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?