Henry Lewis, President
Welcome to this first general Newsletter from the British Cattle Breeders Club, through it (as well as our website) we are aiming to increase our communications to the cattle breeding industry at large. The Club has a fantastic history - it was established in the 1940s by eminent breeders and scientists of the day, including 'the father of Animal Production Science', none other than the late Sir John Hammond of Cambridge University.
The objectives then, as now, are to bring all parts of the cattle breeding sector together - breeders, producers, scientists and those from the service and ancillary industries for a cross-fertilisation of ideas, debate and mutual information in a friendly environment.
The annual British Cattle Conference, run by the Club, has become a regular focus for this amazing get-together and presentation of practical ideas and the latest challenges or developments.
Through previous conferences the delegates have been amongst the first in Britain to learn about AI, ET and cloning developments, the latest tools for genetic evaluation and topical health and management issues.
The Club continues to move forward, in recent years we have seen the introduction of specialist days at the Conference for beef and dairy producers and sponsorship for student delegates. To avoid staleness the venue has moved periodically to different parts of the country that are close to cattle areas and motorway access. It is also re-introducing an idea from earlier times in our history, namely visits to herds and breeding facilities of interest.
We look forward to hearing from you on points raised herein and to seeing you at one of our future events. This newsletter looks back at the 2007 Conference (full papers in Digest No. 62) and ahead to the next. Finally, our thanks to Shepherd Publishing for their help and support.
Dr. Mike Coffey, Chairman
The next BCBC conference to be held at Hawkstone Park near Shrewsbury in Shropshire on 21st 23rd January 2008 will focus on keeping British and Breeding at the forefront of the conference. The papers will be shorter allowing more time for debate. On each day, a subject of interest to breeders will be subject to a managed debate with speakers for and against.
Clearly, breeding issues become more important as genetics enters the radar of consumers and supermarkets. As animals are subject to greater pressures, their breeding is of greater interest - how do we equip cattle of the future with the attributes to allow them to produce regularly and at peak performance and at the same time remain healthy? Recording and selection for health and fertility are rising rapidly on the agenda.
The environment has also become a topic of immense interest to all the media long after it has been of interest to farmers. However, the impact of farming on the environment has been questioned and will be addressed in next year's conference.
The apparent conflict of having fewer cows to minimize environmental impact and fewer cows of higher yields having greater welfare consequences will be debated. What are breeders to do when confronted by these conflicts?
Younger breeders will be encouraged to attend and through the sterling efforts of Lucy Andrews from HUK, last year saw a massive rise in the number of students attending. The Club hopes, through continued efforts, that we might encourage record attendance of students again at next year's conference.
BCBC Visit to Beef Farmer of the Year's Farm
The Club is re-introducing an idea from its earlier years, namely Farm Visits to places of interest.
The first of these will take place at 2.30 on Tuesday 17 July 2007 at Upper Nisbet Farm, near Jedburgh, Roxburghshire, the home of Robert Neill and family. Robert gave an outstanding talk at the 2007 British Cattle Conference with excellent photographs. Good as they were, many will want to see the cattle and farm for themselves and get a feel of the management..
To make it a very productive day, in the morning the British Livestock Genetics Consortium (BLG) will be running an Export Workshop at the Borders Union Showground in Kelso with support also from QMS and Scottish Borders Land Based Strategy. Again, please notify the organisers if you wish to attend.
Here is a synopsis of Robert's presentation to whet your appetite
In 2000 I moved to Upper Nisbet Farm, just outside Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders. I took the farm on a Limited Partnership tenancy. The farm is just under 400ha and part of the Lothian Estate. Originally running 200 Limousin cross suckler cows with Charolais bulls, the farm now carries a 300 cow Limousin cross herd, all calving to a Limousin bull.
Adjoining the farm is an additional 90ha of grass parks, splitting the farm into half grassland and half arable. All of the feeding, which includes cereals and protein, is grown on the farm, producing enough straw for both feeding and bedding helping keep costs to a minimum. 110 acres of silage is taken from a single cut at the end of June. This allows more ground for grazing livestock in autumn. Silage is mixed with straw, and fed to cows during the winter
Regarding farm management, scrupulous cost analysis is a must making room for investment in new buildings and cattle handling systems. Silage equipment is shared with other family members nearby.
In 2000 I had 200 Limousin cross cows. Since then, this number has gradually been increasing and in 2006 cow numbers had increased to 300. Calving takes place from spring to early summer.
Replacement heifers are sourced as follows:
- 25 three quarter Limousin heifers from our herd
- Selected from bulls with high EBV milk figures
- From bulls with good temperament
- 25 heifers from family dairy farm
- British Friesian Dairy Herd
- Replacement heifers produced by putting a Limousin bull to the dairy heifers
The cows are housed for the winter in straw-bedded courts. During this time they are fed a silage/straw diet. All of the cows are freeze branded for easy identification.
In terms of stock health:
- The bulls are semen tested shortly after arrival on the farm
- Pregnancy diagnosis is carried out in December after weaning
- The cows are vaccinated with lepto and scour vaccine
The herd is run on a closed basis, with only the addition of new stock bulls bought through Carlisle bull sales. All of the eight bulls on the farm are Limousin and all have been purchased at Carlisle market. I take time considering the EBVs of a bull before buying in order to purchase good quality genetics. I am also very concerned with selecting bulls with a good health status.
Feed conversion rates are carefully monitored by weighing cattle every 30 days through the Tru Test digital weigher, with information downloaded using Farmplan's Beef Manager program. This data can then be used to monitor and compare growth rates of calves sired by particular bulls.
And to ease with this regular handling, I have recently designed and constructed a new set of cattle handling pens, allowing farm staff to work alongside cattle without being amongst them. This new system is designed to be handled by a single person and reduces the risk of injury to staff and stock.
Beef Carcase Grading - and Consistent Eating Quality
More must be done to deliver beef with a consistently high eating quality, and carcase grading technology must be developed in order to facilitate this. Different variations of this message were delivered by four separate speakers at the conference, all with the future sustainability of the industry in mind.
"Although we have been served by the same classification system for many years it doesn't relate terribly well to eating quality," said MLC's Kim Matthews. "Consistent eating quality is important in terms of customer." He reported the MLC had been funding a number of projects aimed at developing and testing a wide range of devices for meat quality measurement since the 1990s. Different techniques had also been trialled in other countries and, although no clear conclusions had yet been reached, NIR reflectance spectroscopy seemed to have the most potential.
Dr Paul Allen, from Ireland, said finding a solution to meat quality testing was the 'ultimate goal'. He said Ireland was already forging ahead and was the first country to start using video imaging analysis (VIA) to grade carcasses when the EU changed the regulations in 2003.
This technique had proved popular in Ireland and he said it had the potential to be further exploited.
Dr Stuart Bauck, an American who heads Merial's international IGENITY programme, said the future was in using gene marking technology to ensure eating quality - and that using this would allow breeders to move forward faster. He said massive progress had been made since the bovine genome was mapped in December 2003 so that full genetic profiles could be provided quicker and cheaper. "The new, expanded IGENITY profile available soon will also provide a powerful tool for traceability - another area of interest for all," he commented.
That message was certainly music to the ears of Steve Turton, master butcher and director of Turton Quality Foods in Devon. He said consumers wanted a consistent 'eating experience' that had full traceability, which - at the moment - meant British. "We must work on quality all the way through the chain and start generating a pull and not a push," he said.
Breeding for Robustness and Longevity a Dairy Priority
New developments involving breeding traits and indices are focusing on low-maintenance cows that, despite lower yields, will ultimately be more profitable. Two speakers at the conference said the desire for better longevity and robustness was greater than traits linked to high milk production.
Dr Marjorie Faust, who is the director of external research with ABS Global based in Wisconsin, USA, said: "Dairy farmers are telling me they want cows that come through the system without being noticed." That, she explained, meant cows that avoided the usual problem hotspots and had 'good' yields rather than high yields.
She said the now widespread belief that a high yield automatically meant a short lifespan had not always been the case. In the early 1980s there was a link between high yields and good longevity that has now disappeared. Also, there is now a link between size and body depth and longevity that did not previously exist.
"We've changed the cows, we've changed their environments and we've changed what we expect from them," said Dr Faust. She said this is why breeding for production had, wrongly, been blamed for longevity problems and why a 'balanced approach' to longevity had now been taken.
Dr Eileen Wall said longevity is just one part of breeding for more robust cows - something she and a team of other SAC researchers had been working on.
They have gone a long way towards developing a robustness index to enable breeders to select cows with 'the ability to adapt to a range of environments while remaining productive, long-lived, fertile and healthy'. Dr Wall said the index also took into consideration other factors, such as 'body energy, maturity, behaviour and welfare'.
Selecting for cows with a high robustness index would, inevitability, mean lower yields but Dr Wall said it would also lead to a high number of lactations, less mastitis and a shorter calving interval. "And that means more profit and a more positive consumer perception," she said. "The inclusion of lifespan, health and fertility to profit based selection indices increased economic responses by 14 per cent relative to a production index alone."
One Aim Various Means
This is an extract taken from BCBC Conference 2007 Digest. To read the full paper please contact The Secretary, Lesley Lewin, Lake Villa, Bradworthy, Holsworthy, Devon EX22 7SQ
I farm on a beautiful 2500 acre estate in Devon: I am responsible for the 1500 acres of farmland, 1350 acres of farmable land: the rest is forestry or farm woodland. My family has farmed there for 450 years.
The land is all grade 3: red Devon clay with stone, a thin arable soil; culm measure, a heavy poorly drained soil best suited to grass and trees; and a rich deep flat poorly structured alluvial mixture of the two that we use for cow grazing.
We moved into cheesemaking in 1973. Although farming was prospering, my father, Sir John Quicke, was clear about 2 things: one, that landed estates needed an additional source of income to thrive, and that we needed to produce something away from the commodity market that people actually wanted to buy to give us a say in our own future, i.e. that we were not pure price takers. To this end, we had been producing milk to sell to a farmhouse cheesemaker. We bought his 'datum', his licence to produce, have marketed and receive the very considerable financial backing in terms of milk price and delayed payment that the MMB gave to farmhouse cheesemakers. We sold the cheese via the MMB until 1979, when we thought we would do better on our own, and we have been successful at building a little brand.
Where we are now is maintaining cost/litre, almost enough correct ratio milk for the cheese dairy, 400 cows crisscrossed for fertility and longevity to NZ Friesian and Swedish Red giving 7000l, c.o.p of 17p/l, output of 22p/l, mainly block calving in the spring, but with a small autumn herd to minimize bought in winter milk, no milk recording, 4t silage/cow, outwintering many dry cows, a 30:60 herringbone & no ACRs. What will have us move on is the complexity of running 2 block calving periods in one herd, and more milk required for the cheese.
Over the next few years, we plan to supply all our own milk at a cost that generates significant cash by moving to 500+cows, continuing to criss-cross, have one herd, 350 cows spring calving, and 150 autumn calving cows, giving a 16p/l cost of production, since stocking rates on available grazing mean reasonable feed levels: of the order of 1.5t/7500l. Requirement for more milk for cheese at a lower cost and building/pasture/demands on people constraints will have us move to the next phase.
Our target within the next 5-10 years will be to deliver a c.o.p. of 15p/l, correct milk for the cheese dairy, acceptable working conditions and use of land for profitable cows rather than arable crops which are loss-making with subsidy taken out of the figures. We will move to a three- way cross to maintain our valuable hybrid vigour, move to 800 cows, have a stripped- down bicycle shed parlour for the now separated 500 cow spring herd. What will have us move on from that? I guess economic drivers, and climate change: our lovely simple grass-based system might not look so clever with a Loire Valley type climate - grass growing climates as good as ours are scarce across the globe.
We have operated over the years from the consistent aim of world class cheese - that is great flavour, produced at a profit, a great story for consumers, and care for our great team and animals. Over the years the precise requirements of the cows have varied by our current understanding of how to fulfil these requirements: We thought is was just yield which mattered, then it was clear we wanted yield of total solids +protein %; that gave us too much fat for the best cheese, so we went for yield and % of protein; we saw the need and opportunity to go for a step change in cost/litre. Now our understanding of our economic environment encourages us to go for greater yield of more stable milk, while retaining our simple system: and we will move to the step change of a two herd system to run cows across more of the farm with a return to a lower yield system to bear down again on cost structure.
We do need to nurture this system knowledge and make it happen, or we will be swept by other people's view of us: the lobbyists, our suppliers, our customers and environmentalists, and we will be left not even knowing what we don't know.