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Archive Article: 1996/05/10

10 May 1996

A company which uses transgenic sheep to produce human proteins for therapeutic uses is set to raise up to £30m by floating on the Stock Exchange next month. PPL Therapeutics, based at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh and employing 114 people, is already producing more than 20 different proteins, collected from the animals milk, to treat a number of human conditions such as cystic fibrosis and deep vein thrombosis. Managing director Ron James (above) says the £30m cash injection will help the company take its portfolio to commercial scale early next century. Working with a number of pharmaceutical companies, some of whom are already shareholders, PPL has a policy of acquiring patent rights to protect its new products and technologies.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/10

10 May 1996

At the annual summer sale of Welsh Black cattle at Dolgellau, Gwynedd, averages were £509 for 22 maiden heifers; £903 for six females; and £1827 for nine bulls. The champion bull, shown by Hywel Jenkins, made 5600gns, which is 2400gns less than the breed record set last year. Top-price female, meanwhile, was 965gns. (Farmers Marts)

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Archive Article: 1996/05/10

10 May 1996

THE end of lambing is in sight with only a few Swaledales remaining. We started at the end of March with the Mules and older Swaledales in lamb to the Texel and Blue Faced Leicester respectively. The aim is to lamb everything outside with the grass hopefully growing, allowing the reduction and stopping of supplementary feeding as soon after lambing as possible.

The flock is split into two, the young Swaledale ewes live on the common grazing, coming down into the fields for tupping and lambing.

The common grazing consists of a number of hills rising up to just short of 610m from the valley floor at 61m, and extends to 2024ha with nine active graziers grazing about 5000 head of sheep. Most of the land is too steep for a tractor and parts are covered with bracken, heather and bilberry. Only young, fit, hardy-type ewes can survive the inhospitable conditions even with additional winter feeding in the form of concentrate blocks and a little hay if conditions are bad.

The older Swaledale ewes, four crop and older, plus the Mules, were generally in good condition with lambs of good size. The young ewes were gathered from the common a few days prior to starting to lamb just as the weather changed to a wet westerly, the more usual prevailing wind for the Lake District. It quickly became apparent that some of the ewes had lost condition due to the cold, easterly wind which had blown just about continuously since the turn of the year, severely restricting grass growth, and were now producing undersized lambs. This has made lambing much harder than normal and we will try a revised strategy next year. All the shearlings and ewes carrying twins will remain in the fields after vaccination four weeks pre-lambing and be supplementary fed. The danger with this course of action arises if we have a very wet March and early April and the fields turn into a sea of mud. &#42

Robert Morris-Eytons Swaledale ewe flock is split into two with the younger ewes brought down from common grazing to lamb.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/10

10 May 1996

FIRST green shoots of life, despite BSE, are appearing, though I dont detect any Tory-blue ones among them.

My local auction is holding sales of grazing cows for those tempted to run on lean cattle, which must be an opportunity now the West Country is flush with grass at last. I have only a couple and they are putting on weight as they run with the milkers. The grape vine suggests they be sold deadweight if they weigh well and the auction if they remain lean.

I heard John Major announce in parliament that the information on how to deal with them would be in todays post (May 3). It was not. He only has four months to remove all the condemned cattle before another calving season.

But a cheque for three Belgian bull calves did arrive from Taunton Market Auctioneers. Two at £194 and one at £160 suggesting there are rearers listening to the British housewife instead of to Brussels.

The West Country milk group has now calculated that the UK is at least 95% self-sufficient in milk instead of the oft-quoted 85%, convincing me that I must squeeze every last drop out of grass this season. The omens are good, with plenty of rain guaranteeing a heavy silage cut. We have shut up three-quarter acre a cow with a half acre of lucerne and one-third acre of maize each to follow.

The forage plan has been increased in the light of expensive autumn feeds and falling intervention prices for milk coupled with better yields from this years Linde Alfred and Prima heifers. Nearly all the next heifer crop are by Nordcap, who promises even more milk. We plan to rear all followers on supplemented straw, after finding they came through this last winter on it, though with hindsight I was too mean with the maize gluten.

The herd achieved a margin over concentrate of £1307 last year (5850 litres off 1.3t = 22.4p/litre margin). This year my target is set for £1360 (6000 litres off 1.2t = 22.9p/litre) to exploit a premium milk contract. The recent wet spell might just put the 3400 litres from forage in reach but this will be the highest we will have ever done on this dry, sandy soil. &#42

Marshall Taylors herd has achieved a margin over concentrate of £1307.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/10

10 May 1996

ONCE the April frost and snow had finished, grass grew slowly and by April 11 the Angus bull and the bulling heifers began paddock grazing adjoining their winter quarters.

The bull now has 29 heifers with him and we are using this as a chance to cull most of the cows born before 1989. As if that were not enough we have just loaded two prime steers whose 30-month limit will be next week.

I still find it hard that three of their contemporaries, grass and silage fattened, are not to produce prime beef, as they are one month older. The delay and lack of urgency in clearing the backlog of cattle on farms is now of great concern.

The five Limousin cross heifers have now calved to Angus producing four bulls and one heifer, all unassisted and sharp. The store cattle market seems livelier and we await an interested buyer.

The dairy herd began grazing mid-April, moving on to 32 acres of autumn reseed a week later. The ground was a little tender but a good grass cover has limited any damage. By the end of the month cows were out at night with a buffer of maize silage. Concentrates were reduced by 102kg a day as milk production increased to 23 litres a cow. This is despite carrying barren cows, which should have gone a month ago. But it may be easier to make a profit on their milk now than next winter, when the price of concentrates will be higher.

The 300 ewes and lambs have rushed around the grazing at Park Farm until I relented allowing Peter to spread 1.5t of ammonium nitrate to compensate for the cold weather. Sheep prices have held up well, so we moved 10 barren ewes at £50 plus.

The fodder beet went in later this year at the end of April. The seed-bed was good and after drilling we top-dressed with 1cwt/acre of ammonium nitrate and cambridge rolled. This left a better finish for the pre-emergence spray and may discourage slugs if the damp weather continues. &#42

John Downes is concerned at the lack of urgency in clearing the huge backlog of cattle on farms.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/10

10 May 1996

Peter Turner with some of the 30-plus cull cows he has been forced to keep on Oxstall Farm, Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts. Housed inside, they are consuming an expensive complete diet. A few have been put out to grass, but weight loss is a potential problem, says Mr Turner. The last culls marketed before the crisis made 93.3p/kg at Frome market.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/10

10 May 1996

BRIAN Sutcliffe of Northallerton, N Yorks is seeking farmers north of the border who can provide overnight accommodation for a man and vintage tractor during the last week of May.

Brian is planning to drive his Fordson Dexta from John OGroats to Lands End to raise money for the Yorkshire Cancer Research Campaign and while he has had offers of accommodation and help with fuel for the English leg of his journey, he still needs support in Scotland.

He is also trying to find someone to transport the tractor up to John OGroats to save wear and tear on the old engine.

If you can help please telephone (01609-770776).

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Archive Article: 1996/05/10

10 May 1996

Skoda rejoins the rather sparsely populated, 2WD pick-up sector with this 0.5t Felicia-based model. Replacing the Favorit-derived version, which ceased production in 1994, the new pick-up is powered by a 68hp 1.3-litre petrol engine through a five-speed box. A 1.9-litre VW diesel option will be available from this autumn. Pick-up price is from £6000.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/10

10 May 1996

LIFE must go on, and routine stock work done, even if were unsure about the future of beef. Along with most other farmers, I am convinced that once the politicians have had their say, common sense will prevail and our industry will once again stand up in the world market as one of the best.

Our first taste of the fall in the beef trade came on April 16 when we sent three heifers and three steers off for slaughter at a fixed price of 180p/kg on an R conformation and saw a drop of £100 a head on what we would normally expect at this time of year. Just to add confusion to the situation, three days later five similar cattle traded as store cattle through Llandovery market. We averaged £70 a head more than the slaughter price. Such is life.

All markets seem very volatile at present with everyone angling to get a marketing advantage out of the BSE crisis. Anyone claiming to be "BSE-free" should actually state that they have not had a case on their holding. No one can be sure their stock will not suffer BSE at any time in the future, with all breeds, bar the little Dexter, having recorded BSE in their herds. I can see no sense in confusing the shopper in the street that some beef is safer than the rest. Surely with all cull cows and older beef being taken out of the food chain all beef is now safe to eat and to export. United we will succeed, divided we shall all eventually fail. To this end may I congratulate the NFU on getting on with the job in hand and treating everyone as equal.

Now that May is with us its good to see the cattle out at grass and the winter chores coming to an end. Lambing too is over for another year but with fewer lambs born this year we shall have to go for a heavier finishing weight to compensate for the 10% drop in lamb numbers.

No sooner do we stop feeding silage than we prepare the silos for this years crop. Tractors have been serviced in readiness and the fax machine primed to get the weatherline outlook. Everything looks set for a start on May 18. That is if I can get another dozen stores away to market on May 17. With ample silage they could still be housed and save entertaining the neighbours with an impromptu rodeo. &#42

Routine stock work goes ahead at David Hormanns Fan Farm near Llandovery, despite continuing uncertainty caused by the BSE crisis.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/10

10 May 1996

This first 4m (13ft) wide, hydraulic folding version of the Moore Uni-Drill has been sold to a Yorks arable unit. Pictured on test in North Antrim, the drill has a 1t Roger hopper and metering unit, hydraulic fan and folds to less than 3m (10ft) for transport. Price is £23,500.

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Archive Article: 1996/05/10

10 May 1996

IMPROVEMENTS in embryo transfer techniques now enable both technicians and producers to implant embryos. But pregnancy rates will depend on good herd fertility.

This is the claim of Somerset Cattle Breeding Centre ET vet Stewart Scott. He now considers that direct transfer (see panel) of embryos is likely to have a beneficial impact on cattle breeding. He has achieved a 46% pregnancy rate result using this technique.

"In the past cost and convenience have limited uptake of ET," he says. Direct transfer, however, will make ET more accessible to cattle breeders because costs will be reduced.

"Putting in embryos six to eight days after natural heat should be as common as AI, once the embryos are available," he says.

The direct transfer technique also makes DIY ET possible, adds Mr Scott. DIY ET is not for everyone for it takes time. But those that intend to implant 40 to 60 embryos a year may be suitable candidates, he says. The legislation is set up; now its the training that is needed.

Herdsmen may be taught the technique quickly, but recipient selection takes more skill, he claims. And the compulsory epidural training can only be taught at Cambridge.

"This epidural is needed to allow the operator to straighten out the uterus to get the catheter in and to get the embryo near the unfertilised egg," says Mr Scott. "This process can take up to five minutes."

Improving fertility

Good herd fertility is essential to secure ET success. Target for normal herd fertility should be 50% of cows in heat 14 days after calving and a 70% pregnancy rate to first service, claims Mr Scott.

"When conditions are right, ET works very well; when average, results are low," he says.

Fertility management needs special care to ensure both flushing cows and embryo recipients have a good intense heat.

Mr Scott says many breeders choose to use heifers as recipients for they consider this is the only way to secure acceptable pregnancy rates. But these animals also have the best genetics and the chances of losing a cow at calving are lower than for a heifer having its first calf.

"The main cause of sub-fertility, after cow condition at calving, is poor energy and protein status."

For best results, heifers should be fed on a rising plane of nutrition for four weeks. Any longer and the beneficial effect may be lost, he says. Achieving a rising plane of nutrition is more difficult with a cow. She must be assessed on how well she is coping with her lactation and the strength of her heat.

"Trace element balance is also important," he says. "In ET work when high levels of trace elements were fed, 20% more embryos were collected over 400 flushes.

"The only way a cow shows that she is short of something is when she runs out completely. She may look fine when she has only half the copper she needs but will suffer infertility. Test the forage for minerals to get a feel for what shes eating." Mr Scott recommends feeding trace elements for three weeks before flushing cows or implanting embryos. This will also help to get animals cycling. The sooner they come into heat the better for it causes the uterus to shrink after calving.

In studies to measure uterus volume, he found that the smaller the uterus when the embryo is implanted the higher the chance of pregnancy. This may be due, he says, to the signal from the embryo being stronger in a smaller space.

"Clipping the top-line of heifers when they have winter coats can also help increase egg numbers," he says.

The reasons for this are not clear. But Mr Scott suggests it may be that the heifers become cold and eat more, or that the heat from digestion is lost more easily allowing greater feed intakes. And the higher the feed intake, the more follicles produced.

ET on-farm

Flushing six to 10 cows a year is part of the breeding policy for one Somerset milk producer. It allows him to maximise the number of cows from his best cow families.

John Hill, has 300 cows managed in three herds near Bridgwater. Using embryo transfer, he hopes to improve the value of each herd. "When using a good bull, the proof can drop but when the cow family is good, you are more likely to get a good animal."

He also buys some embryos to introduce new cow families. He could buy heifer calves but five embryos of the same quality are about half the cost and from these he may get two heifers.

The cows he flushes are normally proven heifer producers. "Some cows seem more likely to produce bulls, others only heifers."

When the cow is flushed depends on her having a good heat. One cow, Zach Sexation Berry, is being flushed two months after calving because she is coping well in her lactation, yielding 60 litres a day. Without any special treatment, her natural heat was good. The flush was a success producing five embryos.

ET vet Stewart Scott claims that stage of lactation is unimportant. For best results the cows must look like they are fit to breed.

These embryos are implanted fresh in heifers that had been synchronised using CIDRs (Controlled Internal Drug Release). They are fed to achieve a liveweight gain of 0.75kg a day with a diet of silage, 2kg of maize gluten and caustic-treated straw.

The heifers had also been fed dry cow minerals with trace elements for the last month, adds Mr Hill. He uses heifers as recipients to simplify management for the herdsmen. Mr Hill considers they have enough to do getting cows in calf.

Altering sex ratios

Heifer ratios can be increased by careful timing of artificial insemination, claims Mr Scott.

"A heifer calf is worth a lot more than a bull calf," he says. "The normal ratio for bulls to heifers is 50:50." But he believes these ratios can be changed without the high cost of sexing semen.

"A group of 40 heifers were given Estrumate and then inseminated 48 hours later. They produced 18 heifers and one bull. Although the conception rate was poor, it resulted in a high number of heifer calves ."

Cows inseminated directly after ovulation have a greater chance of having a bull, explains Mr Scott. So when cows are served early, before ovulation as in the example, the male sperm have burnt out. But as shown serving cows or heifers earlier may reduce overall conception rates.

Mr Scott has found that this theory fails to work on some farms but it is worth trying where fertility results are good.

He advises serving cows as they go off heat in herds of good fertility and heifers as soon as they are seen standing. &#42

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