You owe it to the next generation
There will be an air of youth and exuberance about the British Cattle Conference in January 2011, which we preview in this issue of Cattle Breeder.
The chairman will be the youngest ever to preside over the event (more of which later) and with her, come many youthful and energetic speakers who are injecting life into the cattle breeding and production industries and will add vitality to the proceedings.
Amongst them we have farmers ranging from the down-to-earth who have achieved remarkable things with modest scale production systems, to a farmer director of Nocton Dairies, which famously proposes the UK's largest-scale unit, featuring several thousand milking cows.
Scientists at the cutting edge of breeding technologies will argue that UK beef producers are poised to benefit from genomics, while marketeers will claim that the right promotion can transform the fortunes of a herd.
With further involvement from participants, ranging from a clutch of young Nuffield Scholars to captains of the farming industry - including Katrina Williams, Defra director general (food and farming) and Christianne Glossop, chief veterinary officer of the Welsh Assembly - there'll be something to learn for everyone.
We urge young and old; farmers and scientists; and those supporting and serving the industry to kick-start their year with the 2011 British Cattle Conference with its strong breeding theme. If you are in the business of cattle production, we think you owe it to the next generation!
Introducing the 2011 conference chairman
Chairman of the 2011 event will be Lucy Andrews, who is well-known throughout the cattle breeding industry, and as a Nuffield Scholar. Lucy hails from a Derbyshire farming family and - on completing her animal science degree at Harper Adams - joined Holstein UK's research and development department in 2000. Here, she quickly carved out a name for herself, in particular for her work in making genetic information accessible to farmers at every level.
Opening up the breed society's subsidiary 'Centre for Dairy Information' website to pedigree and non-pedigree breeders alike, her passion throughout a decade with the society has been to improve access to quality genetic information for every type of farmer, thereby improving genetic understanding and the breeding of the dairy cow.
Her involvement in developing the computer generated 'Virtual Cow' takes this a step further, bringing an innovative educational and breeding tool to the industry, which can transform understanding of the form, movement and condition of the milking cow.
Awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in 2005 in which she studied 'Knowledge transfer of science and genetics to farmers', Lucy travelled extensively throughout the world, becoming an outstanding ambassador for Great British cattle genetics.
With her chairmanship of the British Cattle Breeders Club coming at the age of just 33, she'll be the youngest ever chairman of the January conference, while her own presence and choice of speakers promise a lively and stimulating event which can be enjoyed by every generation.
Conference: The speakers
Change breeding practices or deal with the consequences
Producing profitable beef cattle that are capable of finishing without grain in their diets should be a key consideration in future breeding policies, according to Mike Gooding from FAI Farms in Oxfordshire.
As managing director of this large commercial livestock farm with additional R&D, consultancy and outreach capacity, Mr Gooding will argue that the alternative approach is to continue as we are, and 'deal with the consequences' as they arise.
Preferring to spearhead systems that are ethically, environmentally and economically sustainable, he believes the industry has to accept that restrictions on inputs ranging from fertilizer and land to labour and water must shape the future of livestock breeding and farming practices.
Poor communication of market signals holds back progress
Poor management and inadequate market signals are at the heart of many inefficient beef farms according to William Haire, who farms pedigree and commercial Herefords in uplands close to Belfast.
Arguing that many farmers are out of touch with the supply chain, and vice versa, he explains that a lack of clear market signals holds back progress and ultimately compromises profit.
His presentation will explore how better genetics and management can improve a farm's bottom line.
A broader outlook will improve your farming
Farmers who fail to take time off their farm are also failing their business, says Farmers Guardian and National Beef Association 'Beef Stockman of the Future', Nick Davis.
As a former Nuffield Scholar who produces Aberdeen Angus cross Welsh Black beef from an upland farm in Llandrindod Wells, he says time spent on other farms, at meetings or in discussion groups, will show farming in a new light and bring a better quality of life.
Using examples of how he has changed his own farming practices as his outlook has broadened and his confidence has grown, he believes he can prove that the people who say they can't leave the farm, are the ones who need to the most!
Farmer training is essential to maintaining a competitive edge
British farming will lose its competitive edge if both farmers and their employees fail to keep technically up to date in what has become a fast moving and highly sophisticated industry.
Professor John Alliston from the Royal Agricultural College will address the conference on how the UK farming industry's competitive efficiency can be improved by a well trained work force.
He will provide examples of some of the skills that farmers need and some opportunities for training that exist.
Bringing genomic benefits to beef
The USA is at the cutting edge of genomic technologies and Dorian Garrick, professor of animal breeding and genetics at Iowa State University, is at the forefront of bringing those technologies into the beef breeding industry.
His address to the conference will include a concise and coherent explanation of the processes involved in developing genomic predictions and an up-to-the-minute report of the improved genetic progress that is already being made.
With technology now in place that will open its scope to almost any breed of cattle, his argument for involvement by UK farmers will be more compelling than ever before.
Larger herds can offer better individual treatment
Technology holds the key to the highest levels of management in large scale dairy farming, potentially bringing more individual treatment to each cow than is feasible in smaller scale herds.
Nigel Lok, who milks 700 cows in Tsitsikamma in South Africa, will bring practical evidence to the conference showing how parameters such as real-time body weight, milk composition and lying and other activity can be routinely monitored to bring high welfare and management, and a close realisation of each cow's genetic potential.
Building a brand for your herd
Creating a brand for your livestock is an essential component of 21st century marketing, and breeders who don't attend shows, need to find an alternative means of making an impact.
Journalists and public relations specialists Jonathan Long and Chrissie Lawrence will suggest some of the best ways of getting your herd noticed.
They will discuss what needs to be done to continue to build on your brand.
Innovative thinking to 'future proof' a business
Innovative thinking is required to keep any farming business at the leading edge.
The British Limousin Cattle Society provides a prime example of how this has helped to 'future-proof' a business.
Traditional breed society activities have been augmented by the establishment of two limited companies - one specialising in internet marketing of beef semen from a wide diversity of sources; the other tailoring insurance to the specialist livestock producer's requirements.
Iain Kerr, the society's chief executive, will explain how identifying specific needs and niches has helped to provide practical, added-value services that can improve and professionalise the businesses of livestock producers.
Growing a business in cattle genetics
Henk Bles will inspire any aspiring businessman in the farming industry, having started in the Netherlands in 1990 as a sole trader.
He has grown his business to become one of the leading livestock exporters in Europe, with additional functions in semen distribution and farm consultancy.
Now with an annual turnover exceeding €20 million and consultancy work ongoing in countries as diverse as Vietnam and Russia, he'll explain to the conference how he has reached the position he's in today and why he sees the future to be in management solutions.
Nocton plans updated - from a farmer behind the proposal
Peter Willes is one of the two farmers behind Nocton Dairies, whose name hit the headlines when proposals to build an 8,100 cow unit in Lincolnshire met with public opposition.
Originating on a North Devon family farm of 100 cows, and now milking 2,200, he will explain to the conference what has motivated his continued expansion; why Lincolnshire has been chosen as the preferred location; and why he believes that the system he and his business partner plan to establish will be a showcase for welfare and environmental best practice.
Arguing that expansion is the antidote to the depression that comes from 'milking cows into your 50s', his bold plans and views may fuel ambitions for other family farmers.
What next for dairy breeding indexes
Selection indexes for dairy cows have undergone radical change over the past decade, with indexes such as cell counts, fertility and longevity now routinely used by most in the industry.
Roel Veerkamp, head of the Animal Breeding Centre at Wageningen Livestock Research in the Netherlands, is leading a European group of scientists (including representatives from the UK) who are collaborating to take indexes a step further.
This will see parameters such as the fatty acid profile of milk (with its important implications for human health), and energy balance of the cow, coming into play. Dr Veerkamp will update the conference on the progress this 'RobustMilk' project has made, and suggest when genetic selection of Europe's dairy cattle will move into this new realm.
Drawing UK parallels from the Irish experience
Ireland has enjoyed the lavish benefits of EU funding, but now the bubble has burst.
As livestock editor for the Irish Farmers Journal, Justin McCarthy will come to the conference with first-hand experience of how the downturn has affected the country's agriculture industry.
Suggesting some parallels that could lie ahead for UK farming, the forewarning he will provide could help the British livestock industry to face the challenges ahead.
The new rules of winning a farm tenancy
Breaking into farming today is a notoriously difficult business, but not insurmountable for those who are focussed, keen and well prepared.
Andrew Harle is managing partner of land agents, Smiths Gore, and in this capacity, frequently acts on behalf of private, institutional and public sector farm landlords.
In his address to the conference, he will highlight the subtle differences in a prospective tenant's recommended approach to each type of landlord, and draw attention to the pitfalls that can arise in the process.
As a farmer's son himself, and a director of a farming company, he also brings a particular understanding of the would-be farmer's side of the bargain.
Borrowing to invest - as money gets tighter
As both an agribusiness partner with the Yorkshire Bank and a Lancashire dairy farmer's son, Chris Shepherd has a particular empathy with those who need to borrow for agricultural investment.
In an age in which the money supply has tightened more than many have known in a generation, he'll give some practical pointers of the positives and negatives a bank will look out for when confronted with a proposal to lend.
With the help of some good advice he says there are many opportunities for prospective, new and established farming businesses.
A Holstein cow for the best things in life - but breed her right
Andrew Jones represents the heart and soul of pedigree Holstein breeding and says the Holstein cow is responsible for all of the best things - ranging from social to financial - in his life.
As a former tenant farmer who has been able to purchase his farm in Wrexham, North Wales, he believes that the livestock show ring plays an important role as a shop window but the show ring breeder must produce a cow that is functional and long living.
Failure to do so will see the commercial dairy farmer take his own route.
Mr Jones will aim to prove his point with examples from his herd, which has been sold and rebuilt on no less than three occasions.