.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Update on the beef feed Efficiency Programme


In this blog, Natalie Cormack, Beef Feed Efficiency Programme Manager, 
introduces one of the new farms that recently joined the project and takes a look at what they are doing, as well as some of the preliminary results. 

Watson Swinbank is an arable and beef producer at Greystones Farm in North Yorkshire and is one of the four farms involved in the Beef Feed Efficiency Programme across Great Britain. The four-year Defra and AHDB-funded programme is partnering with Scottish government and SRUC to demonstrate how feed efficiency traits can be measured and selected for in beef cattle in a UK commercial environment, illustrating how the most efficient cattle can eat less than others but grow at the same rate. This will provide significant opportunities for beef producers to cut the cost of production; as well as the development of an Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) that will enable on-going selection of more efficient cattle.




Greystones Farm has capacity to record more than 60 animals in each batch, which lasts for 93 days including an acclimatisation period of four weeks. By the end of 2018, Greystones will have collected feed intake data on 240 animals. Individual feed intake is recorded using special equipment imported from Alberta in Canada. Watson sources animals that meet a set of criteria to include Limousin-cross steers by a known sire of similar age group. Once off trial, Watson finishes the steers and the carcase information is also included in the genetic evaluation. While on trial the steers are weighed weekly, scanned at beginning and end, and DNA sampled. Watson also records the dry matter of the ration.

The first batch of 61 Limousin crossbred steers finished its data collection period in early spring. This batch contained calves from 10 different sires and they came from eight breeding herds across the north of England. The batch had an age span of 120 days and were no older than 14 months when they finished their trial period. The batch performed well while on test, averaging 1.25kg/hd/day, eating a forage-based ration formulated to be of similar quality across all four farms.

Preliminary results

Preliminary analysis of the first batch of data from Greystones Farm looks comparable with our earlier results. The graph below shows there is considerable variation between the sire groups in the batch in relation to both liveweight gain and intake. The two red-circled points on the graph show the difference in intake between two sire groups that grew at a similar rate over the trial period. The red-circled point on the right represents progeny from one sire that ate 8kg of dry matter per day per head to achieve a growth rate of 1.2 kg/day, while the point on the left represents a sire group that ate only 6.9kg dry matter per head per day to achieve the same growth rate. In general, sires with progeny that exhibit lower intakes with similar growth rates will be seen in the upper left quadrant of the graph.

 


As the Defra funded phase of the programme concludes in 2019, the project team are currently discussing options for progressing this work with industry stakeholders to extend the benefits of the investment and learning across the industry.

To find out more about the project, visit the research area of the AHDB Beef & Lamb website: http://beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/research/genetic-selection/genetic-selection-beef/beef-feed-efficiency-programme/ and keep an eye on the beef and lamb matters blog for Beef Feed Efficiency updates.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

April update - Strategic Farm Yorkshire

At the end of March, Yorkshire based Strategic Farmer, Guy Prudom updated us on how the farm had coped with the turbulent winter weather in the lead up to calving. Now Guy has nearly finished calving, he looks back at surprise weather conditions in April and how calving has gone this year.


The weather situation is not helping at the moment in mid-April. However I know that I am in an awfully better position than most, with ample silage, but a rapidly diminishing pile of straw up at the two upland farms where the suckler cows reside. Thankfully High Burrows Farm is an ex-dairy unit so the cows there are on cubicles. It just gets a bit messy when calving starts as everything has to go through the calving pens for 24 hrs to get matched up. Then into a straw yard for a few days, before going out to the great wide world.

With the constantly high humidity, the straw that is put out into the sheds only seems to last half a day. The few cows and calves that we have got out are thriving, which defies belief. I think by early April we have managed to get 35 – 40 cow with calves outside. This has certainly eased the housing situation somewhat, although by the beginning of April a scour problem was starting to rear its ugly head in the sheds. Treatment went along the lines of rehydration therapy and if the calf didn’t respond we administered an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory. Even so we have lost a few calves to scour which is so infuriating. There also seems to be no pattern to which calf is affected and which calf survives.


Both dad and I are very nervous about turning out anymore, just in case the weather does turn. The ground is still so wet underfoot, that it will not take a lot more water to make things very messy. 23rd of April saw dad and I weighing, vaccinating and bolusing the bulling heifers. The vaccines cover the cows for BVD, leptospirosis and IBR. The bolus is for trace elements mainly copper and selenium which have caused major problems in the past regarding fertility.


The last 10 days of April have seen a remarkable turn around in soil conditions and grass growth. From the ground barely being dry enough to drive on with a tractor on the 19th April, to spring barley and spring beans being by the 26th April. Cows and calf pairs are being let out on a daily basis now as grass growth has speeded up, with only the weaker calves being kept back, the result of the scour outbreak. We even managed to get 23 store heifers turned out to grass, only another 40 or so of them to move to Davison. This must be one of the first years I have managed to get them weighed before turnout.

In the past, I generally have about 10 to 15 cows left to calve at the end of April. This year 25 cows left to calve. At the moment I can’t find a reason for it either. The cows are all from different batches, they all had plenty of grass in front of them and the bulls (all bar one) were fertility tested.
So this year I am going overboard as per usual in giving the cows and bulls a   mineral tub containing orvec stimulus as well as phosphorus, copper, manganese and zinc a month prior to turning in the bulls and also at service. This should make sure the cows are ovulating and help improve conception rates.



We have just had some soil testing/ mapping done for us on some of the arable land. Two of the fields in question are growing red clover, so when we apply P and K for the second cut we will now be able to use variable rate application. In Pedica, which dad has owned for a lot of years, the variation in pH, phosphate and potash across the field is quite remarkable. Although I doubt we will save money, we will be able to target the areas that are quite deficient in lime, P and K. Whilst they were here I also got them to divide up a couple of fields at Davison Farm. This will make it a lot easier when I move forward to splitting them into equal sized grazing paddocks.

Might even get out with the plate meter and start measuring grass in the next few weeks as the work load eases off a little and there is some grass to measure!



Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Nematodirus risk forecast 2018

The gutworm Nematodirus battus, a roundworm that causes diarrhoea in young lambs between 6 and 12 weeks of age, can cause mortalities and stunt the growth of many lambs during the spring and summer months.

Eggs are deposited on pasture by lambs the previous year and hatch the following spring. Cold weather delays hatching so when we get a sudden change in temperature it can trigger a mass hatch. The changeable temperatures that we are currently experiencing in the UK can make predicting when Nematodirus eggs are going to hatch into infective larvae very difficult.

To help producers to plan preventative treatment, SCOPS (Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep) has launched its Nematodirus risk forecast for 2018 which predicts the hatch date for Nematodirus based on temperature data from 140 weather stations throughout the UK. Sheep farmers, vets and advisers can use this invaluable tool to assess the local risk of the parasite.

An interactive map with a traffic light system of warnings will be updated daily this spring and summer, alongside practical advice. Find out the risk forecast for your area by visiting the SCOPS website.


More information on worm control can be found in our manual Worm control in sheep for Better Returns

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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