Wednesday, 15 March 2017

AHDB is beefing up returns from grass

Matt House is a beef farmer based in Somerset.  He is part of a group of farmers who are involved with the AHDB-funded ‘Beef from Grass’ project, which aims to highlight the potential of grass and forages for beef cattle production and provide practical guidance on how beef producers can improve their current grazing management. Here Matt blogs about the two-year project and how his herd is benefiting from good grass management.


I am part of a group of four beef improver farmers, who are interested in improving our beef performance from grass. A key element of the project was to link us up with four mentor grassland beef producers, which have really helped us in seeing the potential of grass and grazed forage to aid beef growth rates in beef cattle. The project is in its second year and I have seen some positive results. I have managed to increase forage utilisation by 30 per cent and grass growth from 9.8t Dry Matter/ha to 12-13t Dry Matter/ha on the new grass leys. How have I managed to do this?

The first thing I did when taking over the running of Bowden Farms was implement rotational grazing. This was achieved by splitting up the grass fields into smaller two hectare paddocks using electric fencing. The 69 Aberdeen Angus cross cows and their calves were moved every three days throughout the grazing season. The calves were sold at nine months of age, with an average weight of 321kg per head, which meant in total I managed to produce more than 22 tonnes of beef solely from forage.

I measure grass growth on a weekly basis using a plate meter. I upload this to grass management software, which assists me in analysing the data. I am currently focusing on preparing for the 2017 grazing season and have used the software to put together a spring grazing plan. The benefit of this is that it takes the guesswork out of grassland management and ensures that sufficient grass is grazed early enough to allow time for re-growth for the second rotation. The current grazing wedge is shown below, with grass growth at 12.9 Dry Matter kg/ha/day. So far this year 10.1kg N/ha of fertiliser has been applied.



I implement a 100 per cent out-wintering policy, which has helped me reduce my cost of production. The 122 suckler cows and heifers, which are due to calve this month, were out-wintered on stubble turnips supplemented with round bales of straw and hay arranged in situ.
The suckler cows will calve on the grass paddocks using the Dry Matter intakes calculated by the grass management software, which will adjust the cows’ daily grass allowance. This means that as each cow calves she will be changed from “dry” to “lactating” and the grass allocation will go up from 10kg/Dry Matter to 16kg/dry Matter, therefore changing the time spent in each paddock for the whole herd.


Alongside measuring the grass, I am also very keen to track animal performance throughout the grazing season. The cows have been weighed and body condition scored (BCS) before calving and their calves will be weighed at birth and then regularly throughout the year. This way I will be able to accurately measure how much beef I am producing from the grass.

Key outcomes in March 2017:

  •        All cows body condition scored (BCS), the average was BCS 3
  •        All first-calving heifers condition scored, average was BCS 3
  •    Cows will be monitored closely for signs of calving and removed from turnips and grouped on paddocks accordingly

For more information on the Beef from Grass project sign up to our Grazing Club e-newsletter by emailing: brp@ahdb.org.uk. More information is available in the BRP manual Planning Grazing Strategies for Better Returns.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Red meat and health: cutting through the confusion

It can sometimes feel like the red meat sector is beset with challenges on all sides. Livestock farmers are only too familiar with the challenges of legislative issues, red tape, day-to-day animal husbandry and business management, and all the other things that go with running a farm. Then they turn on the news or open a newspaper and see a report or an advert urging people to eat less red meat for the sake of their health or because it is bad for the environment.

Rebutting these messages is a constant uphill battle for an industry with limited resources, particularly as there are now a plethora of days and weeks celebrating veganism and vegetarianism. On our side, individuals and organisations within the beef and lamb sectors have got together to promote Great British Beef week (from April 23) and Love Lamb Week (from September 1), which are gaining momentum year on year.



These weeks focus on celebrating all that is good about our products and our environmentally sustainable production systems. Unfortunately, all too often, those who oppose meat consumption focus on our negatives rather than their own positives.

There should be a balanced, properly informed debate on issues around consumption of red meat so people can make their own choices, and the work of AHDB seeks to provide that balance, using evidence-based messaging.



The reality is that we are omnivores. Meat has always been a part of the human diet and ninety-seven per cent of the population still eat it to some extent. Grazing animals, such as cattle and sheep, turn something we can’t eat (grass) into something we can, the nutrients from which are effectively deployed by our digestive system.
With so many headlines about the need to reduce our meat consumption, it is important to remember that levels of red meat consumption in the UK remain within the recommended guideline amount of 70g per day cooked weight. Red meat is a rich source of protein, which helps build and maintain muscles, plus it provides a number of vitamins and minerals, including B12, which is not found naturally in foods of plant origin.

As for the impact on the environment, many of England’s most iconic landscapes only look the way they do because of the extensive farming of cattle and sheep over hundreds of years. Livestock are responsible for some greenhouse gases in the form of methane, which is a natural by-product of rumination, however, these levels are falling as farming becomes more efficient.



On a final point, just ask yourself what is more natural than having cattle and sheep grazing pastures that could not be used to produce food in any other way?

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

An insight into how AHDB Beef & Lamb on-farm events are organised

In 2016, AHDB Beef & Lamb held just under 200 technical events across the country. Here Gemma Beevers, Events Manager (Knowledge Exchange), blogs about the work of her team and the importance of producer feedback in planning successful technical events.

I head up the AHDB Knowledge Exchange (KE) events team, running a programme of technical events for levy payers to help them to develop and improve their businesses and provide them with innovative ways of working.

We are a team of five (four of us are based in the York office, and one team member at the head office in Stoneleigh) who work across all six of AHDB’s divisions to deliver a range of practical, farmer-focused events. In the case of AHDB Beef & Lamb, these events are delivered under the Better Returns Programme (BRP) brand.



My team organise the logistical side of the events, looking after the venues, speakers, travel, accommodation, catering and equipment. We working closely with the KE team, who provide the technical content and source speakers as they generally know the best specialist speaker on particular subjects.

Once the logistics have been confirmed we then need to promote the events – I’m responsible for advertising through third parties such as the NFU, the National Sheep Association, vets, auction marts, and local grazing groups, as well as our regional hubs and communications teams.  

Our events are designed to help tackle current issues and to work with industry partners so producers are given the most relevant and up to date information.

Live to Dead events, which help producers understand the importance of livestock meeting target specification, are some of our most popular. The events were developed as it became apparent that the whole supply chain needed to have a better understanding of how to select livestock for slaughter. These specialist events will become even more important over the next three years as they will help us to meet our strategic aim to increase the number of animals meeting supplier specifications by 2% year on year, reaching 58% for cattle and 58% for sheep by 2020.

Last year more than 3,500 people attended our AHDB Beef & Lamb KE events. After every event we ask for feedback, which is essential for us in understanding how to improve our service to better suit the needs of our producers. In 2016, the feedback from our BRP events showed that more than 99% of attendees thought event speakers were knowledgeable and presented well on the technical subjects, as well as 97% of attendees who said that the event gave them practical ideas they could use to improve their business.

For details on the latest events in your area visit our website, where you can book online.

We always appreciate your feedback in helping us to improve our service to you. Please email us (brp.events@ahdb.org.uk) with any comments.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Are you up for the challenge?

Dr Liz Genever, AHDB Beef & Lamb senior livestock scientist, is calling on English sheep producers to take part in a new initiative that aims to understand the consequences of the rearing phase on the lifetime performance of ewes. Here she blogs about the project and what you can do to get involved.

Liz GeneverThe Challenge Sheep project is a new AHDB Beef & Lamb research project which aims to improve the efficiency of breeding flocks in England by looking at the management of ewe replacements. The project will track around 5,000 replacements from a range of sheep farms over seven years to understand how flock performance can be improved.

The initiative is the successor of the sheep key performance indicator (KPI) project, which ran from 2013 until 2016, and gathered and analysed data from three flocks in England. One of the key questions identified by this project was what impact the rearing phase had on ewe lamb performance when they became shearlings and later into life. For example, one of the project farms had an issue with lungworm in shearlings and the impact of that on their performance is seen for at least two production years after they are treated.

AHDB research and on-farm trials have shown that there are clear improvements to be made in managing replacement ewes entering the national flock. The Longwool project (funded by the Meat and Livestock Commission and Defra in 2007) found that up to 15 % of replacements are not retained after their first breeding season due to culling or death. 

Young sheep can also have a negative impact on overall flock performance due to poor lamb growth rates. In England, around 1.6 million ewes are entering the flock for the first time per year. Data from 1,800 ewes in the Longwool project suggests around 4% died in their first year, with another 7% being culled after their first year. If this was applied to the English sheep flock it would equate to around £14 million of value being lost to the industry each year due to culling and death in the first breeding year. This is based on shearlings being valued at £120 and with a 50% reduction in value if culled.

The Challenge Sheep project will be based on similar research that has been done around hoggets in Australia and New Zealand. The results of the project have been translated into literature by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and we want to draw on their methodologies, such as participatory research, to benefit our own industry.

Your industry needs you!
We are looking to recruit sheep producers who will be keen to use the data they are collecting via electronic identification (EID) to improve their decisions on ewe management. All farms that participate in the project will have access to cutting-edge information and will be supported by the AHDB research and knowledge exchange team to interpret the data so they can get the maximum benefit for their business. The aim is also to improve the gross margin of the Challenge Sheep farms by 25% over the duration of the project. The findings of the project will be communicated to industry through events, newsletters and articles involving the successful producers.

The project requires accurate data such as weights, body condition score, lambing data and lamb performance, which is already being collected through our benchmarking programme, so it should just be a case of looking at the data differently and making decisions supported by information gathered from the project. 

Any producers who are interested need to fill in an application form and then the AHDB Beef & Lamb research team will create a shortlist. In late spring/early summer I will be visiting the shortlisted farms, together with the newly appointed Challenge Sheep project manager before the final decisions are made. We are aiming to visit at least ten farms across England.

For more information about the project email me or phone 07790 378349, or you can contact your regional Knowledge Exchange Manager.

To apply to take part in the project visit the Challenge Sheep webpage, the deadline for applications is Monday 20 February.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Have you got the selection factor?

AHDB Beef & Lamb is on the hunt for individuals with the beef and lamb X factor! Steve Dunkley, Knowledge Exchange Senior Manager, blogs about how he is aiming to find farming’s next big selection experts through a selection academy.

I am looking for people who have something special when it comes to selecting livestock for slaughter. My aim is to identify a team of passionate individuals who have the ability and enthusiasm to train others to select both sheep and cattle and therefore help the industry thrive. 

As part of AHDB’s new ‘Inspiring Success’ 2017-2010 strategy our target is to increase the number of animals meeting supplier specifications by two per cent year on year. So, in 2020, we are aiming for 58% of cattle and sheep to meet target specification. To do this I want to set up an initiative known as a Knowledge Exchange Supply Chain Programme, where we can work with farmers, processors, auction markets and retailers on the key factors that affect whether animals meet the target, including genetics, nutrition, health and selection. The selection academy will just be one of the many projects that form part of the wider Knowledge Exchange Supply Chain Programme.

Meeting target specification is important as it ensures the industry is producing what the market wants and ultimately keeping consumers eating beef and lamb. This is something that impacts beef and sheep producers’ profitability and is why I’m aiming to put together a team of people that will equip the industry with an understanding about the importance of sending stock to slaughter once they know they meet target specification for the market they are aiming for.

Although I’m keen that applicants have some knowledge of selecting livestock, we will work with those who are successful to develop their knowledge of consumer demands, processing considerations and finishing livestock as well as their core presentation and facilitation skills. AHDB will also provide useful resources such as presentation slides, technical literature and banners. What I do ask for is a willingness to learn and a passion to help the industry, as I want the final team to work across the country identifying opportunities to speak and demonstrate the selection message using live animals at meetings, events and shows.



Still not sure if this is the role for you? For some inspiration watch Steve Powdrill, our national selection specialist, assessing lambs before and after slaughter.
The deadline for applications is 10 February and assessment days will be held in the North and South of England from 6 March.

To apply for a chance to be part of our selection ‘dream team’ please visit our website for further details, fill out the application form and email to brp@ahdb.org.uk


If you would like to know more about our Knowledge Exchange activity, email: Steve.Dunkley@ahdb.org.uk or phone: 07841570549.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Developing new markets for red meat exports

With the UK’s future trading environment extremely uncertain, AHDB’s work developing new export markets has taken on an even greater significance. In November, Jonathan Eckley, Senior Export Manager for AHDB, visited three Asian markets to explore their potential and uncover new opportunities for British beef, lamb and pork. Here Jonathan gives an overview of those markets and the work that AHDB Exports are doing to gain and maintain market access.

I started my trip in Vietnam as part of a high-level European Commission trade mission. I joined 45 delegates from 16 member states for the visit, with the aim of understanding more about the country’s red meat market and the potential for British beef and lamb. Although the UK does not currently have access to this fascinating market, it is high on our target list to gain all-important access for our exports. Vietnam would meet our fifth quarter market requirement, as they consume parts of the animal for which there is little demand on the home market, and therefore would help balance the carcase and add value throughout the supply chain.

The next stop was Shanghai, where I attended Food Hotel China (FHC) as part of the Great Britain pavilion. FHC is an important event for the food sector in China and the second largest presence of the year for the AHDB Exports team. The trade fair takes place every November and is a great opportunity for us to fly the flag for British meat and get an insight into China’s appetite for beef, lamb and pork (see our Market intelligence research into lamb imports into China).


The show also enables us to assist British exporters to develop and strengthen existing relationships with Chinese customers. In the case of beef and lamb, where we don’t yet have access to the market, the priority is to build relationships with key stakeholders in the supply chain, so we can hit the ground running as and when access is granted. We are making progress towards this, as in November Chinese officials met with AHDB and Defra for an inspection at a beef farm and abattoir in Surrey and the Midlands to show at first hand our high levels of animal welfare and disease control measures.

While in the region I also made a quick visit to Hong Kong on a fact-finding mission. The UK already has access to this high-value market, where our focus is on promoting our products to high-end retailers and the quality food service market. Our Quality Standard Mark (QSM) beef and lamb needs continual marketing support to appeal to Hong Kong’s discerning consumers.

The city of Beijing was the last stop on the mission, where I attended the Anufood show. Defra Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, was also in Beijing at the time and joined AHDB at a specialist round table discussion to find out more about the all-important Chinese food and drink market and how Britain can make the most of it. We discussed Britain’s reputation for high-quality produce, but also expressed our willingness to make use of the whole carcase, including maximising the potential of the fifth quarter market.

In summary, there are many unknown factors in the post-Brexit landscape, but AHDB Exports is working hard to ensure that British agriculture is in good position once discussions on trade agreements with counties outside the EU can begin.


For more information on the work of AHDB Exports and the activity being done to promote red meat overseas visit www.ahdb.org.uk/exports.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A look back at AHDB Beef & Lamb 2016....

As we near the end of an eventful year, we’ve taken the opportunity to showcase AHDB Beef & Lamb’s “best bits” from 2016 and take a look forward to 2017.



The year began with incoming Sector Strategy Director, Laura Ryan, starting her first full year in her new role by outlining her aspirations for the year.
Laura emphasised the significance of the consumer as she highlighted supply chain efficiency, increased market opportunities and quality assurance as areas of focus for the year ahead.

Later that month, it was standing room only as representatives of AHDB Beef & Lamb and the NFU got together for the first Northern Beef & Sheep Conference in several years in North Yorkshire. High-profile guest speakers joined representatives from the NFU and AHDB to discuss the challenges facing the industry.

Given the pressures on the farmgate price, encouraging sales of beef and lamb dominated this session. Laura Ryan talked in depth about the work currently being done to improve product consistency and outlined some new product development initiatives.
In March, AHDB was the only overseas livestock exhibitor at Europe’s biggest agricultural event, the Salon International d’Agriculture (SIA) in Paris. France represents 50% of the export market for UK lamb, making it our single most important export market for sheep meat.



The event was a great opportunity for AHDB Beef & Lamb to reaffirm its place as a key supplier to the French market.

On the other side of the Channel, Great British Beef Week, which takes place every year around St George’s day (23rd April), is a regular date in our calendar. The event, which was thought up by the Ladies in Beef, has been running since 2011. This year, AHDB Beef & Lamb supported the week with the “Beef up your Butty” campaign, designed to encourage consumers to experiment with their roast beef leftovers.

The Brexit vote dominated the news in June and our annual Meat Export Conference on 29 June gave us the opportunity to start the dialogue on how to maximise opportunities in the new political landscape. More than 100 delegates heard about developments in international markets and implications for the meat trade in the wake of the UK’s Brexit vote.

Love Lamb week lit up September. The campaign, which was developed by Yorkshire sheep farmer Rachel Lumley, is a great opportunity for the whole industry to get involved and help consumers understand that lamb is versatile, tasty and easy-to-cook, as well as educating people about our sheep production systems.



September also marked a key milestone for our RamCompare project, as we began to see the first results from the industry scheme which aims to drive forward genetic improvement in the sheep industry. Early analysis has shown a pleasing amount of variation, with some sires excelling and progeny growing quickly.

Our popular mini roast adverts returned to the small screen for the third year in October. For 2016, the focus was on young couples, aged 25 to 34, using online activity, press advertising and PR to persuade them to try the mini roast as the perfect date-night meal, enabling them to spend quality time together during the week.



As 2016 drew to a close we were looking to the future, as our new three-year corporate strategy was put out to consultation at the beginning of December. The strategy, entitled ‘Inspiring Success’, maps out the long-term areas of focus for the English beef and lamb sector. These address the specific challenges arising from the need for a more consistent product to meet changing consumer demands.

Key stakeholders found out more about the strategy and heard from some inspiring speakers at our Stakeholder Seminar on 8 December. The event included presentations from David Wagstaff of the Happy Egg Company, who gave an insight into creating an award-winning brand, and Paul Clayton from the US Meat Export Federation, who gave a global view of the beef trade from the US perspective.

Hopefully that gives you a flavour of what we’ve been doing in the last 12 months – you can find plenty more information on all of our projects and events on our website.

We hope you have a Merry Christmas. We’ll be back in January for what will certainly be another busy year!