Friday, 26 February 2016

Minimising losses at calving

Producers are still suffering losses at calving caused by calving problems and untimely interventions, many of which are avoidable. Minimising these is the focus of a calving course developed by AHDB Beef & Lamb and SAC Veterinary Services.

Alwyn Jones and Basil Lowman from SAC initially delivered two webinars to vets, with the aim of providing them with training on the course so that they can go out and deliver the presentation to their clients. Earlier this week, Alwyn delivered a webinar for producers whose veterinary practices were not holding a meeting, giving them the opportunity to hear the information first hand. A recording of the webinar is now available on our YouTube channel,
Beef & Lamb TV, for anyone who missed it.

The course aims to teach best practice when calving cows and show how to resuscitate new-born calves to increase survival rate and thriftiness, reduce the incidence of hypoxia and acidosis and improve welfare of the calving cow and calf.

Research has shown that 90% of calves that die around birth were alive when calving began, with the major causes of death being trauma and oxygen deprivation. Many of these losses are preventable if the right measures are taken when calving difficulties occur.

If a calf has a difficult birth it is at greater risk of picking up disease, may have difficulty maintaining body temperature after calving and absorption of antibodies found in the colostrum of the dam may be reduced. A dam that experiences a difficult calving is more likely to have fertility issues in the future.

Factors that can make a significant contribution to reducing calving difficulties are the selection of parents, body condition score and nutritional supplementation.

Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) can be used to select sires and dams based on calving ease. Samuel Boon, AHDB Breeding Manager says “Research has shown that genetics can play an important role in the calving ease within your herd. It can influence birth weight, gestation length and calving ease of the calf and mother.

“For example, by using Birth Weight EBVs, sires can be selected to produce smaller calves at birth which will increase the ease with which it is calved.”

AHDB Beef & Lamb has produced a training tool so you can learn what you should be looking for when picking terminal sires based on EBVs. The tool can be found online

Online training tool for buying a recorded bull

Ensuring that the cow is at the right Body Condition Score (BCS) at calving is also important. A cow that is too fat will have trouble calving due to narrowing of the birth canal and fat in the muscle means she will tire more quickly. A cow that is too thin will take longer to get back into calf and will have to achieve a higher liveweight gain to do so.

Supplementing a cow’s feed in the two weeks before calving can increase the likelihood of a non-assisted calving. Magnesium helps to improve muscle tone and reduce the occurrence of slow calving. Supplementing with Digestible Undegradable Protein (DUP) such as soya bean will improve colostrum quality and quantity.

The webinar that Alwyn delivered goes into detail on what to expect from a normal calving and how and when to intervene. Click
here if you missed it or want to watch again. Also take a look at the BRP+ document Minimising calving difficulties.


Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Meeting target spec essential to maximise returns

Steve Powdrill, AHDB Beef & Lamb National Selection Specialist

With UK sheep production forecast to rise this year, ensuring lambs are marketed when they reach target specification is more important than ever if producers are to get the best returns for their livestock.

This was the message from AHDB Beef & Lamb chairman Adam Quinney and AHDB MI analyst Mark Kozlowski at last week’s AHDB Outlook Conference. At the event it was revealed that the number of lambs being sent to slaughter which met the Standard Quality Quotation (SQQ) specification was lower in 2015 than in previous years, causing renewed concern that producers are holding on to lambs for longer in order to get better prices.

AHDB Beef & Lamb data shows that the proportion of lambs going to slaughter over-fat tends to increase through the autumn and winter. While the motivation for doing this is clear, it is essential that producers sell lambs when they are ready. This means when they have the ideal finish level for the specified outlet.

The date when lambs are ready can vary widely each season, especially with improved breeding and grassland and feed management so don’t wait until a special set date when they are normally sold. The weather also has a role to play, with higher proportions of leaner lambs tending to come through when the weather conditions are poor.

More than 80% of meat buyers are looking for lambs that classify R3L, so while there is a market for lambs that fall outside this area, it comes at a price. Producers must stay focused on the end product - holding on to lambs so they put on more weight and fat is likely to sway the consumer into choosing other proteins, such as chicken, in this already very difficult market.

Keeping lambs on farm for longer can also be costly for the producer. While the additional cost of feeding the lamb will vary depending on the production system, there will undoubtedly be some increase. This will be exaggerated by the fact that the larger lambs get, the more food will be required to maintain body mass, let alone increase it. It’s also important to note that putting on fat requires almost four times more feed energy than putting on muscle.

The best way to select lambs is to frequently weigh and handle them, ensuring each animal has reached its full potential and target specification. Producers should be aiming for 18-21kg deadweight (38-44kg liveweight). Follow market signals and seasonal trends, about which there is plenty of information available on the AHDB Beef & Lamb website.

Coupled with getting the best fat-to-flesh ratios, achieving conformation targets is also essential to maximise returns. Conformation is often dictated by the breed of the lamb, so farmers must recognise when the optimum period is for selling their particular breed and, again, handle lambs to ensure they are on target.

For more information on selecting lambs for slaughter, watch our video, Lambs before and after slaughter - controlling fat cover with the consumer in mind, or read our BRP manual, Marketing Prime Lambs for Better Returns

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Market development’s vital role for beef & lamb sector in focus at Outlook 2016

Challenges facing the beef and lamb sector haven’t been far from the headlines in recent months amid pressure on prices and the impact of the strength of Sterling against the Euro.

These factors were acknowledged at the AHDB Outlook Conference at one Great George Street, Westminster, earlier this week, as was the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board’s (AHDB’s) market development work in adding value to the red meat sector.

Delegates heard from AHDB chairman Peter Kendall about AHDB’s role in helping to seek out new market development opportunities at home and abroad for our products. They also heard how AHDB can help farmers identify where changes could be made to their businesses to help manage the impact of the current economic climate.

Opportunities for beef, in particular, were underlined in the beef and lamb breakout session with AHDB senior analyst Debbie Butcher’s market outlook for beef. Whilst acknowledging the rollercoaster ride for the sector, Debbie highlighted the importance of carcase utilisation in adding value, with the growth in fifth quarter exports to non-EU markets. Delegates also heard how last year 70 per cent of fresh/chilled beef exports were shipped as cuts, again adding value to the carcase.

The sheep market outlook from AHDB senior analyst Mark Kozlowski highlighted the price challenges from last year but identified how they had made an encouraging start to 2016. He also noted that falling EU production would present an opportunity for the UK moving forwards this year.

With Brexit also very much on everyone’s agenda the well-attended conference also heard from Professor Alan Matthews on the potential implications of UK membership, or not, of the EU. Prof Matthews’ excellent presentation examined an array of areas, including implications for potential post-Brexit food regulatory standards, prompting some lively discussion during the question and answer session.

The livestock sector’s global competitiveness was in the spotlight during the presentation by Andrew McLay who looked at the impact of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and other influential factors, including costs of production and the potential impact of the implementation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

In addition to the compelling and informative presentations in the main and breakout sessions, Outlook again provided the ideal platform for key industry contacts to network and discuss pressing issues of the day. The event also attracted nearly 20 members of the press who took the opportunity to interview external speakers and engage on social media during the event.

As outlined by our chairman, the industry will continue to face challenges. Conferences like Outlook are not only an important forum to examine these in greater detail, but also explore the opportunities and next steps for the sectors represented. AHDB will continue to work with industry to help mitigate the factors that challenge it and maximise opportunities in both the domestic and global market for our products.

Presentations from the Outlook Conference can now be downloaded from the Outlook Conference page on our website. The entire event was also filmed for the first time this year and will be available to watch next week.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

What will the beef price do in 2016?

There are a number of indicators pointing at a tough year for the beef price. This is due to a combination of factors, including, but not exclusive to, more animals on the ground, more animals in Ireland and the exchange rate making imports cheap.

However, there are many factors at work which make it difficult to say for sure what will happen or how far it will fall.

We have faced similar challenges in previous years. In 2014, with increased domestic production and imports, the volume of beef on the UK market was high. This met a lacklustre demand and the supply/demand balance was unfavourable for producers. Into 2015, prices started the year below year-earlier levels and once again came under pressure. While tighter supplies moved the balance swiftly and prices quickly recovered.

Since the autumn, prices have been on a downward trajectory again. A range of factors have caused this, including the Sterling/Euro exchange rate and increased cow slaughterings. So far this year, prices have slowly drifted, a penny here and penny there.

At the moment, it is difficult to see how prices could increase from current levels. Unless things do change, for example if demand performs much better than expected or the exchange rate moves into a more favourable position, the market could well see further decreases.

UK beef and veal production is expected to increase; latest AHDB Beef & Lamb forecasts suggest a two per cent rise. In addition, In Ireland, a notable increase in calf registrations over the past couple of years and lower live exports last year mean that the number of cattle available for slaughter in this year is expected to be higher. A significant proportion of the increased Irish production could well be available to the UK market at competitive price.

Adding to the pressure on prices, major processors and retailers are focusing on specification, whether it be movement, weight, conformation or age. Price penalties for cattle falling outside their favoured specification look likely to be a major issue for the sector this year.

AHDB continues to work hard to stimulate demand for the product and with work to support the farmgate price. During February and March 2016, we will be running an integrated PR and social media campaign to encourage consumers to include beef casserole and stewing cuts, such as beef dice, shin or braising steak, in their weekly family cooking repertoire. This comes on the back of the cut development work being launched to the trade to improve the eating quality of these less popular cuts.

Our summer trade promotion will focus on beef kebabs, burgers and Steak Bar products, with lesser known steaks such as the tri-tip and Denver featuring prominently.

Our consumer brand, Simply Beef & Lamb, has been working with actress Fay Ripley, most famous for her role in Cold Feet, to promote the mini roast. She has featured in video, social media posts, competitions, stories in women’s magazines, articles in the national press and blogger-influencing events to get mini roasts noticed and understood by Britain’s parents. 
Beef Mini Roasts were supported by a seven-week PR and advertising campaign. 

Over 17 million adults saw our press ads, with 22 million digital impressions being delivered. Nearly half of our target audience saw a TV ad at least three times over the course of the campaign. Meanwhile our Meat Elite programme is targeting journalists and bloggers, working with key press titles to provide them with insights, trends and expertise they would otherwise not have access to. 

In addition, we are launching a beef educational resource for secondary schools as part of our long-term strategy to introduce future consumers to beef and lamb.

The aim of this work is to underpin demand at a difficult time, but there is no doubt that prices for cattle meeting specification consistently fare better during periods of declining farmgate prices. As the market comes under pressure, achieving the right specification for conformation, fat class, weight and now movement will best help to soften the impact of any downwards pressure on price.