Meet the Facilitator for Langford Farm

Lesley InnesHello I’m Lesley Innes, the farm facilitator for Cheshire’s monitor farms – both dairy at Clive Hall Farm, and beef and sheep here at John Gate’s Langford Farm.

I work for Reaseheath College organising the monitor farm meetings where both farms have seen benefits in taking part in the project. Farmers have put a huge amount of time and enthusiasm into the meetings and activities held so far. Plans for future activity and other updates from Langford, benefitting both the farm and the wider farming community, will appear in my posts below.

Please contact me at Reaseheath College Tel: 01270 625 131 ext 308 Email: lesleyi@reaseheath.ac.uk for further information on how you can join in…

Final Open Day Report: Efficency and output improvements

Herd and flock health planning and a greater focus on grassland and nutrient management have helped improve efficiency and output at the North West Livestock programme beef and sheep monitor farm Langford Farm, Lostock Green near Northwich.

 

Cheshire beef and sheep monitor farmer John Gate

John Gate, who farms just under 300 acres of tenanted and rented acres as a one-man unit became one of six RDPE Livestock Northwest Programme monitor farms in Cheshire, Cumbria and Lancashire in 2009 and since then he has had input from both experts and farmers on how to improve the farm’s profitability.

Over the four years, total ewe numbers have been doubled to 650, the majority of which are North of England Mules, bought as lambs for flock replacements at Kirkby Stephen each year, plus more than 100 pedigree Rouge ewes and lambs.

 

The farm’s herd of black Hereford spring and autumn calving cross cows which are put to the Blonde bull, have been scaled down marginally to 105 cows. Bulls are sold finished through Chelford market at 12 months old weighing 500kg while finished heifers are sold to a local butcher.

John, whose wife Rachael runs her own outside catering business Country Kitchen from the farm, took on the tenancy of the 125 acre unit 16 years ago. The farm is owned by InEOS which extracts brine from underground. The land also includes 161 acres of parkland which has been farmed by John at Tabley Park, Knutsford for 25 years.

 

Objectives

Overall objectives set in 2009 initially was to increase efficiency by fine-tuning to reduce costs and increase output while keeping the business as simple as possible for John to run by himself.

As well as monitoring herd and flock health – initially liver fluke and then BVD – reducing lamb losses after weaning was a priority.

“Vet advice and collaboration with Darrell Irwin has been the highlight of the advice I’ve received,” said John. “Beef and sheep farmers should work as closely with their vets as dairy farmers do and I plan to have regular meetings with Darrell to discuss herd and flock health on an ongoing basis rather than using the vet as an emergency,“ he added.

 

Fluke

Vet Darrell Irwin

Vet Darrell Irwin

Vet Darrell Irwin of Willows Vet Group, Hartford, began monitoring monitoring for fluke after around 20 ewes were lost in early 2010 and others in the flock were ill. Faecal egg counts were taken as well as post mortems carried out on affected sheep.

“John had taken care in administering the drench previously but the diagnosis was there was a resistance to the treatment and we needed to change the active ingredients,” said Darrell.

“The flock turned around relatively quickly and the April lambing ewes had time to recover but the pedigree Rouge which lamb in February did struggle,” he added.

 

Lambs increased 

Clostridial disease posed another challenge for the lambs in the spring and summer of 2010. Lambs were vaccinated with Ovivac P at 10 to 12 weeks old before weaning which resulted in a significant increase in the number of lambs weaned.

In 2012 enzootic abortion affected the ewes and vaccination resulted in 20 fewer abortions. “John’s proactive approach will have saved him a lot of money by avoiding an abortion storm,” said Darrell.

 

Mules and milk machine

Mules perform well on John's systemJohn has found the Mule ewes suit the system of lambing outside in April, even during bad weather they have proved their mothering ability. As a result, the whole commercial flock will be Mules with replacements bought as lambs and producing a lamb the following year.

The introduction of a milk feeding machine for lambs has enabled triplet and orphan lambs to be reared and ewes turned out with strong twin lambs.

Improvement in flock management has lifted the number of lambs reared per ewe to 1.5 sold. Kg per acre of lamb sold or retained has increased from 65.23kg to 92.5.

 

Breeding cattle calving pattern tightened

For the cattle, the aim was to tighten the calving pattern to target a 10 week period, carry out routine bull testing for fertility and to creep feed the autumn born calves rather than feeding the cows concentrates to save costs.

The cows were monitored for fluke by blood sampling and then routinely treated. Ongoing monitoring included faecal egg counts and feedback from the abattoir.

All breeding cattle also had blood samples taken to test for BVD which resulted in previous exposure to the disease but no PIs. As a result, biosecurity was improved and as part of ongoing monitoring, incoming and replacement stock is now tested.

 

Lameness improved

Lameness was also targeted. “In total, 101 animals were examined and trimmed, 31 of these had a lesion or abnormality of some description, although not all were lame,” said Darrell Irwin.

“Digital dermatitis was the most frequent problem. Animals were treated and responded well. Dermatitis control is achieved by prompt treatment of infected animals, good slurry control to help maintain clean feet and routine disinfectant foot bathing to reduce the challenge on farm,” he said.

He recommended routinely trimming the whole herd twice a year and investigating and treating all lame cows immediately as well as foot bathing.

Deep grooving yards and passages would increase cow traction.

 

Soil and nutrient management was also analysed with a view to saving on input costs. In 2009 soil samples were taken in all fields.

Promar's Andy Taylor

Promar's Andy Taylor

Promar’s Andy Taylor said phosphate, potash, magnesium and pH samples were taken every other year. Previously fertiliser application was a compound of 20.5.5 at 6 tonnes.

Slurry is stored in a tall tower and as much as possible is applied after lambing to avoid stirring

Analysis led to a change of policy of applying straight nitrogen at 20 tonnes, an increase of 11,400 units to 13,800 units. The grassland response was 2kg dry matter per unit of N – 22,800kg DM, resulting in increased meat production from the grassland.

The annual return left a margin of £12,080 after additional costs of £4,500 in N.

The monitor farm programme has been delivered by Reaseheath and Myerscough colleges for the farms in Cheshire and Lancashire respectively, while in Cumbria they have been managed by Cumbria Farmer Network.

 

 

Farmer’s who’ve made changes as a result of attending meetings

 

  • Rob BennettRob Bennett, who switched from milking cows to rearing bought-in calves, fine tuned his cattle handling system after hearing expert Miriam Parker’s recommendations at a meeting at Langford Farm.

“I made my own handling race in the old milking parlour building and I modified it after listening to Miriam and I also now put fewer through at a time – up to six – on her recommendations,” said Rob, who rears up to 100 cattle at a time to two years old alongside a livery yard at Higher Birchenough, Mellor, Stockport.

“The system cost me very little and now it works very well. I have found the meetings very interesting particularly since I have changed my farming system. I have also taken on board the information on feeding beef cattle,” he said.

 
 
 
  • Anne and Kevin LittlerFirst generation farmers Kevin and Anne Littler have, among other areas to improve their farm outputs, focused on calf growth rates at Brook Farm, Duddon, Tarporley, following meetings at Langford Farm.

“We have been weighing calves at birth, six weeks old and weaning to establish daily liveweight gains,” said Kevin.

“Initially, we began weighing our small herd of pedigree Simmental cows and now we have extended this to the Simmental cross cow progeny which is enabling us to assess the growth traits of the Simmental bull we are using. We sell crossbred calves store at seven to nine months old and they have been achieving 1.2kg DLWG,” he added.

 

Animal Handling: Understanding the principles for safe and efficient working practice.

This event was planned as the group thought it would be a useful subject for both cattle and sheep farmers from a management and animal welfare perspective, as a number of the group plan on updating their handling systems and it was an ideal opportunity for them to get professional advice.

 

The group were interested in learning about the psychology and behavioural aspects of the animals and what behaviours and situations can affect the stress levels of the animals when handling.

Miriam Parker talks teh group through John's mobile handling system

Miriam Parker talks the group through John's mobile handling system

The subject and speaker, Miriam Parker (Livestockwise Ltd) proved popular and a group of 37 farmers attended the meeting.

Monitor farmer John Gate has recently invested in a mobile cattle handling system of his own through the Livestock NW performance grant scheme to allow easier, safer and more efficient handling of stock in the parkland where there are no buildings or handling facilities to utilise.

John Gate and Miriam discuss the farm's static handling system

John discussed his handling systems, both mobile and fixed for cattle and why he has them set up to suit his system. He spoke about the value of his investment which has enabled work to be carried out on cattle easier and more efficiently, saving time and making the handling less stressful for the animals.

Miriam started the meeting by going though the principles of animal behaviour and welfare when handling (below). Miriam also gave the farmer group tips on what to look for in a handling system and tips on how to improve existing systems.

The group were asked to walk through the cattle handling systems at Langford to experience how it looked and felt in the eyes of the animals. This proved a useful exercise and Miriam recommended that farmers walk through their own handling systems to identify areas for improvement. Main areas discussed and to look for were;

  • Sufficient sized collecting area with sufficient height gating
  • 30 degree angle gating into crush
  • Crush colour neutral- bright galvanised can be dazzling in sun
  • Non slip flooring
  • Minimal/no rattling (important to grease the joints of the crush)
  • Avoid where possible narrowing within crush, potential for injuring the animals
  • Side panelling and minimising gaps, to be aware of where the vet/farmer/dog is when trying to get animals to move through the handling system (they should not be visible)
  • Overhead lighting in indoor handling systems to reduce shadows. Animals will be resistant to move from light into dark
  • Animals leaving crush into a suitable area where it is gated to protect the handler
  • Animals should ideally flow through the crush away from the yard, or set up in a field corner so that the animals go back out to grazing

 

The group were also asked to bring any plans they had for new handling systems to discuss with Miriam, this proved very popular and useful for those that discussed their plans. Overall the day proved very informative and useful for all that attended.

 See below for more detail from Miriam’s presentation…

 

Effective management of cattle relies on husbandry and veterinary jobs like weighing, vaccination, condition scoring and dosing being carried out at the right time to get the maximum benefit. Most of these jobs can only safely be done if cattle are put through a handling system.

  • Is handling cattle something you look forward to or loathe?
  • Does it require advanced planning to get hold of additional farm staff, family and friends or can you manage safely with existing labour?
  • Does it require a major reorganization of gates, crushes, tractors or can you be ready to work in minutes?

 

Every farm needs a system that is safe, simple, efficient and effective to operate so that handling is a positive event for both you and the cattle.

Cattle (and humans!) move because they are being “pulled” or being “pushed”. The pull is because they are attracted to something (an open gate, a way out, a feed trough) and is based on the fact that left to their own devices cattle are naturally curious. The push comes from fear; cattle will naturally move away from something that they are not happy about (people, unfamiliar objects or noises).

Cattle quickly learn to associate people and places with particular events and this makes it easy to get into a downward spiral. If cattle have a bad, first experience through any system then the next time is likely to be more difficult. Any subsequent handling might have to be left until there is more labour to cope or there is more time available to do the job.

Once a “good” system is up and running this cycle is quickly reversed. Cattle have a positive experience as do the handlers. As it is easy to run animals through the system you are more likely to use it for the less “nasty” tasks such as condition scoring or assessment for conformation and finish. The cattle work on chance so if there is not always a nasty event associated with the place (or the person!) then they are less reluctant to go there.

So what makes a positive experience? There are three essential areas to think about

  • Animals
  • Facilities
  • Handlers

 

Animals

Cattle have a different approach to life than we do and much of it is “hard wired” or instinctive. They are prey species and have to spend a large part of their time with their head down grazing. Their behaviour and senses reflect this.

They have wide panoramic vision which means they can detect movement all around them. However, they can only see clearly (binocular vision) in a narrow range to the front of them. This is why cattle look down at anything different in front of them or always turn to face you.

All cattle have a flight zone, in the human world this is known as personal space. Both animals and humans instinctively keep some distance between themselves and strangers especially if they look like a threat. When you walk into the animals flight zone the instinctive reaction is for it to move away provided there is some space. If cattle can’t keep a safe distance they may freeze and refuse to move or get aggressive. Flight zones are not fixed, cattle are all different and we as handlers can make flight zones bigger or smaller depending on what we do.

In the handling environment understanding just these few things can help in the way you set up and operate the handling system as well as how you work with the cattle.

 

Facilities

If we understand that cattle have a different view on things than we do then this should help us to build handling facilities which are suited to their needs as well as our own. Although each facility will be different all good systems follow the same basic design principles based on cattle behaviour. For example:

  • Solid sides at key points in the system block out distractions and activity that cattle would otherwise see with their wide panoramic vision. It is easier to focus cattle on where we want them to go
  • Flooring needs to be non-slip and uniform. Cattle move quicker where there is good even footing and there are no distractions such as drains or changes in floor surface.
  • Lighting, cattle move better from dark to light but will stop where there is strong contrast of light and shade
  • Cattle like to be kept moving and the heart rate will go up if they are held in a single file race for longer than about 10 minutes. Good design matches the holding pen size and raceway length to work speed to keep cattle moving.
  • Curved raceways exploit the natural tendency of cattle keep looking for a route of escape and find a way back to where they have come from. The handler position needs to be on the inside of the curve.

Take time to troubleshoot your system. Watch several batches of cattle to see where they move well as well as where they stop and then get into the system and see what they are seeing. But make changes one at a time otherwise you risk solving one problem and replacing it with another.   

 

People

Having a well designed system on its own does not automatically mean it will work. People have a significant impact on how the system is operated. Everyone involved needs to understand how to control the speed and direction of movement by being at the right place at the right time and know when to apply pressure and when to back off. Remember the animals experience is place and person associated we want to use their fear of us as the motivator to make them move only as the last resort. This does not mean being either entirely passive at one end of the spectrum or aggressive at the other. Cattle move best when handlers are confident and assertive and they give clear signals and directions.

Remember handling can be among the most stressful events within the animal’s lifetime as neither directed movement nor restraint are normal “maintenance” behaviours for cattle. However designing and operating facilities to make handling a positive event will produce calmer cattle and should make those essential husbandry and management tasks quicker, easier and safer.

Monitor Farm Discussion Group Study Trip

A trip has been planned to Angus and Duncan Nelles, Thistleyhaugh Farm, Morpeth on the 9th August 2012.

The farm business comprises of both sheep and beef enterprises.  Angus and Duncan spoke at the Open Day at Langford in February this year.

The Thistleyhaugh flock are finalists in the 2012 Farmers Weekly awards for sheep farmer of the year. The results for this award are to be announced in October.

For further information, contact Lesley Innes on 01270 625131 (ext 308), mobile number 07788 721943 or email livestocknw@reaseheath.ac.uk

May grassland improvement meeting

The latest Cheshire beef and sheep monitor farm meeting concentrated on pasture renovation with a view to carrying out a grassland improvement trial on four of the monitor farm business group’s farms.

The day looked at what the group plans to do, the processes of grassland improvement they look to implement and the thoughts and opinions of other farmers on the methods to be used – from those that have done their own rejuvenation and over seeding work and those with no prior knowledge but keen to learn more.

As a change to being held at Langford Farm, the meeting took place at group member Dave Norcott’s Winterbottom Farm, with demonstrations from J and R Potts (overseeding) and Sean Stanfield of Willow Farm Machinery (Prairial 3in1 combination grass harrow), plus seed and selection advice from Rod Bonshor of Oliver Seeds.

Filmed on the day, Sean Stanfield explains how the 3in1 grass harrow works in the video below:

Links to further information from the speakers:

 

Like the rest of the group, David’s aim is to put more grass into pasture to improve productivity. The farm lambs 800 cross bred Mule and North Country Mule sheep - 300 at the end of February.

The land is heavy clay and the current ley they are looking at improving has been down 22 years with the only inputs being a little nitrogen compound. David has sheep on the ground 365 days of the year, so is often short of grass and can’t afford to take it out of production.

The group discuss seed choiceAlso with the land being all tenanted and rents going up, he needs to maximise grassland and carry as many sheep as he can.

James Turner from Harvey Hughes Rural Consultants, who are co-ordinating the trial with Reaseheath College’s Lesley Innes, said that the plan was to set up a formal trial with input from the six farmers who attend the core monitor farm group. The trial will take place on four of these farms, including the monitor farm, which has land on the Cheshire Showground that is unsuitable for ploughing .

“I want to see on a practical level whether it’s worth it and go from there” – John Gate, Cheshire beef and sheep monitor farmer.

Prairial grass harrow discussedThe trial will see a 10 acre field split in three. A third of the field will be left as it is, a third will just be grass harrowed with the 3in1 Carre Prairial grass harrow and a third will be grass harrowed and slot seeded.

David Norcott uses very little fertiliser on the land and grazes very tightly with sheep, using some compound nitrogen but relying a lot on clover

At John Gate’s, sheep roam the open parkland with no fertiliser used and very little farm yard manure.

A third farmer undertaking the trial, Nigel Potts, puts on 100 weight of farm yard manure, keeping stocking rates tight on intensively farmed land.

Each of the four farms are on different land types at different altitudes but all are low input grassland, farming beef and sheep in Cheshire.

Cheshire Beef and Sheep Monitor Farm – slot seeding trial

The following information has been set out by James Turner of Harvey Hughes Rural Consultants on the forthcoming 12 month trial.

 

Management

  • Graze / cut and manage pasture as normal throughout the 2011 grazing season.
  • Graze intensively in July / early August, aim for 3 to 4cm sward height
  • Cultivate full area with Carre Prairial grass harrow to aerate and remove dead grass / weed grasses from the sward.
  • Ensure soil pH is not below 6 pH pre-drilling, apply lime if required.
  • Slot seed roughly half of the full area with ryegrass and clover mix at a seed rate of 8-10kg/acre
  • Mobilise stock or falt roll to improve seed to soil contact
  • Top dress with slurry or dirty water
  • Avoid further grazing or cutting until spring 2012

 

Targets

  • Dry matter yield improvement of 15% from 3 tonnes / acre to 3.5 tonnes / acre within 12 months (value of £60 @ £120 / tonne DM.
  • Energy improvement of 3500mj / acre giving an additional 100kg of meat per acre per year (value of £160 @ £1.60 / kg live weight.
  • Total projected value of pasture renovation by August 2013 of £220 / acre.

 

Cost of Establishment

  • One pass with Carre Prairial grass harrow @ £15 / acre (power requirement of 80hp)
  • One pass with slot seeder @ £22 / acre.
  • Seed at £45 / acre
  • One pass with flat roller @ £6 / acre
  • Top dress with slurry / dirty water @ £7 / acre
  • Total cost of establishment of £95.

 

 Measuring the benefits

  • Two cages to be placed in the fields to be renovated from April 1st 2012 and left in situ throughout the grazing season (i.e. until the pasture is renovated in August).
  • Grass samples to be removed each time field is grazed / cut for silage throughout the 2012 season and sent for analysis of yield and quality.
  • Pasture renovation to take place in line with the above specification during August 2012. No further grazing or mowing to take place until spring 2013 and cages to be replaced immediately after drilling.
  • Cages to be left in situ from April 2013 when grass samples will be analysed and compared with April 2012 to measure yield and quality improvement.
  • Results of 2012 season and the two differing management techniques employed for 2013 to be compared against the above targets.
  • Total length of trial is 12 months (April 2012 to April 2013).

Video 2: Improving herd lameness

In the second video from Langford Farm beef and sheep farmer John Gate and his vet Darrell Irwin explain what is being done to combat herd lameness on the farm by implementing a footbath routine that has seen positive results in a short space of time. (Filmed Spring 2012)

This topic was also discussed at the farm’s open day in February – below is what Darell had to say on the day.

Lameness

Following consultation with all involved parties it has been deemed suitable and necessary to carry out a comprehensive lameness investigation at Langford farm as part of the Cheshire monitor farm project.

To this end a qualified foot trimmer has been employed to examine all the breeding animals on the farm and record the lesions identified. The following is a summary of those findings and suitable recommendations to further reduce the risk of lameness in the herd.

In total 101 animals were examined and trimmed, 31 of these had a lesion or abnormality of some description although not all were lame.

Digital dermatitis was the most frequent problem with 10 animals suffering from current infections, 6 of these were spring calving cows which had only recently been housed so are likely to have carried the infection since last winter. These animals were treated and are responding well as I would expect. Dermatitis control is achieved by prompt treatment of infected animals, good slurry control to help maintain clean feet and routine disinfectant foot bathing to reduce the challenge on farm. Foot bathing should be carried out for 3 consecutive days at either weekly or fortnightly intervals depending on the extent of the problem on farm.

There were eight cows with cracks in their hooves some of which were causing lameness. These are typically the result of overgrown feet. Regular foot trimming, ideally every 6 months, will reduce the risk of these lesions occurring. Cows with cracks may need repeated trimming to get the defect to grow out.

Punctured soles and or foreign bodies were found in7 of the cows trimmed. With the exception of a 6 inch bolt there is not a lot that can be done about this as these have occurred at grazing. However, prompt investigation and removal of foreign bodies will result in a much better response to treatment and a swifter resolution.

The remaining five cows were suffering from solar ulcers or white line lesions. These conditions are associated with time spent standing on concrete and slipping on concrete. The incidence of these lesions is acceptable although deep grooving of the feed passages and yards may improve cow confidence and reduce the risk of white line lesions occurring. These animals may require repeat trimming to resolve their lesions.

In summary

  • Routinely trim the whole herd twice a year
  • Investigate and treat all cows immediately they go lame
  • Foot bath cattle as described above
  • Consider deep grooving yards and passages to increase cow traction
  • Continue to monitor foot trimming results in consultation with your vet 

 

Calving

John and Darrell would like to see more cows away at the beginning of the block.

Darrell said: “We currently have 85% after nine weeks, which is progress, but I would like to see the majority in six weeks. It was more ad hoc before and we had cows that were slipping. It’s now more controlled but it can be just the easy route to cull cows and John doesn’t want numbers to drop any more.”

James Turner from Harvey Hughes has been pulling together statistics on John’s suckler herd

He said: “Heifers are sold at 370 days, and thanks to John’s relationship with his butcher, age and sale weight is not critical. John aims to have bulls at 500kg at 12 months and heifers at 450kg.

“All calves are weighed and weaned at same time, even though 12 weeks apart in age. This system suits John as it’s not just about pounds and price. John is trying to keep as many as he can to finish but will possibly look in to a policy selling.”

 

Open Day Report

Langford Farm’s open day in February concentrated on the beef enterprise at the Cheshire beef and sheep monitor farm, more precisely the steps taken to improve lameness in the suckler herd.

Following a talk given by Northumberland farmers, and brothers, Angus and Duncan Nelless in the morning, monitor farmer John Gate and vet Darrell Irwin of Willows Vet Group led the farm walk (see blog above), which also took in the sheep enterprise and a tour of the fields.

Guest speakers

Making a profit and performance recording was the focus of Angus and Duncan’s talk in the morning. The Northumberland beef and sheep farmers from Thistlehaugh Farm, Longhorsley, Morpeth explained the changes they’d made to their business, the things that have worked, not worked and the chances they have taken to try and improve profit on their farm – including outdoor pigs and a mixed-result with free-range poultry.

The brothers gave an intriguing talk on their experience of being part of a monitor farm group in Northumberland, as well as their own performance recording and no nonsense approach to making a profit.

“High beef prices weren’t meaning high profit”, said Angus. “Ten to 15 years ago we sat down and looked at what we were doing, writing a list of the things we liked to do and what we didn’t like to do. My brother doesn’t like driving tractors so we tried to eliminate machinery.

“We also decided we wanted to make money and didn’t want to be poor. Losing calves and lambs wasn’t great so we decided to streamline”

The pair decided to go down a simple, easy care route with their sheep and moved from limousine type cattle to more grassland suited Aberdeen Angus breeds. A mixture of Lleyn and Charollais rams are used on pure Lleyn ewes.

“We had to have cattle that performed on grass, we looking to make efficiencies and working with a large cow that without concentrates may lose mean losing its bodyweight wasn’t the way forward.

“Cattle are also far less efficient at converting forage to bodyweight compared to sheep so we looked into adjusting numbers, reducing cattle and increasing sheep to 1,700 head.

“When single farm payment came in we thought we had 10 years to sort the job out to make money without the single farm payment.  Four years ago we realised we weren’t going to be able to do it.

“That’s when the poultry enterprise came in. We were told there was going to be a demand for poultry, but what we weren’t told is that they would want it for nought and we quickly realised it wouldn’t work on a small scale so we’ve scaled it back.”

Duncan added: “If anything it’s made us appreciate the procurement industry of beef and sheep more as trying to sell out of spec chicken is very difficult. A lot of work goes in and it’s a great product, but it’s a challenge 52 weeks of the year.

Pigs though have provided a good source of fertiliser for their land which has improved their input costs – inputs being their biggest challenge

“We realised if inputs were out of our control then we were limited at the end of the day. So we tried to eliminate them the best we could by looking at genetics.”

They also introduced red and white clover to their leys and converted to organic – not in a bid to save the world – but because it suited their system. It also made them have to learn more about grassland quality and management which proved the key to their production process.

Duncan explained: “We looked at the optimum number of sheep to cows and that we needed to make the most of our grassland, as land is the most expensive thing we have. We realised high numbers of cows were detrimental to our sheep but that we needed the sucklers to maintain grass management and grass quality. and that we perhaps have 75% sheep / 25% cattle instead of 60%/40%.

Everything on the farm is EID tagged too as Duncan quickly valued the ability of being able to performance record his sheep and as a result make key decisions.

He said: “We found that one tup was being used on 70% of the ewes that we had to assist at lambing and if its daughters were coming into the flock that would soon become a problem. Being able to trace back which sheep came from which tup allowed us to kill that family dead

Further info on the Nelliss’s flock can be read at http://www.lleynsheep.com/nellis.htm

Sheep and land

Out in the fields, John explained that the formerly-owned ICI land (now owned by an overseas company) has brine pipes running underneath the fields and yellow patches could clearly be seen where bursts have occurred in the past. Brine depresses grass growth for five years in any burst areas and is a problem John has to live with and work around.  These shallow laid pipes also mean John is limited on how much grassland improvement he can do.

All John’s commercial sheep (485) lamb outside in April, which he says is the best thing he’s ever done. John has always used Rouge tups and a few years ago ended up breeding them as he wasn’t into paying “daft prices” and good quality tups were getting harder to find. He also now has a ready market in farmers who farm Beltex sheep. These sheep lamb inside in February.

This year he did a small trial on 300 mules sorting them into three and putting them on three different types of land ahead of tupping time to see what results he got.

100 ewes on a dairy farm with a 10 acre reseed scanned at 207%

100 ewes on another dairy farm on old pasture scanned at 199%

And the final 100 ewes that were turned onto land with minimal grass that had been grazed hard over the summer, scanned at 217%. This bare ground did show signs of regrowth (but hadn’t had any fertiliser). The sheep were not drenched either but were very fit and in good order.

Costs and customers are key to beef and sheep profits

Farmers should focus on what their customers want and gear their systems accordingly. Combining this approach with attention to detail in feeding to growth and finishing targets provides a road to profitability.

DSC00454This was the message from an open meeting held at John and Rachel Gate’s Langford Farm, Lostock Green in Cheshire. The farm is a Livestock Northwest Beef and Sheep Monitor Farm, supported by the RDPE Programme and Reaseheath College.

Set clear targets
Peter Kennedy of Dunbia, the meat processor and wholesaler, told the meeting what their customers are looking for and how this dictates what they require from their farmer suppliers.

He said: “The priorities for our customers are safe meat products, with high and consistent quality and from known production standards. This means that we need to drive certainty into the production process, and this is achieved through measurement at both the processor and farmer levels in the food chain.

“For cattle, we are looking ideally for a 280 to 380 kg finished animal which is class 2 or 3 in fat, with confirmation at E or UR, although O+ is also useful.”

He also explained how fat class in lambs affects processing, “At class 4L we will lose 3.0 kg in fat during processing, but this is reduced to 1.5 kg at class 2L and to only 0.7 kg at class 2.

“The effect of the recession has been that consumers want cheaper forequarter cuts rather than more expensive hindquarter meat, but despite this we urge farmers to focus on hitting weight, fat and confirmation targets. The best way to achieve this is to measure what you are doing and respond to feedback from processors.”

Measure and feed to a plan
Once farmers have set their targets for finished stock and are monitoring progress, feeding should be planned to produce meat efficiently. According to Mike Mortimer of Mortimer Feeds in Macclesfield, Cheshire, “This means knowing the quality and cost of feed, as well as how efficiently it is used.”

For beef breeds you should be in the range of 5.5 to 6.5 kg dry matter of feed for every 1 kg of liveweight gain, and every day it takes 11 MJ of energy to maintain every 100 kg of animal (for example, 22 MJ for a 200 kg animal) plus 47 MJ to put on 1 kg of liveweight. So if you need your 200 kg animal to put on 1kg per day to reach your finishing targets, then you need to feed 69 MJ.

Mike went on to explain how feed conversion efficiency impacts on costs and therefore profitability. “A standard silage plus barley finishing diet will cost about £200/tonne dry matter to feed. If your feed efficiency is 6.5 kg feed to get 1kg liveweight gain, then it’ll cost you £390 to put on 300 kg of liveweight.

“By greater attention to detail in silage making and feeding, getting that feed conversion down to 5.5 kg feed dry matter for every kg gain will reduce the feed cost to £330 – and that £60 can have a big impact on profitability.”

Get close to your customer
The Monitor Farmer, John Gate, sells three finished heifers and 15 lambs every week to local Littlers Butchers in Northwich. Darren Shepherd, who buys from John, told the meeting, “The lamb price has been a bit too strong for our housewives, who are buying more chicken as a result., But consistent high quality is important in maintaining customer loyalty, so we need the same narrow band of quality as the big processors and wholesalers, and we need that standard 52 weeks of the year.

“We have a close relationship with John and that is invaluable, he knows what we want and the door is open to our feedback.” For beef, Darren sees an optimistic future, “We think that beef prices can remain quite high as our shopping customers have got used to them being at that level.”

So, different customers want similar high and consistent quality, but they also want to be close to farmers who are setting their targets for finishing, measuring progress and delivering results. If this can be done with efficient feeding, then profitability can be maximised.

Forthcoming meetings for autumn

Beef and Sheep Monitor Farm open discussion meeting:
The Full Circle of Meat Production ‘Beef and lamb production – 15th September

“Maximise your profit by understanding your customer’ – Full Details>>

Beef and Sheep Monitor Farm Discussion Group – members farm visits 21st September.

The day will include two visits to discussion group member’s farms, firstly to Gore Farm, (Alan Percival and family) followed by an afternoon visit to Winterbottom Farm (Dave and Kath Norcott). The day will allow members of the discussion group to become more familiar with other’s farms and businesses which will help to enhance discussions at future discussion group meetings.
Full details available from Lesley