Take a Farm Walk to More Money
Monday, 19 July 2010 16:42

The Green Glens of Antrim are calling all suckler herd owners next Thursday, July 1 to view a farm where plans are in place to double gross margin per cow.

A farm, reports Rodney Magowan, where results from AgriSearch supported research are being successfully applied to a 100 cow suckler herd. The outcome is to raise margins from each cow just as CAP reforms in Brussels seem set to reduce brown envelope income.

AgriSearch beef committee chairman Harry Sinclair looking forward to the ‘Building an Efficient Suckler Herd’ event at Glenwherry Hill Farm on Thurs, July 1. The 100 cow suckler herd at Glenwherry is based on a three way cross of Shorthorn, Limousin and Aberdeen Angus. Starting at 2pm with a 6pm final tour this is an event no lowland or upland farmer running sucklers should miss.

AgriSearch, in co-operation with CAFRE are running an open day at the Greenmount hill farm in Glenwherry from 2pm with the last tour at 6pm. Located off the Ballymena to Larne line the farm has been building a more efficient suckler herd by applying lessons learned in AFBI research projects selected for support by AgriSearch.

Event organiser Dr Stephen Johnston of CAFRE sees this next few years as a window of opportunity for those keeping sucklers for a living.

Farmers are now free from having to keep high livestock numbers to maximise income from EU support mechanisms. Instead payment is based on the farm business’s past history, area and Good Agriculture Practice including caring for the environment.

“Over the next three years, before further CAP reforms cut support for UK farmers, those aiming to maintain suckler herds need to become more efficient. That really means improving the type of cow kept to reduce labour and feed costs”. Thus at Greenmount they are moving to the size and type of cow best suited to the harsh conditions on the hill unit at Glenwherry. “In short, the focus has shifted from calf to cow with a cross breeding program based on three breeds, Shorthorn, Aberdeen Angus and Limousin. Though whatever the breeds used the task is the same. To select bulls and cows carrying maternal traits including easy calving, fertility and the ability to convert poor quality forage into calf weight.

“Touring the farm at Glenwherry farmers will be asked ‘do they keep cows or do cows keep them?’ CAFRE and AFBI staff will show how letting that fancy looking cow run on not in calf for an extra few months never ever makes sense.

“Just as with ewes it is the number of offspring sold that impacts most on income. The cow that produces five fancy calves in six years is never going to catch up with the cow that produces a good calf every year for six years. Poor fertility is a huge cost, one that simply cannot be tolerated any longer in the Suckler herd. Find out your herd’s fertility record by visiting the CAFRE stand.

“Using new technologies the herd at Glenwherry has made tremendous strides with gross margin per cow on track to rise from £200 to £400 a cow. The message is simple; moving with the times makes you more money. “Farmers planning to stay in farming should plan to attend and go home with plans to grow their gross margin per cow. How else can net margins per farm be protected once the EU farm budget slims down and is spread more equally over all 27 nations? Net margins being the money left over after all actual costs to give you and your family a 21st century lifestyle.”

 Over 900 at Super Suckler Farm Walk

 900 farmers flocked to the AgriSearch suckler cow ‘walk and talk, look and learn’ event at Greenmount Hill Farm in Glenwherry, Co Antrim last Thursday. An opportunity to see how the findings of AgriSearch funded trials put to practical use on the 100 cow suckler herd are potentially doubling gross margins.

Event organiser Dr Steven Johnston said the day was ‘very successful with farmers taking home a positive message.’

“There is no doubt applying new technologies to suckler herd management improves efficiency and hence farm income. With EU CAP reform less than three years away the need to make suckler herds more efficient is obvious and urgent.

“Today 80% of income on many suckler units comes from Single Farm Payments and agri environmental schemes. That may well not be the case once CAP reform is complete so now is the time to seize the chance to prepare for this by becoming more efficient.”

Tyrella, Co Down suckler herd owner Edward Carson certainly found the event thought provoking. “ On a lowland unit one might not use the exact same three breeds, for example, in crossing to produce the ideal cow, but the lessons from AgriSearch supported trials clearly work.

“To make profit the aim must be to produce a good calf every year for five or six years from a cow, not three or four eye catching calves from a costly cow that is left roaming about empty for far too many months.”

AgriSearch chairman and Sperrins hill farmer Harry Sinclair was equally upbeat about the opportunities for extra income local R & D had uncovered. “Running a suckler herd like many things in life means striking a balance, for example between having stock that are easy calving yet are also producing good DLWG figures. The way in which the Greenmount suckler herd is run with the emphasis on breeding the cow type that suits the farm is impressive.

“We all headed home from this event with ideas on how to make our suckler herds more efficient by applying lessons learned in good practical research and shown to work on the commercial herd at Glenwherry.” For further information visit website www.agrisearch.org

Return on Research Spend Vital
Monday, 19 July 2010 16:23

Research must show a real return on investment to those who fund it by benefiting our agricultural industry and ailing economy AgriSearch chairman James Campbell told a Hillsborough seminar for dairy specialists. 

AgriSearch chairman James Campbell, second left, at the successful seminar on ‘Dairy Genetics and Heifer Management’ with AFBI staff, from left, Dr Francis Lively, Andrew Brown heifer rearing unit manager, and Dr Andrew Dale.

“Having allocated funds for research projects on behalf of the region’s farming industry AgriSearch wants farmers to see clearly and quickly the results of these practical projects, “ James explained.

“Unless farmers adopt the results of good research not only will our primary industry become less competitive, but the role of research will be diminished. By holding seminars for specialists AgriSearch aims to ensure farm businesses have easy access to R & D that can add to their income and a give real return on their investment in research.”

AgriSearch, the Northern Ireland Research and Development Council, uses funds raised from a levy collected at milk processors and meat plants to help fund research of practical benefit to farmers that will reduce costs, enhance performance, drive innovation and improve welfare.

Selecting Breeding Goals

 Selecting for yield alone has a negative impact on herd health and fertility traits such as udder health and reproductive performance. Hence the drive by researchers across the UK and ROI to develop broader breeding goals that help farmers select stock, which can maximise herd margins.

The Prof is back! When Prof Fred Gordon, left, returned to Hillsborough Park for the AgriSearch seminar he had a warm welcome from staff, including, from left, Mike Davis, dairy unit manager, Bernard Lagan and Brian Hunter.

At the AgriSearch seminar an update on this project linking, AFBI, the SAC at Edinburgh and DairyCo in Warwickshire provoked a useful discussion. The role of the PLI, Profitable Life Index, was explained with its advantages of including a range of fitness traits, as well as production traits in an index, which reflects the profitability differences of progeny over their lifetime rather than just per lactation.

A much more practical approach, not least when concerns are mounting about the lack of longevity in some dairy stock. The PLI figure also takes into account factors such as the incidence of lameness and mastitis plus the fertility. The research programme led by AFBI highlighted the importance of producers in Ulster putting increased emphasis on fertility traits. Looking ahead it is likely that further traits will be included in PLI, for example ability to produce a better beef carcass.

At the same time BovIS, the Bovine Information System, is being developed as a genetics/management database for the NI dairy industry. Work being undertaken by AFBI, CAFRFE, the LMC and DARD in co-operation across the British Isles with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation and the SAC. Dr Alistair Carson of AFBI Hillsborough told the AgriSearch seminar that he foresees BovIS playing a key role in utilising data from APHIS to offer farmers important management information.

Crossbreeding Suits Some

Crossbreeding using Jerseys does not suit every milk producer and is certainly not an answer to poor management Dr Conrad Ferris, AFBI, Hillsborough told the packed AgriSearch dairy seminar.

Speakers looking to the future of the Ulster dairy industry at the AgriSearch seminar included Dr Conrad Ferris, left, and Dr Alistair Carson.

However, research at Hillsborough and a trial on 11 Northern Ireland dairy farms shows that a well planed and well managed crossbreeding programme can produce robust cows with easier calving, fewer health problems such as mastitis and better fertility.

Dr Ferris noting that although milk yield is likely to be reduced with Jersey crossbred cows they produce milk with a higher fat and protein content so the total fat plus protein yield was unaffected. Though obviously Jersey crosses left farmers with lower value cull cows and bull calves to sell

Dr Ferris agreed crossbreeding has a lot to offer on some farms and is popular in leading agricultural nations such as New Zealand.

“But it must remembered that hybrid vigour is a useful bonus for only one generation. True genetic improvement takes place when the top AI sires for the most economically important traits are used within a breed.

“As part of a longterm strategy cross breeding Holsteins with another breed such as the Jersey can play a part in boosting milk margins on some local farms. Yet I must emphasise this is not a step to be taken lightly as these changes will impact on your business for many years to come.

“Those taking this step must have a clear plan in place as regards suitable herd management and their next step in breeding with the daughters of these crossbred cows. Will they be mated back to one of the two parent breeds? A process that can be repeated for several generations to protect two thirds of hybrid vigour gains.

“Three breed rotational crossing is another option, which can retain 86% of gains from hybrid vigour and, indeed, a fourth breed could also be used. More recently semen from progeny tested crossbreed Holstein Jersey F1 sires has become available.” For further details of this research project visit www.agrisearch.org or contact your farm advisor. 

Lack of Time Slows Change!

Asked why they did not take on board and adopt new ideas Ulster dairy farmers say they face one major barrier, lack of time.

John Ward, stockman at AFBI, Hillsborough at the AgriSearch seminar on dairy heifers with Greenmount College lecturers Stephanie Woods, left, and Claire Wallace. The role of opinion formers such as lecturers and advisors in moving information from formal research papers to on farm use is seen as critical in maximising returns from Ulster’s major industry.

74% of milk producers surveyed by AFBI and CAFRE said sheer lack of time was the main constraint as they battle with increasing levels of DARD and EU red tape in an era of falling levels of return on capital invested.

Another 16.3% of farmers revealed they did not use new practices being quite happy as they are!

Press articles were found to be the major source of new information for dairy farmers with 97.1% reading weekly and monthly farming titles.

By comparison in the past year one in five had not attended farmer meetings and over half had not been to a focus farm. Discussion groups were more popular with 55.2% attending these at least once a year. As regards events evening meetings were the most popular followed by agricultural shows and then farm walks. Only a minority of producers questioned attended farm walks, open days or seminars.

Over 90% of farmers surveyed looked to their local farm advisor and vet as sources of advice on new ideas. Though when it came to technical advice the favoured source varied. For specific products such as milk replacers and choice of sires the views of sales reps were rated higher than those of government farm advisors.

In all areas a significant proportion of producers preferred to have direct contact with researchers for their information.

Young Stock Your Farming Future

Having your heifers calving down at the correct weight for age is critical to future herd performance yet almost two thirds of Northern Ireland milk producers under estimate weights.

Hardly surprising given that few posses a weight bridge and most rarely visit marts so do not gain experience of estimating weights in the way that a beef or lamb producer does.

A key finding from a survey on dairy young stock discussed at the AgriSearch seminar hosted by AFBI Hillsborough. Thus the commonplace delay in breeding dairy heifers until well over 16 months of age was partly due to farmers’ under prediction of heifer liveweight. Many farmers not realising just how good a job they are doing rearing their heifers!

Dr Steven Morrison of AFBI commenting that replacements on Ulster dairy units were generally reared at growth rates, which enabled adequate weights to be reach for calving at 24 months old.

“Monitoring heifer weight for age is the key to success and using a weighbridge or the AFBI weight band developed with AgriSearch is recommended. This will ensure heifers are served early at the optimum age and weight to calve at 24 months weighting 540 to 580kg.

“Making greater use of the PLI breeding index as the main sire selection criteria is also strongly recommended. Generally our survey found that dairy producers make a good job of rearing heifers, but there is considerable room for extra efficiency. The number of grazing days between weaning and calving can be increased and concentrate feeding used more strategically.”

As regards heifers joining the milking herd research has show the benefits of grouping heifers in pairs prior to joining the milking herd, parlour training and introducing the new faces after an evening milking.

Keys to Calf Rearing Success

Good husbandry, not state of the art housing and equipment lies at the heart of successful heifer calf rearing in a province where mortality averages 6.5% yet varies from zero to 26%!

The view of AFBI and CAFRE staff at the AgriSearch seminar on dairy genetics and heifer management.

Yet again the long know link between lack of colostrum and heavy losses was clear in a survey of heifer calf rearing conducted by AFBI and CAFRI staff.

Most local farmers rear calves in old houses using a traditional twice a day bucket system with well managed units producing good results. But at a high cost as regards labour, hence the move towards once a day feeding, early weaning and group feeding as a low cost way to reduce the work load.

However, whatever the system basic good husbandry is the real key to success. Data from the research herd at AFBI Hillsborough showed the longterm effect of calf scour or pneumonia on heifer growth and subsequent milk production. No long-term performance benefit was found at Hillsborough when more than a bag of milk replacer per calf was fed.

AFBI researchers also urge farmers to wean calves at six to eight weeks once concentrate intake is sufficient, thus saving time and money. For larger farms computer controlled automatic calf feeders are proving a boon in saving labour and leaving the rearer more time to actually observe stock and nip problems in the bud.

However, the Hillsborough team are adamant that using high technology is not a replacement for good husbandry; it a tool to be used by a good heifer calf rearers.

Vets Save Belfast Zoo Penguins
Monday, 19 July 2010 16:19

Sudden deaths in penguins at Belfast Zoo vet were a serious problem facing Zoo vet Michael Griffiths of Jubilee Veterinary Centre, Newtownards back in the summer of 2002.

With the assistance of the Agri-Food and Biosciences, Veterinary Science Division at Stormont Michael diagnosed the cause of deaths as Clostridium perfringens Type A.

Belfast Zoo vet Michael Griffiths with fellow veterinary surgeon Mairead O’Grady from Intervet Schering Plough Animal Health and penguins protected against killer clostridial diseases by Bravoxin 10 vaccine.

Half the Zoo’s King Penguins and over half of the Gentoo Penguins were lost to this fatal disease. Since then the condition has not recurred and penguins are protected by Bravoxin 10, a vaccine manufactured to protect cattle and sheep from clostridial disease.

In springtime Michael and Zoo staff vaccinate the young penguins with Bravoxin 10 twice at a four week interval followed by a single annual booster to continue protection against Clostridium perfringens Type A.

Clostridial diseases are among the oldest known agents causing disease worldwide with resulting illness very sudden and usually fatal. Vaccination with Bravoxin 10 protects both cattle and sheep against the 10 most common clostridial diseases including Blackleg, Tetanus, Black Disease, Pulpy Kidney, Clostridial Diarrhoea, Struck and Braxy.

“A simple regime of two doses of Bravoxin 10 administered four to six weeks apart will protect stock during this forthcoming season,” explained vet Mairead O’Grady, Livestock Technical Officer, Intervet Schering Plough Animal Health. “It is also wise to ensure that livestock have received their annual booster dose of Bravoxin 10 to provide maximum protection against clostridial diseases this summer.”

Bekina Manager
Monday, 19 July 2010 16:16
Brecht Debruyne

 BELGIAN company Bekina NV, one of the world’s largest wellington boot manufacturers, has appointed Brecht Debruyne, pictured, sales manager for the United Kingdom and Irish Republic. Brecht, who studied Marketing 

and International Sales at Bruges and Ghent Universities, is also responsible for the Austrian, Hungarian and Czech markets.

A former Belgian under 18 international Brecht played for Cercle Bruges before injury ended his career as a professional footballer. The Bekina Steplite X wellington boot launched last January has proved especially popular with farmers and vets across the British Isles.

For details visit website www.bekina.be

Monday, 19 July 2010 16:10

 Farming in Flanders Fields yields an extra, unwanted harvest of iron for Belgian farmers reports Rodney Magowan from the fertile flat landscape around Ypres and Passchendaele that was once the Great War front line. Almost 92 years after the guns fell silent on 11 Nov 1918 Luk Delva tills 60 ha of prime arable land from 

Belgian farmer Luk Delva carries a live shell from his Flanders Fields near Passchendaele.

which a harvest of iron, some deadly, still appears. “We bring unexploded shells, grenades and mortar bombs found in the fields back to the farmyard and leave them in a pile for the Belgian Army Bomb Disposal Unit to collect” Luk explained

“ Since 1918 they have been dealing with unexploded ordnance, which is collected and blown up on a nearby firing range. Because they are so experienced these Belgian Army specialist are in demand clearing landmines, IEDs, in Afghanistan. This means collections from farms along the Great War front line are not as frequent now due to so many bomb disposal experts being away serving with NATO clearing Taliban booby traps.

“Aside from still live shells we also reap a harvest of shrapnel, helmets and rifles with now collapsing underground bunkers an increasing danger. One neighbour ended up with his tractor 30ft down in a bunker earlier in the year. Timber beams from 1918 had given way under the weight of machinery, an increasing danger as time passes, timber rots and tractors get larger.” Though the attitude of Luk and fellow farmers to carrying live shells and grenades back to the yard might appear casual they are well aware of the danger.

“Every year one or two people get killed, but we simply cannot wait for an army bomb disposal officer to become available. They might clear a whole street to deal with an unexploded grenade in Brussels, but here we handle with care and get on with the job of farming.”

A pig and arable farmer Luk Delve and his wife Marie-Joseph have four children in their 30s, none of whom wish to work full time on a small farm. Ironically Luk sees this lack of a successor as a greater threat to the farm that any shell fired in 1916!

Agricultural journalists lay a wreath during the memorial ceremony held each evening at 8pm by the Menin Gate in Ypres.

Though he once ran a birth to bacon unit with 150 sows Luk cut back in 2008 to just finishing 1200 pigs a year. “Now our main source of income is the Single Farm Payment and growing 20ha winter wheat, 20ha sugar beet and 20ha potatoes, “ revealed Luk, who recently invested in a new tractor, sprayer and shallow mouldboard plough to lessen the workload.

Like many Belgian farmers he devotes a lot of spare time to farmers’ union activities and sport serving on both union and local football club committees. With no successor and no chance of growing the farm business on a limited acreage Luk and Maria-Joseph are not seeking any further farming challenges such as diversifying. Perhaps tilling fields littered with deadly left overs from the Great War is a sufficient challenge!

Today this flat Flanders landscape looking towards the very slight ridge at Passchendaele lies at the heart of a civilised and cultured European nation. Yet from 1914, when the professional soldiers of the British regular army and Germany’s elite Prussian Guards fought themselves to a standstill, and the war’s end in 1918 over a third of a million men perished here. All to advance and retire in the five Battles of Passchendaele a distance less than that between the Co Down villages of Hillsborough and Dromore!

A landscape nearby war memorials show claimed thousands of lives be they Inniskillen Dragons from the rolling drumlins of Ulster or some of the 3,764 Munster men from Co Cork who perish as volunteers in this war to end all wars.

The deadly boredom of EU bureaucracy in nearby Brussels is indeed a better way to settle European disputes that the bullet and bomb of previous generations.

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