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.
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.
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.
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.
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
John 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 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 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 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.
- First 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.