A message from the new Chairman
It is a huge privilege to become chairman of the British Cattle Breeders’ Club, at a time when there is so much interest in our annual conference. The cattle industry has to respond and adapt to changes as much as any other sector. Recently, change has come thick and fast, with some indication that such trends are what we must expect for the future. As such, all of us involved in cattle breeding need to understand what is required further along the chain, and develop our industry accordingly.
‘Managing volatility’ is the current buzz-phrase, regularly trotted-out as the route to success. Yet the long-term nature of cattle breeding makes rapid changes of direction more difficult to achieve. Even so, ‘breeding’ cannot stand in isolation, it is a part of the total development – albeit the foundation for the longer term. Overall, I am sure we will see changing emphasis in management practice, leading to similar evolution in breeding goals.
Not only has our sector much to be proud of, we are equally fortunate that tools exist to achieve even more. The surface of genomics, in particular, has barely been scratched and this scientific development can lead us into areas we could scarcely have imagined in the past – healthiness of our products, animal disease resistance and feed conversion efficiency being obvious examples. Further technological advances in heat detection, semen sexing and the wider use of embryo transfer will also increase the rate of gain.
Support for BCBC is drawn from a solid spread of farmers, researchers, industry and students. Combined, this demonstrates a wide understanding that the organisation has evolved and shown longevity in remaining relevant. Continuing to evolve will be important. As the Club’s committee prepares for the forthcoming year’s events, we will be fully aware of this – yet recognise that we must retain the essential link to breeding.
Part of our evolution is the appointment of Heidi Bradbury as secretary. Heidi has already instilled a sense of confidence, and I hope many of you will be in contact with Heidi to book places at our farm walks and at the conference.
Most of all, I look forward to meeting you during the year, and to ensuringthat the British Cattle Breeders’ Club programme continues to provide information which is useful and memorable, as well as being delivered in an environment which you can enjoy with like-minded people.
The conference speakers
Professor Patrick Wall - Global Challenges and Opportunities (beef)
Patrick Wall is an associate professor of public health at University College Dublin. He pointed out that farmers are essentially in the health business and this offers significant opportunities. However, the entire supply chain has to respond as a unit, if British farmers are to compete effectively in a global market place.
“Producing innovative products for different life stages and levels of activity is emerging in human nutrition,” said Prof Wall. “The concept is not foreign to animal nutritionists, where a pig can enjoy seven or eight different diets, from creep feed to final finisher ration, during its short life. One only has to look at the range of diets on display on supermarket shelves for dogs of different ages and sizes, to realise that animal nutritionists are way ahead of their human counterparts, when it comes to tailoring particular diets for particular nutritional requirements.
“The dairy sector has extracted a range of nutritional constituents from milk and the major processors are in the ingredients, rather than the milk business. The challenge for the meat industry is to see if it too can do likewise and mine its products for nutritious constituents. It is interesting that the beef sector controls much of the pet food industry, where they have mastered life stage nutrition for dogs, but it has fallen well behind the dairy sector, in addressing the health and nutritional requirements of its human customers.”
Sustainable intensification is now the buzz word, he added. Many individuals, companies and organisations are developing new sustainability indicators. These include energy and chemical use in the livestock sector, as well as the impact on net greenhouse gas and nitrogen emissions and water use. “A growing world population, a rapidly emerging middle class in the new economies and a recovery from recession in mainland Europe and the UK heralds a time of unprecedented opportunities for the British beef and dairy industries,” he said.
“Blips in upward trends should not distract from the overall objective of growth. The Irish agri- sector is optimistic for a bright future and once quota is removed, Irish dairy farmers are tooling up for a 50% increase in output by 2030. All the ingredients for driving this Irish optimism are the same for their compatriots on this side of the water.”
Increased domestic and global demand and displacing imports with home-produced foodstuffs offers fantastic opportunities for British farmers, he stressed. Failing to respond to the global changes will herald difficult times for them, because their worldwide competitors are scaling up and the battle for market share will be intense.
“Minimising the impact of production, while optimising output and quality, is the basis upon which British farmers will achieve commercial success; sustainability is about efficiency and should not involve additional cost,” said Prof Wall. “Standing proud and working together efficiently is the way forward. You can’t change the past, but making the correct decisions now means you can influence the future.”
Andy Gubb - Back to the Future; a 26 year journey (dairy)
Andy Gubb is based at Barnacott Farm in Devon. He was just 19 years old, when his father sold the family dairy herd and when Andy returned from studying agriculture at Nottingham University, the Gubbs were farming beef cattle and sheep.
Over the next few years, Andy Gubb’s career followed a varied path, including a job on a dairy farm and an adviser with ADAS. He then changed direction and became operations director of a jewellery business with a multi-million pound turnover. He left to join forces with his wife in an independent jewellery retailing business and is also a co-owner of a children’s day care nursery.
However, these experiences have failed to “cure” him of a passion for dairy farming and he eventually returned to the family farm, where he and his brother currently milk about 253 cows. His presentation focused on the reasons why he returned to dairying and offered a number of observations about the industry from his unique perspective.
“You have to do something you love,” he stressed. “I have seen far too many people in dead-end jobs, where they are marking time, getting from one week to the next just to survive. Some are in well paid roles as well, so it is not all about the money. I had wanted to do this all my life and here was my opportunity. Could I risk spending the rest of my life wondering if I could have been a successful dairy farmer? It was time to put up or shut up.
“Many long standing dairy farmer friends gleefully reminded me of the long hours, 365 day per year commitment, loneliness and weather-induced depression. It is true that dairy farming is a 24/7 commitment, but there are also very attractive reasons for joining the dairy industry which, with my experience as a high street retailer, I can fully appreciate.
“Firstly, a dairy farmer has just one customer, as opposed to many hundreds of customers. The customer tells you the price he is prepared to pay for your product and you can sell him as much of it as you can produce. He is happy to pay more for quality and to come and pick it up in his own lorry, so that you do not have to arrange or pay for transport. He then puts your money direct into your bank account the following month, without you having to chase for it. Best of all, you don’t even need to send him an invoice.
“Now much of my story is a little tongue in cheek, but we should all try and remember that farming - and dairy farming in particular - has its challenges. However, these are no more stressful than those faced by many independent businessmen and women up and down the country who are trying to carve out a living,” said Mr Gubb.
Tom Gubbins - Applications of Genetic Technology in Breeding Better Beef Cattle (beef)
Australian beef cattle producer, Tom Gubbins, sparked debate when he told the audience that choosing cattle by eye was hindering progress. He also described cattle showing as a “thing of the past. “Showing served us well when we had no other methods of evaluating breeding cattle, but I believe that it damages data,” said Mr Gubbins. “We need to start engaging producers about EBVs and the way to do that is to talk about it more, even at the risk of upsetting a few people.
“We have to change, or we will be overtaken by the chicken and pig sectors. We are the lowest common denominator; every time pig and poultry farmers make genetic gain and lower their costs, it displaces beef from the supermarkets.”
The Te Mania Angus Stud’s Mortlake property comprises 2,600 hectares and has an annual rainfall of 610 mm. The stud is built on a gene pool which was 85 years in the making. It sells Angus bulls, semen, embryos, elite stud cows, ET recipients and commercial females for the premium beef industry. The business holds two annual bull sales, with semen retailed through AI re-sellers.
Performance recording is the backbone of the breeding plan and management programme. Its 3,500 head of cattle are run in large, contemporary groups, which increases the likelihood of having more effective progeny data for each sire being tested.
“More effective progeny means more accuracy and more accuracy means more genetic gain. Genetic gain comes from defined goals, animal selection and mating allocation, producing data which can be compared within one environment.”
Objective measurements have made a huge difference to the genetic gain of the Te Mania Angus herd. With the use of performance recording, the cattle have dominated the breed's EBVs for many years. The herd has produced more than double the number of Angus Group Breedplan trait leaders, compared with any other stud.
“All the matings at Te Mania Angus are computer-generated. We use a program called Total Genetic Resource Management (TGRM), for individual matings. All the cows are put to sires which are noted for increasing profitability and there is also an element to limit inbreeding.
The computer program makes tens of millions of calculations, statistically computing the best matings over the entire herd to all the sires available to Te Mania Angus in the world that carry Australian Angus EBVs.
“Stud breeding is really about identifying economic traits and then working on a genetic solution to enhance them. You need to define it, collect it and select it to improve the genetic merit of these animals.
“The relationship between cost of production and consumer demand is very high, so the more efficient we become and better our product is, the larger the market and the more profitable we all become. When we trade our product on the world market, our product should be better and cheaper than our overseas competitors,” concluded Mr Gubbins.
David Homer - Balancing Family Aspirations with Business Objectives (dairy)
David Homer’s presentation touched on a subject close to many dairy farmers’ hearts – how to run a successful business, while ensuring that all participating family members are happy and satisfied in their work. Based near Marlborough in Wiltshire, the Homers manage 1,350 acres on four farms, with a lifetime tenancy, two contract farming agreements and an FBT. The family milks a total of 520 cows in two separate herds.
Mr Homer oversees the general running of the business, while his wife, Jane, is in charge of finance and administration. All three of the couple’s children work at home, with Chris Homer concentrating on the livestock and grazing and Geoff focusing on soils, forage crops and mechanisation. Anne Homer is expert at rearing calves and also has good people skills, so she takes the main responsibility for playing host to the many visitors that are welcomed to the farm each year.
The family has taken several opportunities for business expansion, partly driven by the desire to generate enough profit to provide all members with an income. Decisions along the way have been taken jointly.
“The common aspiration among all of us was to be a pasture-based business as a basic foundation,” Mr Homer told delegates. “We then realised we would have to make some considerable changes to the way we farm, to fulfil our ambition.
“Before actually making changes, it is of course very important to ensure everyone else who is important to the business agrees with and supports our ideas,. Our first calls were to our customers, Waitrose, Dairy Crest and Dovecote Park. Our ideal plan would involve a change in our ability to provide a level supply of milk and calves. To soften the impact, we proposed that our herd at home would revert back to its roots - autumn calving - and we would set up a new herd which was spring calving. We also sought advice and guidance from our bank manager, accountant, consultant and our vet.”
The family meets weekly and has a full, formal team meeting every month, with minutes kept and action points recorded, so that progress can be monitored. This provides accountability and creates the opportunity for praise to be given. It also encourages team playing and is a way of harnessing enthusiasm. These meetings are an opportunity for new ideas and proposals and, of course, discussing anything which is not working so well, said Mr Homer.
“We are often asked how it is that all three of our children have become such enthusiastic farmers. We all get on well, whether we are working on the farm together or off duty. Jane and I have never made any assumptions and either persuaded or dissuaded our children from following whatever career path they chose. We don’t sit around the kitchen table with our heads in our hands, complaining about the difficulties in farming.
“Running any business in any sector has its every day challenges, but working together as a team finding solutions and driving forward creates a positive motivational atmosphere, which the next generation have clearly demonstrated they wish to be part of,” concluded Mr Homer.
Professor Chris Calkins - The US Beef Industry: Meeting Consumer Needs (beef)
Professor Chris Calkins, a professor of animal science at the University of Nebraska, told delegates that 2014 had been a year of profound change in the US beef industry. The country had felt the effect of a significant drought in many regions. It had prompted a severe cull within the beef herd and the US now has the lowest number of beef cows on record since 1951.
He outlined an ongoing project, based on muscle profiling research conducted by the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida. The project evaluated more than 5,500 muscle samples taken from the chucks (shoulders) and rounds of more than 140 cattle. Its aim is to find ways of adding value to muscles from the chuck and round and to create a database of traits from each of the muscles.
The project has identified a number of shoulder cuts that were undervalued. The new cuts include flat iron steaks, petite tenders, and ranch steaks. A second phase of research investigated the muscles of the chuck roll and developed the Denver cut, Sierra cut, Delmonico steaks, boneless country-style short ribs and America’s beef roast. An alternative retail cutting method, called BAM (Beef Alternative Merchandising) has been developed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, he added. This method encourages meat cutters to make cuts smaller in diameter and with greater thickness. Together with muscle profiling, which encourages single-muscle merchandising over multi-muscle cuts, these two initiatives help to meet consumer needs and maintain customer satisfaction. An added factor is an increase in total beef sales for those supermarkets implementing the BAM cutting technique.
Meat from the US is generally considered exceptionally tender, said Prof Calkins.
“Like any country, however, there is some variation in this trait. A small percentage of US beef does not meet consumer expectations for tenderness. Studies have repeatedly shown that consumers are willing to pay a premium for beef that is guaranteed tender. The US Department of Agriculture has established rules, to address marketing claims for tenderness on beef labels.
“Selected cuts from carcasses with a ribeye proven to be tender are eligible for a USDA Certified Tender or USDA Certified Very Tender label. Only muscles documented to be equal or superior to the ribeye in tenderness can carry this label. In this way, consumers are assured that beef labeled USDA Certified Tender meets the minimum standard for tenderness.”
From this sampling of programs and initiatives in the US beef industry, it is clear that a great deal of attention is paid to eating quality. At virtually every step from production to consumption, industry sectors are taking steps to build quality into beef products.
“Our performance on this important issue is the main reason why consumers continue to increase their demand for beef, even while the price is increasing. The importance of quality to domestic and international customers helps to ensure the US beef industry does not lose focus on this critical feature of our beef herds,” said Prof Calkins.
Dr George Wiggans - Genomics and where it can take us (dairy)
Dr George Wiggans is a research geneticist with the US Department of Agriculture. He presented a detailed overview of genomics and offered his opinions on where the technology might lead us in the future. Genotyping has revolutionised dairy cattle breeding, he stated. It provides a powerful tool for determining the genetic potential of dairy cattle. Economic performance can be improved, while avoiding expression of harmful recessives. With increased evaluation accuracy and reduced generation intervals, dairy cattle can be adapted for changing environmental conditions, such as increasing temperatures, as the result of climate change.
“Precision selection for milk with characteristics required by niche markets will become more practical,” said Dr Wiggans. “Genomics increases the value of phenotypic data, while removing the need for its collection simply to obtain an evaluation. The industry must provide incentives to generate phenotypic data for new traits, such as feed efficiency, as well as for current traits.
“Genomic mating programmes offer a way to determine the best bull to use for a specific cow, with interactions of their genotypes considered and harmful recessives avoided.” Because a genotype provides information for all traits, it can be used to estimate genetic merit of traits for which the animal does not have a performance record, he said. Therefore, the benefit of recording performance for additional traits that affect economic merit is increased, as evaluations can be generated for all genotyped animals.
All relevant traits can be included in an index, to enable the selection of the most profitable animal. As the understanding of the value of phenotypic data increases, some herd owners may specialise in the collection and sale of data. Some traits, such as feed intake, have such a high association for data collection, that the process cannot be justified for the management of a single herd.
“Genomic evaluation has been very successful in providing accurate predictions of genetic merit and participation in the US increases nearly every month. Ongoing research, along with larger predictor populations for estimating effects of genetic markers, is expected to increase accuracy. The discovery of causative genetic variants will improve avoidance of undesirable recessives, contribute to accuracy of genomic evaluation and possibly make across-breed evaluation more practical.
“Using genomic information in mating programs has the potential for significant financial gain. Continued improvement in genotyping technology may reduce the cost of genotyping and make whole-herd genotyping financially attractive for most dairy farms. The expansion of genomic evaluation to include more traits will enable more accurate selection for overall genetic merit, as well as for traits that are of interest to niche markets. The capability that genomics provides for more rapid genetic change will, in turn, enable more rapid adaptation to the changing requirements of producers,” said Dr Wiggans.
Nick Allen - Sustainability and Profitability in a Volatile Market Place (beef)
EBLEX director, Nick Allen, weighed up the merits of EBVs, which he said were useful for evaluating easily measured traits of moderate to high heritability and those of high economic value. However, they had less value, when it came to traits with low heritability, traits that were difficult to measure and sex-limited traits. EBVs also had limited relevance, in relation to animals whose sire and dam were not recorded. In addition, the management of EBVs was expensive, in terms of both time and money.
There are a number of cattle traits which might be more reliably assessed by using a more “genomic” system, said Mr Allen. These included meat eating quality; disease resistance; fertility; longevity; feed efficiency; lamb vigour and lamb survival and methane emissions.
The best solution to these issues was likely to include a combination of data collection systems, said Mr Allen.
“Traditional selection, marker-assisted techniques, genomic selection and figures from purebreds and crossbreds can be used for assessment. Data collection will be important in the future, but less so than the collection of high quality measurement information.”
Mr Allen urged beef cattle producers to make full use of data recording and management, in order for the industry to remain competitive in the global market place. Failure to embrace technology would risk England being overtaken by other food-producing nations.
On the subject of price volatility, Mr Allen commented that farming was not the only industry which was being affected.
“Prices are up and down like a yo-yo and it does not matter what line you are in, vagaries in the market cause problems and uncertainty. Small shifts in supply and demand are having a dramatic effect.
“Trying to reduce the impact of this volatility is one of the reasons why Eblex has put a large chunk of its resources into expanding our export markets. The more markets we have available, the greater the chance that, somewhere in the world, the price will be holding up, either because of demand or due to exchange rates.
“In times gone past, some of this volatility would have been levelled out by government intervention of some type, but with most economies in the world struggling, there is neither the finance nor the will to try and intervene. The likelihood going forward is that markets will be left to their own devices, so volatility is inevitable.”
Dr Mark McGee - Aspects of suckler cow efficiency on grass-based production systems (beef)
Dr Mark McGee, from Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development authority, gave a comprehensive presentation, which revealed that a study of all the breed comparisons that had been carried out at Teagasc had highlighted the Limousin cross Holstein Friesian as the benchmark cow breed type. However, cross-bred beef cows can achieve almost comparable performance, as long as they have strong maternal traits, he said. He stressed the importance of grass in Irish production systems.
“Due to the considerably lower comparative cost of grazed grass as a feedstuff, maximising the proportion of high digestibility grazing in the annual feed budget is critical,” he told delegates. “Grassland management revolves around a flexible rotational system, with the objective of providing high yields over a long grazing season.
“Providing sufficient grass silage of appropriate digestibility for the indoor winter period is also central to the production system. For the spring-calving suckler cow, grass silage is the primary, and usually the only, feedstuff.”
The indoor winter period is usually of shorter duration than the grazing season, he added. But due to the relative costs of grazed grass and grass silage, the primary feed costs are incurred over winter on most units. Research figures on farms which have a spring calving, grass-based, suckler calf-to-weaning system with a 4.5-month winter, have indicated that almost three-quarters of annual feed consumption comprises grazed grass, with the shortfall made up of grass silage at 26% and concentrates at 1%.
However, when this feed budget is expressed in terms of cost (excluding land charges); the outcome is very different, said Dr McGee. Grazed grass makes up only 45% of total feed cost, whereas grass silage accounts for 50% and concentrates for 5%. Thus, while grazed grass is fundamental, silage is a key cost component of suckler cow nutrition.
“For economic reasons, suckler cow nutrition generally involves mobilisation of cow body reserves in winter. Therefore, the condition score of cows at the start of the winter feeding period has a major effect on the amount and quality of feed required. Where mature spring-calving suckler cows are in good body condition at housing, feed energy intakes can be restricted, so that some of their body fat reserves are utilised to reduce winter feed requirements.
“This feed energy restriction can bring feed savings of up to 25%, which is equivalent to 1.0-1.5 tonnes fresh weight of grass silage. The calculation assumes a silage dry matter of 20% and a dry matter digestibility of 65%. In order to maximise profitability of suckler systems, a long grazing season, with a corresponding short indoor winter feeding period at low cost, is required,” said Dr McGee.
Irish Suckler Herd - Background
Beef suckler cows make up approximately half (1.1m) of the cow population in Ireland.
Late-maturing continental breeds account for over 75% of suckler cows, of which 85% are bred to continental sire breeds.
Dr Thierry Pabiou - Interbeef Presents New Opportunities for Beef Farmers (beef)
Geneticist, Dr Thierry Pabiou, of the Irish Cattle Breeding Foundation, explained to delegates how Interbeef , which started as a research project in 2006, now offers cattle breeders the opportunity to increase selection accuracy, while also allowing comparisons to be made across borders. Its groundbreaking work has led to a service which offers, for the first time, information on how bulls bred in the UK compare with those in other participating countries.
“Over the past years, Interbeef has met and overcome challenges and successfully answered several technical and research questions,” said Dr Pabiou. “By uploading pedigree and performance files into the Interbeef centralised database, member countries can enjoy the full benefit of data sharing, through pedigree consolidation. They will also gain access to a large database of phenotypic records.”
The 2014 genetic evaluation showed the benefits of Interbeef genetic evaluation collaboration, in terms of an increase in individual animal reliability. It also provided member countries with a bull ranking, which takes into account country-specific factors.
For Charolais and Limousin breeds, a large portion of the data comes from France. The United Kingdom and Sweden has the second largest populations of Limousin and Charolais bulls respectively, he noted. The volume of data submitted by Ireland represents only 15% of the data used nationally, because of the preponderance of commercial animals.
In terms of reliability, using all available sources of performances figures outside the national supply is hugely beneficial. Across all countries, the general average reliability increase was +0.44, with a general maximum increase of +0.89. However, this reliability increase depends on the country and the type of bulls submitted.
“By taking into account all the information available on animals and relatives across all member countries, Interbeef can provide breeders with more accurate genetic evaluation results, compared with figures produced by national evaluation,” concluded Dr Pabiou.
Interbeef – participating countries:
- Great Britain
- Czech Republic
The British Cattle Breeders Club will be taking booking enquiries for the 2016 British Cattle Conference (18-20 January) from October. Membership of the BCBC is not a requirement, but a 20% discount on registration fees is offered to all members.
Bookings will be taken from October, with enquiries to Heidi Bradbury, email@example.com
The British Cattle Conference 2015 will be held at the same venue as last year; The Telford Golf and Spa Hotel in Telford, Shropshire. Accommodation in the hotel is available, although places are limited and early booking is advised.
The local train station, at Telford, is approximately five miles away. Birmingham International Airport is 40 miles away.
For more information, including details on how to join the BCBC contact the secretary:
Heidi Bradbury, Underhill Farm, Glutton Bridge, Earl Sterndale, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 0RN.
Tel: 07966 032079.
- Blade Farming
- British Limousin Cattle Society
- Dovecote Park
- Hereford Cattle Society
- Mole Valley Farmers
- Neogen Europe
- Shorthorn Cattle Society
- Sterling Sires
New Secretary, Heidi Bradbury
The 2015 conference saw the retirement of BCBC secretary, Lesley Lewin, who will be sorely missed. We would, however, like to extend a warm welcome to her replacement, Heidi Bradbury.
Heidi was brought up on a dairy farm in her home county of Derbyshire, where she still lives.
Her father, Robert Bradbury, milks just over 100 cows, while her mother, Yasmin and Yasmin’s partner, Bill Nadin, have a herd of 120 pedigree Holsteins.
Meanwhile, Heidi and her partner, Gary Wardle, have two children, six-year old Millie and three-year old Charlie.
Heidi brings considerable experience to her role as BCBC secretary, she has worked in a milk quota business and currently holds a part-time job as a farm secretary.
She has also been employed as a milk recorder and a dairy farm assurance assessor.
Poster Competition Winner
The young person’s poster competition was won this year by Alice Willett, with her poster entitled ‘Increasing use of estimated breeding values in the beef sector.’
The competition was sponsored by DairyCo and Eblex.