Society is changing fast and so must the cattle industry if it is to retain its relevance and its markets into the future.
And at the January 2010 British Cattle Conference - which we preview in this issue of Cattle Breeder - we have plenty of evidence that it is prepared to adapt.
There will be papers on subjects unthinkable only five years ago - from breeding dairy cows with superior environmental credentials to manipulating beef so that its ratio of unsaturated to saturated fats is significantly improved for human health.
And then there's the challenge of feeding the world - in which one speaker in particular believes the beef industry is poised to play an increasingly important role, with its often unsung ability to turn low grade scrubland into the highest grade of protein.
As many speakers will also observe, the cattle industry has become an easy target for both environmentalists and proponents of good health, but this conference will illustrate that farmers and scientists are reacting to their demands, to develop an animal and an industry that is fit for the future.
Introducing the 2010 conference chairman
Chairman of the 2010 event will be Rob Wills, whose buoyant and optimistic style will permeate the conference as a whole and is certain to leave delegates uplifted as they return to the business of farming or working in the agriculture sector.
Rob is well-known on an international level for his unstinting support of Great British genetics and the down-to-earth openness and integrity with which he conducts his own livestock export business, earning him friends as well as customers all over the world.
Rob's choice of theme - 'A sustainable breeding future' - reflects the government's new-found stance that British agriculture has an important role to play in UK food security, but that it must also play this role in a sustainable way.
These dual challenges (and there are many more besides, including the imperative of profitability) will be addressed in Rob's choice of speakers, many of whom will focus on the environment, or add an environmental theme to their specific area of expertise.
Summing up sentiments shared by the British Cattle Breeders Club as a whole, Rob says: "Our duty is to constantly search for ways of not just surviving in the cattle industry, but to thrive and to grow and to leave behind us a sustainable system for future generations to build on."
This conference promises to provide a springboard for exactly this, and has become the 'must visit' annual event for all those serious about shaping the industry of tomorrow - so do come along and share in the future.
Conference: The time and place
The 2010 British Cattle Conference will be held at the Telford Golf and Spa Hotel.
The main dates are Tuesday 26 (beef) and Wednesday 27 January 2009 (dairy).
Day rates are £85 for members (£115 non-members) while cost-effective packages are available to include accommodation and participation in all the social events.
Conference: The speakers
Take action now to avoid legislation later
Farming is in the firing line when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and cattle farming in particular is the increasing focus of attention.
Dr Duncan Pullar, Head of R&D for EBLEX will put the issue into perspective with some hard facts on precisely where the problems lie.
He will offer some practical measures which could make a real difference right now, and suggest that the industry's failure to act could lead to unwelcome legilsation.
Arguing that ignoring the issue will no longer be an economically or morally acceptable option, he will help and urge cattle farmers to take ownership of the facts.
A role for genomics in the control of disease
Many people in the cattle breeding industry are involved in some way with genomics; most people hold opinions on the benefits the science can bring; but rarely do we have the opportunity to go right to the cutting edge with those at the forefront of genomic technology development.
But at the 2010 conference, Jerry Taylor, Professor in Animal Genomics at the University of Missouri, will provide just this opportunity.
As head of the Animal Genomics Group - one of only a handful of groups in the world which identify genetic variations at the genome level and convert them to a usable form - Dr Taylor will come to the UK armed with new information on the very latest tests his team has developed, and illustrate precisely how they could help British farming combat disease such as Johne's and TB and improve performance factors such as feed conversion efficiency and immune response to many important pathogens.
Good reasons why beef has a positive future
Beef may be public enemy number one according to many environmentalists, but Ian Hill is convinced it has a great future ahead.
As a director of a Brazilian Farming Company whose beef breeding programme involves some 400,000 head, he will play a significant part in meeting world food demand and intends to do so by converting the lowest grade pasture into the highest grade of protein.
In a presentation which will reveal how the need for quantity can also be reconciled with low quality inputs, he will cite both conventional animal husbandry and the use of molecular genetics as two routes to this success.
Using native British breeds into the bargain, he believes the output of Brazilian beef could double by 2050.
What do consumers want from beef?
Steve McLean works at the consumer interface of the beef industry as agriculture manager for Marks and Spencer.
As well as sharing the company's insight into customer preferences and how they have changed over the years, he will suggest ways in which the industry may wish to react to secure they have customers into the future.
Convinced of the need for the industry to engage in low carbon farming and adapt to the challenges of climate change, his presentation will attempt to untangle sometimes conflicting environmental messages.
He may help farmers decide how they both breed and farm low carbon beef.
The challenge to be sustainable in beef
Consumers are increasingly interested in livestock farming and the impact it has on the environment, and farmers and processors ignore this at their peril.
This message will come from Stuart Roberts, director of Midlands-based Anglo Beef Processors - one of the largest beef processors in Europe which handles over 300,000 cattle per year in the UK. Believing the industry has a responsibility to react to consumer pressures, he will both examine customer drivers, and also defend the position of livestock farming as a custodian of one of the most important carbon sinks.
Better links between performance and genetics
Warwickshire beef farmer Adam Quinney had his eyes opened wide on a recent ASDA scholarship which took him to the USA and France.
In the US, he learned how animals in feedlots of many thousand head are individually assessed for feed consumption, growth rates and feed conversion efficiency and how this information is linked to both the carcase, and the suckler cow and sire from which the animal was bred.
And in France he witnessed how farmer co-operation and links in the supply chain are shaping France's breeds into exceptional performers. Shaking up his own herd on his return, he may do the same for fellow cattle breeders when he speaks at the conference.
An inspired addition to a large herd of Angus
Running Europe's largest pedigree Aberdeen Angus herd largely under an organic system and across 4,500 acres of the Perthshire hills, David Ismail has stuck fervently to his beliefs.
Frequently told the Angus and organic bubbles would burst, he has adhered to his system with considerable success and is developing his herd for a sustainable future.
With the recent addition of Wagyu beef - producing highly marbled and tender meat containing a far healthier complement of unsaturated (oleic) fats than traditional breeds - he is equally confident the Wagyu breeds have much to offer farming and the healthconscious consumer of the future.
Breeding beef which is better for human health
The health benefits of having higher Omega 3 fatty acid levels in the human diet are well documented and one of the cattle industry's most important challenges is to increase Omega 3 (in relation to Omega 6) in both the beef and milk it produces for human consumption.
Rainer Roehe, Professor in Animal Breeding at SAC, will outline work undertaken in the beef industry in both the UK and around the world which indicates the considerable scope there is to breed healthier beef.
Identifying breeds which offer a head-start in the Omega 3 race, he will argue that breeding rather than feeding is the most effective and sustainable approach to improving the health qualities of the nation's beef and must be addressed to secure the industry's future.
A model for growth to buck the trend
Laura's Lean Beef is a Kentucky-based company that started on a farm and has grown to see product sold in 46 US states and 6,500 retail stores, with sales now exceeding $150 million.
Chairman and CEO, John Tobe, will speak about how the company offers its 1,000-plus cattle producers a sustainable income future as well as a sustainable environmental model.
With a compounded annual growth rate for 10 years exceeding 10 per cent and growth in weight sold last year up seven per cent, despite difficult trading conditions, his presentation will focus on the cattle procurement model behind the company's success.
New TB rules and what they will mean for trade
By the time of the conference in January, UK legislation regarding bovine TB is expected to have radically changed.
Scotland will be on the verge of implementing the EC decision to take on OTF (Officially Tuberculosis Free) status and both English and Welsh policy is expected to have undergone some revision.
Carl Padgett, a vet with Bay Vets' Baldrand Farm Practice in Lancaster, will outline the changes as they stand and explain what they mean for those trading livestock between the three countries.
Genomic indexes should come with a warning
Genomic indexes should be treated with caution, according to Gerard Scheepens, a director with the Netherlands' number two breeding company, KI Samen.
Describing himself as the 'last freedom fighter for the grass-roots dairy farmer', he says that genomics will not only move too much control to the breeding companies, but has the potential to steer them in completely the wrong direction.
Arguing that it is impossible to predict how genes interact; that results to date have predicted biological impossibilities; and that a genetic lag means that problems which are founded today may not become apparent for many generations; he says the science of genomics puts us in the fast lane to trouble ahead.
Questions over genomics have been answered
The biggest advantage of genomics is genetic progress, according to CRI, the USA's first agricultural holding cooperative which has significant interests in dairy and beef genetics.
But to gain that advantage, breeders should use the sires with the best genomic proofs at the earliest opportunity.
Speaking at the conference exactly a year after genomic proofs were first made available to the public, Huub te Plate, the cooperative's vice president of international marketing, will argue that questions over their dependability have now been answered.
Already in possession of figures to prove his point, he is confident the new January 2010 proofs - hot off the press in the week of the conference - will reinforce it further.
Genomic selection in Ireland takes off
Ireland may not immediately spring to mind as an international innovator in dairy genetics but a presentation by Donagh Berry of TEAGASC (Ireland's agriculture and food development authority) is likely to reveal that the country is at the cutting edge.
As the second country in the world to officially publish genomically enhanced genetic evaluations, which happened early in 2009, a highly co-ordinated and efficient system in now in place through which every young dairy bull undergoing progeny test will first be assessed for genotype.
Early indications reveal that selections made on this basis are predicting the bulls' strengths with good accuracy.
Dr Berry will reveal just how the industry has made such progress.
No-compromise dairying: you can have it all
Dairy farming is often about making compromises but it seems that for young farmer, Tom King, this concept has passed him by.
The 200 Vortex Holsteins he runs with his father in Dorset have a rolling average of 11,612kg at 3.95% fat and 3.0% protein; cell counts averaging 70,000 cells/ml; a calving index of around 400 days; and replacement rate of under 20%.
Combined with one of the highest herd PLIs (Profitable Lifetime Index) in the UK (top one%), high type classification (72.4% of the cows score VG or EX), and - perhaps most surprising of all - low fertilizer inputs, his talk is likely to demonstrate that you really can have it all.
Dairy beef has a lower carbon footprint
The concept of producing dairy heifer calves from the elite end of a herd and high quality beef from the remainder is an aspiration on many dairy farms.
But Phil Halhead, who farms 200 Holsteins and a herd of pedigree British Blues in Lancashire, appears to have perfected the art, now breeding all dairy heifers to sexed dairy semen and some 80 per cent of the herd to a British Blue.
With a lucrative outlet for the British Blue cross calves, which go on to finish at around 600kg at 14-15 months and killing out at an average 64-65%, it's a formula with considerable economic - as well, he will argue, as environmental - merit.
Developing the grass to complement the cow
Cattle farmers can reduce their carbon footprint by choosing grass varieties which have a reduced environmental impact, according to Jon Moorby, dairy cow nutritionist at Aberystwyth University.
And rather than compromise on the traditional traits of yield and persistency, these varieties actually improve in these areas, while also potentially enhancing ruminant nitrogen use, reducing nitrogen excretion from the animal and improving economic performance.
Presenting this win-win situation, Dr Moorby will explain what grasses are available now, what traits to look out for, and how the grass on livestock farms might continue to improve in the future.
Dairying could have a negative carbon footprint
Agriculture in general and cattle farming in particular have become scapegoats for their role in the production of greenhouse gases.
But their vilification is unjustified, according to independent dairy consultant, Graeme Surtees.
Speaking at the conference he will argue that the relationships between livestock production and the environment are over-simplified; that the role of cattle in recycling what can be effectively waste feed and turn it into milk and meat can help prevent the damaging alternative of these by-products entering landfill; and that the energy generation capability of the large-scale dairy farm could potentially give such businesses a negative carbon footprint.
Winner favours grazing-oriented breeds
Keeping costs of production low and operational efficiencies high were two of the keys to Rob Harrison's success in this year's Farmers Guardian and Dairy Farmer award for the Dairy Farmer of the Future.
His 180-head herd has evolved from Holsteins into mixed grazing-oriented breeds, and he has adapted an essentially New Zealand system into one in the middle-of-the-road to suit his family farm in Gloucestershire.
With an eye on the long-term, he believes that minimising capital outlay and maximising forage utilisation are important parts of his approach to long term profitability and environmental sustainability.
All change in the UK dairy proofs
Several changes will come into play as the first 2010 dairy proof run is published in January.
Alongside a base change and the introduction of calving ease proofs, there will be the important introduction of all-breed evaluations, allowing genetic comparisons to be made for the first time between bulls of different breeds.
Speaking immediately after the evaluations are published, Marco Winters, director of DairyCobreeding+, will explain why the changes were made; what effects they will have on each breed and the broader industry; and which minority dairy breeds will gain UK evaluations for the first time.
Are lower carbon goals economic?
SAC scientist, Dr Eileen Wall is currently investigating how cattle breeding goals could consider greenhouse gas emissions.
She will come to the conference with brand new information from this DEFRA-funded research which is due for completion at the end of 2009.
Identifying the progress the dairy breeding industry has made in improving the genetics of health and welfare, her presentation will address whether the continuation of this progress - alongside the attainment of economic goals - is compatible with breeding to achieve environmental targets.
Club walk to Prince Charles' Duchy Home Farm
Club members were fortunate to be invited to HRH The Princeof Wales' Duchy Home Farm in Gloucestershire earlier this year, where farm manager David Wilson explained the policy of placing a heavy reliance on a wide variety of forages in order to minimise grain use for both milk production from the 180 Ayrshires and rearing beef from the 150-head herd of Aberdeen Angus suckler cows.
At the heart of the farm's organic system is a seven year crop rotation in which clover and catch crops between cereals are key.
As only a handful of groups to visit the Prince's farm each year, this was a privilege enjoyed by the many who attended who heard of the long-term commitment to find a better way of farming and the overwhelming belief that 'feeding grain to ruminants is wrong'.
More Club walks in 2010.
Stop pneumonia before it's too late
Preparation is key to combating pneumonia during the peak disease season, improving the chances of reducing its financial impact, preventing its spread, and limiting permanent lung damage if a problem strikes.
Quite apart from the obvious costs of the disease, pneumonia-induced lung damage can cost cattle almost 74kg a year in lost lifetime growth potential, with even moderate damage resulting in animals losing 39kg over an 18 month beef finishing system.
These startling figures from a major collaborative study between Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health and Blade Farming suggest that we may not be treating cattle pneumonia as effectively as we could.
Blade Farming managing director Richard Phelps has pointed out that the study has convinced him that paying closer attention to minimising pneumonia-induced lung damage could easily make some beef producers an extra £40-£50 an animal.
"Anything we can do to help our producers become more efficient is most welcome and minimising the lung damage pneumonia causes is a good example of where we can relay useful information down the chain," he comments.
"All the cattle we take look healthy, but I've been surprised at the level of undetected lung damage once the animals have been slaughtered.
This lung scoring trial work in the abattoir is now helping us assess just how much lung damage diseases like pneumonia can cause.
Apart from the mortality and treatment costs, lung damage from pneumonia leads to lower growth rates and increases days on feed."
According to Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health livestock veterinary adviser Rosemary Booth MRCVS, as with most diseases, pneumonia prevention should be your first priority.
"Planning ahead is crucial and working with your vet to minimise the disease risk factors on your unit will definitelysave you money in the long run. Vaccination, particularly, is asound preventive measure for most farms, but will not preventall disease outbreaks and needs to be used in conjunction withgood management procedures," she says.
"Pneumonia is a very complex disease caused by viruses and bacteria, including mycoplasmas. The key viruses - RSV, PI3and IBR - may cause serious disease on their own or they mayweaken a calf's natural defences, allowing bacterial infectionsto take hold.
Whilst vaccination can protect calves against these particular viruses - and the bacterial pneumonia causeM haemolytica - it is not possible to cover all of the pathogensthat cause the disease.
Consequently, whatever prevention measures you put in place, it is well worth having aproven treatment protocol up your sleeve."
Rosemary explains that pneumonia infections can soon damage lungs unless treatment is rapid andeffective.
"If prompt action is not taken pneumonia-induced lung damage quickly becomes permanent, which means thateven if an affected calf survives it is likely to have impaired lungfunction and compromised performance for the rest of its life.
"Achieving a rapid and effective cure, which limits lung damage, must be the aim of every pneumonia treatmentprotocol.
Vets learn very early in their training that if anti inflammatory(NSAID) treatment is given alongside an effective antibiotic then the amount of lung inflammation and fluid in the lung air sacs (alveoli) will be reduced.
Combination treatment kills pneumonia bacteria, limits permanent lung damage and is now the gold standard therapeutic approach for animals showing pneumonia symptoms. Combination treatmen talso reduces fever and pain, which means an affected animal will be more likely to return to feeding quickly and become productive again.
"For example, we know that the innovative combination pneumonia treatment Resflor minimises permanent lung damage and there has been some very positive feedback over the last two winters from farmers upgrading to this product. Resflor combines antibiotic and anti-inflammatory in a single, easy-to-administer injection.
Pneumonia moves fast - but so does Resflor; it starts killing pneumonia bacteria within 30 minutes with high concentrations reaching all areas of the lung within six hours.
What's more, trials have shown that Resflorwill deliver 37% less lung damage compared with cattle treatedwith antibiotic-alone," she stresses.