Introducing the 2008 conference chairman
Welcome to the winter edition of Cattle Breeder - the newsletter of the British Cattle Breeders Club. In this issue, we aim to give you a flavour of the conference which will take place in January 2008 and for which we have assembled a lively, progressive and diverse group of speakers ranging from farmers and retailers to geneticists and scientists.
The conference theme of 'Back to British, back to breeding, back to making money' reflects the need to address the fundamentals of farming whilst moving with the times more than ever before. The conference promises to bring a depth of discussion about imaginative science, sound farming and much, much more. Join us for the event to have your perceptions of farming challenged and your technical and financial efficiency improved today, tomorrow and far into the future.
We think you'll be surprised by what you could learn.
The conference is sure to be brought to life under the chairmanship of the irrepressible Mike Coffey. Dr Coffey is well known in cattle breeding circles, having worked in the livestock industry for around 25 years and personally spearheaded many developments in genetic technologies.
Referring to the theme for the 2008 conference, he says: "Putting the British back into breeding is not a war cry or a case of xenophobia - it's a statement that the British Cattle Breeders Club was established to improve the transfer of ideas between scientists and farmers about breeding and in Britain.
"After spending many years looking outside the UK, we might now consider what developments are occurring in this country and what will be required for breeders to improve profitability in a market that is changing rapidly and profoundly.
"There are scientific developments that are on the verge of having a large impact on cattle breeding. At the same time, others are trying increasingly to influence what farmers do. Supermarkets, government, society - each has an interest in the way food is produced, what it costs the tax payer, the cow and the planet. These changing forces mean that farmers will increasingly become more technically proficient.
"The Club will have to get back to its roots and play its part in ensuring that UK breeders are tooled and skilled to respond to these changes. This is what I hope the 2008 conference will address." Inviting farmers and breeders to come and take part, he challenges them: "Let's tell the conference speakers what we don't like about their work; how it should change to address our future needs and question their assumptions, their opinions and most of all their conclusions."
Reinventing dairy beef
The export of dairy bull calves or their slaughter at birth is increasingly unacceptable to a discerning and welfare - conscious public. Some supermarkets will no longer accept beef from the dairy herd without a declaration that calves won't be exported live from that herd, and this is a trend which can only increase.
Kev Bevan, a consultant with SAC, is part of a team undertaking a study into the opportunities for beef from the dairy herd, and will bring to the conference new information on the potential size of the market, the processors' requirements and how dairy farmers can meet them in an economic and ethical way.
Is beef production in Brazil a threat or opportunity?
There's no escaping the criticism of the growing imports of South American beef, so a visit to the conference from an Associate Professor of beef production systems at the University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil could well raise some hackles.
But we stand to learn much from the successes of our competitors, including why they so highly value native British breeds.
José Fernando Piva Lobato will speak on the drive for exports from Brazil, utilising technology and genetics to improve efficiency, and using quality to gain market share. Open your mind and be prepared to learn!
Native breeds - is it time for a revival?
From the sharp end of the industry, Duncan Sinclair, agricultural manager with Waitrose, believes the pendulum is swinging in favour of native beef breeds.
Armed with evidence from the market place, he will advise producers of how they can use the attributes of traditional British cattle to provide a differentiated and highly saleable product.
Making money from AI beef
It's tempting to use a run-of-the-mill beef sire on the bottom end of the dairy herd. But new data from Harper Adams - presented to the industry for the first time by senior lecturer, Simon Marsh - will reveal just how much impact the right choice of beef sire can have on a dairy farm's profits.
Extensive performance and financial data will be presented for progeny from Holstein Friesian cows.
Lessons from the poultry industry
What can cattle breeders learn from the poultry industry? Dr Santiago Avendano is senior geneticist for Aviagen Ltd, the world's leading poultry breeding company, but has a strong personal interest in beef and sheep breeding.
Having worked on breeding programmes for both the Aberdeen Angus and Meatlinc breeds, he is in a good position to compare the two industries.
Highlighting the need to have broad breeding goals for producing commercially competitive products through optimum performance and health, he explains how Aviagen has earned its place as the leading supplier of parent stock, with over 50% of the world - wide market. Cattle breeders and breeding companies should both take note.
Is this the greatest breeding development since AI?
Many bold predictions have been made for various breeding technologies over the years, but few have delivered all that was promised.
So why should we believe that the newly emerging 'genomic selection' will prove to be any different?
Two of the conference speakers - Chris Warkup, chief executive for Genesis Faraday and Dr Roel Veerkamp, who heads part of the Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands - will explain why the new technology is being hailed as the greatest invention for cattle breeding since the development of AI which could reduce the cost of breeding programmes by up to 90%.
Is this just hype or is it a turning point for breeding?
EBVs may come and go but DNA is forever
Just as beef producers have mastered the use of EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values) they are confronted with new molecular technologies with their promise of speeding genetic progress and conferring a commercial advantage.
Dr Duncan Pullar, from the MLC, will examine which have a place in today's beef industry and whether they will allow producers to redefine their breeding goals.
What I want from the information providers
Paul Miller is a young farmer milking 200 Holsteins in Worcestershire, who is making data work for him.
The computer has become both central and essential to his farming strategy, saving him time; pinpointing strengths and weaknesses; highlighting problems as soon as they arise and helping him achieve improvements for his herd and greater profitability for his business.
Less computer-savvy delegates may be left feeling that they risk being left seriously behind.
Nearing retirement? What does the future hold?
Farmers with no children interested in continuing the family farm eventually have to confront their options.
Farmer, Peter Dixon Smith together with his former herd manager, Wil Armitage have done so with vision and individuality.
Peter's original Lyons herd was sold in 2003, a new business partnership was formed, and a new dairy herd has been built from scratch, now comprising 250 milking cattle.
Both Peter and Wil will speak at the conference, telling delegates how they made the transition, and outlining the principles on which their agreement is based and their plans for its long term future.
Others in a similar position could learn much from their experience.
What shall we do with all this data?
Has competition in milk recording been good for farmers?
Visitors to the conference will hear from Nicci Chamberlin (NMR) and Sue Cope (CIS) who will explain the direction their companies have taken and how they feel they can best convert farmers' data, not only into profits, but also into progress for the health and welfare of the dairy farming industry as a whole.
This promises to be a lively debate.
Leading the way with Ayrshire genetics
Ayrshire cattle are in big demand throughout the UK and one young breeder from Hertfordshire is in a good position to understand why.
Duncan Hunter will speak through his own personal experience of milking 130 head - including his home - bred interbreed champion at last year's Dairy Event - and will outline the individualistic work of the Ayrshire Cattle Society which sets it apart from the rest and is moving the breed forward.
He will cite the breed's strength and longevity but says that far more than this is earning it a place in so many British herds.
Jersey Island at a crossroads - which way to turn?
Jersey Island dairy farmers have arguably had a cosseted existence.
The native breed on their island has been largely unaffected by genetic imports for 150 years and farmers have received generous government support. But that's all set to change.
Boundaries are expected to open to Jersey semen imports and farmers will be able to select from international bloodlines. David Hambrook, from the Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society, will consider the options for the breed.
Where will they go with an almost blank canvas, how can they build on any genetic advantage they have and can the 'home of the breed' be relevant once again to international breeding policies?
A farmer's perspective of Holstein genetics
Although heavily invested into a modern production system and milking 350 - head of Holsteins averaging 10,500 litres, dairy farmer Tim Gue is emphatic that focusing on reducing costs rather than increasing production is the aim of his breeding policy.
His presentation will emphasise which traits he'll prioritise for longevity and lifetime profitability and which traits he'll avoid like the plague.
Adding some compelling evidence of why British is usually best, this promises to be a refreshingly practical view of breeding.
Developments in UK breeding indexes
Times are changing in the dairy industry. Energy and feed costs are soaring; herd size is rising rapidly; environmental concerns are uppermost and animal welfare is high on the agenda.
Are the cattle we have bred in the past fit for their purpose today or should we be considering a change of breeding priorities?
Geneticist, Marco Winters, director of breeding+ for the Milk Development Council discusses newly developed breeding tools and asks whether they will meet the challenges of the future.
Have breed societies had their day?
The future of breed societies has been called into question in almost every decade of the conference.
As the dairy industry emerges from one of the most challenging periods in its history, Holstein UK remains resolutely successful.
HUK chairman, David Tomlinson - who also farms with his family in Lancashire - explains how the organisation has retained its position by adapting, embracing new technologies and sharing its expertise with other breed societies.
But what is its place in the industry of the future?
Much of the way we farm and breed cattle today has been shaped by discussion at the conference of the British Cattle Breeders Club. From the basics we now take for granted to the innovations still under development, much has been aired - and will continue to be aired - at this feisty annual forum. Here are some landmarks, highlights and lowlights from almost 60 years.
The first meeting at Cambridge of scientists and breeders ran from 9 am to midnight for five days and they 'were asking for more'. This was three years after the Second World War and milk was still rationed.
A statement from the agriculture minister had indicated that production should increase by 22% to satisfy demand - a feat economists said was impossible. At the first meeting, Dr John Hammond took delegates to the research station at which he was experimenting with embryo transplants and they 'saw white rabbits born out of black rabbits'.
A paper by George B Odlum on progeny testing provided a 'frightening insight to pedigree breeders of the potential power of artificial breeding'.
At the beginning of the decade there were 196,000 milk producers in the UK milking on average 15 cows per herd with almost 10% of those still milked by hand.
A junior section of the club was formed to satisfy the keen interest.
In 1953, questions were fielded about 'the new science of deep freezing bull semen'.
Dairy breeders were criticised by Professor Bobby Boutflour for breeding 'show type' cattle with beefing characteristics. He was responsible for building up the country's first 2000 gallon (9,000 litre) herd.
In 1956, the conference was opened by USA agricultural attaché and subjects discussed included 'the new indexing methods of sire selection'. Organic farming was on the agenda.
The 1958 conference was chaired by the breeder of the UK's first Charolais, bred from semen illegally smuggled into the UK.
Farmers were accused of being disinterested in disease control or in national eradication, although they were told that TB, foot and mouth and brucellosis could be 'totally eliminated' from the UK.
In 1963, John Moffitt outlined the purpose and progress of the first private AI business in the UK.
There was a review of 10 years progeny testing by the MMB and reviews of the developments in freezing semen and the 'exciting opportunities created that should greatly enhance the spread of AI'.
The club had its first introduction to the 'genetic code' and its potential.
1964 saw discussion about 'the Charolais experiment', initiated by government due to immense interest in the breed.
In 1967, the conference was shocked by a New Zealand professor who said that the UK industry was farming at 'half - cock'.
Narrowing of the gene pool was raised as a concern and the practical use of 'ovum transportation' was discussed.
Breeders from the island of Luing described the breed they had created by crossing the Highland with the Beef Shorthorn.
This decade saw a diversity of subjects discussed, ranging from beef recording to the work routine for one man with 100 cows. International themes were prominent and the government was criticised for its failure to help the drive for livestock exports. A Dutch breeder predicted 'no future for the North American Holstein for European dairy farmers' and other criticism came of the modern Holstein. Later in the decade, British breeders were criticised for failing to embrace the North American Holstein! A milk progesterone test was identified as a breakthrough in identifying infertility and farmers were urged to keep better records.
Dr Ian Wilmut - later of 'Dolly' fame - discussed embryo transfer, a theme which was rarely off the programme for the next decade.
The newly launched 'Improved Contemporary Comparisons' were discussed - and thought to be inappropriate for small herd owners.
In 1977, the concept of a MOET (multiple ovulation and embryo transfer) programme was introduced.
The first data from the Langhill herd drew criticism from breeders as production was the only criterion being used for selection. ET was again discussed - still undertaken at the time by abdominal surgery.
A US scientist introduced 'linear' type appraisal, which was later adapted for the UK.
A paper on the micromanipulation of embryos was presented by the breeder of the sheep - goat chimera, named the 'geep'.
In 1985 milk quotas were the hot topic. Delegates discussed feeding in the quota - restricted environment.
In 1989, Bovine Somatotropin (bST) was discussed and most delegates opposed its approval.
Industry collaboration and the sharing of data in the world of the computer preoccupied the discussion.
Delegates heard about new conversion formulae for foreign bulls and the introduction of BLUP (Best Linear Unbiased Prediction) - which some beef breeders feared would leave them without a part to play in the future of cattle breeding.
New technologies discussed ranged from semen sexing and marker assisted selection to designer milk and cloning.
A US breeder chronicled the economics and practicalities of expanding from 60 to 600 cows.
While technology discussed moved on to areas such gene transfer and genetic manipulation, some speakers went back to basics - the eating quality of beef; nutrition; fertility and the implications of decoupling and the Single Farm Payment. Welfare and the environment moved up the agenda, whilst one dairyman described his experiences with seven robotic milkers.
Next year looks set to be a vintage year.
Please join us in January to find out more.
With thanks to former Club president, John Moffitt, author of 'British Cattle Breeders Club 1948 - 2005', the source of this chronology.
New era for pneumonia treatment
Now that beef producers no longer have the safety net of age related payments to cushion less effective production, veterinary experts are urging cattle producers to talk to their vet about the latest advances in lung protection therapy (LPT) in time for the peak pneumonia season. LPT delivers fast, visible recovery from pneumonia, whilst also preserving optimum lifetime growth rates.
According to Royal Veterinary College specialist in cattle health and production John Fishwick, many factors contribute to the development of pneumonia: the characteristics of cattle lungs, bacterial and viral infections, and the farm environment all interact to cause disease. But once pneumonia strikes, performance - compromising lung damage can develop very quickly unless producers act fast with a proven treatment protocol.
"Pneumonia infections can quickly damage lungs and once this happens the animal will not be able to express its full genetic potential," he stresses.
"This means that even if the affected animal survives it is likely to have damaged lungs for the rest of its life, and this will reduce productivity and growth." To try and prevent pneumonia - induced permanent lung damage, John Fishwick maintains that a combination of anti - inflammatory drug treatment with fast, effective and proven antibiotic therapy is the way forward in the modern cattle production era.
"If your treatment is given early and combines an anti - inflammatory and an antibiotic, it will reduce the amount of lung inflammation and fluid in the lung air sacs (alveoli). Combination treatment will also reduce fever and pain - which means the animal will be more likely to return to feeding quickly and become productive again.
"But not only does a combination of anti - inflammatory treatment with antibiotic therapy help prevent permanent lung damage, by improving blood flow it may also assist delivery of more of the antibiotic to the infected areas of the lung - allowing the antibiotic to reach the sites of infection more quickly and effectively, and increase recovery rates," he adds.
When it comes to tackling pneumonia successfully on farm this winter, Schering - Plough's Andrew Montgomery MRCVS says it is now much easier for producers to treat the disease quickly and effectively, whilst at the same time minimising the permanent lung damage that pneumonia can cause. Batch treatment strategies for apparently healthy animals when more than 20% of animals in a group are affected should also be considered.
"Thanks to the launch last year of the innovative, new combination anti - bacterial and anti - inflammatory pneumonia treatment Resflor, effective disease treatment and lung protection can now be achieved extremely simply - all via a single injection," he says.
"Extensive licensing trials confirm that Resflor starts killing pneumonia bacteria within 30 minutes and high concentrations reach all areas of the lung within six hours to minimise permanent lung damage. These trial findings were confirmed in practical efficacy studies carried out on UK farms last winter." Under trial conditions, 17 different pneumonia outbreaks were treated last winter involving 121 animals on commercial UK units.
On the first veterinary visit, calf temperatures were taken as an indication of the severity of the pneumonia with depression and respiratory scores also recorded. The animals were then treated with Resflor and as little as six hours later vets re - visited the units to assess the success of the treatment.
"All calves that were particularly sick - identified as those with a start temperature of 104°F or over (mean 104.8°F) - recorded as much as a 2.2°F fall within six hours of the Resflor injection, with the average temperature falling to well below the accepted 103°F fever threshold," Andrew Montgomery reports.
"The calves' respiratory and depression scores also improved within six hours. Farmers also reported significant visible improvements and marked animal recovery immediately post - treatment." Vets Evan David and Julia James from the Larkmead Vet Group in Oxfordshire attended six of the trial outbreaks between them.
"On the whole the results were pretty conclusive on the farms we attended," reports Evan David.
"In all the cases, Resflor demonstrated good speed of action with significant improvements in temperature, respiratory rate and depression. All the farmers were impressed with the rate of animal recovery and its lasting effect with no need for re - treatment." Julia James even reports one client now referring to Resflor as 'my magic drug'. "After using it on some particularly dull and listless sick calves in the morning he claimed that by evening feeding time he could no longer tell which animals had been ill."