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