Quality key to groups future
By James Garner
A COTSWOLD sheep group has made some subtle changes recently which it hopes will transform its position and help members achieve better financial returns.
But its new name – Cotswold Quality Lamb – will not alone be enough to generate better marketing opportunities, says lamb procurement secretary, Paul Froehlich. He hopes the groups selling position will be enhanced by some of its other features.
Presently it is in a strong position to supply much of what retailers require of lamb producers, says Mr Froehlich. Members sheep have full traceability, knowledge of feed ingredients and members have attended Lantra husbandry and welfare training courses.
More money could be made out of the present system by better marketing, he says. "Buyers are doing a lot of talking about what they want but there does not seem to be a lot of action on it.
"We are in a good position as a group, but in five years time I hope we will be in a really strong position to supply quality lamb from our members."
Mr Froehlich has recently taken on the task of group procurement secretary and is also farm manager at Calcot Farm, Fossebridge, Cheltenham, Glos. There, he looks after 600 January and February lambing ewes on 40ha (100 acres) of permanent pasture and two-year grass leys.
He explains that Cotswold Quality Lamb has grown out of the Cotswold Lamb Group, to which all members must belong. "The lamb group secures savings on feed – which is purchased in bulk – holds farm walks and winter meetings and uses the services of independent consultant Alistair Bird."
Almost as a natural extension of this, group members have been using it to sell lambs. "We are a strong buying group, and companies happily quote for providing ewe feed, lamb creep and lamb finisher to our specifications as it is a big order," says Mr Froehlich.
As a group, the producers are used to working together and adopting and modifying new ideas about sheep production to suit their systems.
But now the emphasis is beginning to change, with selling lambs becoming more of a priority. This year he hopes to sell 25,000 lambs through Cotswold Quality Lamb.
"Rock bottom prices mean that our members are more receptive to looking at marketing slightly differently than in the past. By selling through the group we will receive feedback from the abattoir on members lamb carcass grades, which will be entered in a database.
"By the end of this years lamb marketing season I will have information on the groups lamb quality." This could be used to match supply with quality demands.
Currently, the group markets mainly through one abattoir and Mr Froehlich is happy with this while there remains such a variation in grading between abattoirs.
"At the moment the best quote does not necessarily mean the best price. We look for an abattoir that gives us good reliable average returns. When grading becomes standard across the country marketing will be far easier."
By recording and monitoring gradings, Mr Froehlich will compile information allowing members to compare performance and help them adjust management to improve marketing.
"I will produce a league table, which does not reveal producers identities, so we can work out how to improve our grades by learning from those performing well."
Most group members have Mule flocks crossed with terminal sires and he says this could provide valuable information on which terminal sire breed produces best results.
But Mr Froehlich believes the group has more to offer than other selling groups. "We can virtually guarantee similar management systems within the group, as most are working in the same locality, doing the same type of things. We know feed ingredients and can adjust this to retailers demands."
Ultimately, the Cotswold Lamb Groups aim is to develop a stronger lamb market for its members which they have greater control over. This might eventually mean moving to regional branding.
"A regional brand name would be great, but I want it to stand for lamb quality and not just the area it comes from," he says. *
By the end of this years lamb marketing season Paul Froelich will have information on the groups lamb quality, which can be matched to demand.
• Regional group marketing.
• Standardise product.
• Group feed policy.
Concentrates help best cows make more of grass
By Sue Rider
TARGETED concentrate feeding at grass may be more a profitable route to producing milk from high indexing dairy cows than offering total mixed rations.
That is provided enough grazing is available and the aim is to maximise use of grass, Sinclair Mayne, of the Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland at Hillsborough, told an open day organised by Dalgety and Holstein UK and Ireland as part of their high genetic merit initiative.
Speaking to visitors at the Hughes familys Clares Barn Farm, Twycross, Atherstone, Warks, Dr Mayne said now was the time to plan for the coming grazing season. He urged producers to consider how to make better use of grazed grass with high yielding cows. "We must maximise use of this, the cheapest feed.
"All that is needed is a simple system of grass and concentrates fed to yield to produce milk economically from high genetic merit cows when the milk price is 20p/litre. With winter feeding strategies its difficult to do that."
The challenge is to get sufficient grass dry matter into high indexing cows now giving 35-40 litres at grass compared with those giving 25 litres a few years ago.
Dr Mayne said that under good grazing conditions grass dry matter intakes are 15-17kg/day – sufficient to support 25 litres. But 40-litre cows need to harvest 19-20kg DM/day or 80-100kg fresh weight. "Thats an enormous challenge and depends on making it easier to harvest grass or putting in the extra feed.
"We must focus on the front end of the cow – one of the important factors we do not measure in classification is jowl size. The ability of the animal to eat a decent mouthful of grass is one of the keys to grazing success. When we buy a new mower we look at its width and at how sharp the blades are. But how many of us look at how well the cow is geared up to grazing?
"Cows graze for 10 hours a day, taking 60 bites a minute or 36,000 bites a day. So a small increase in bite size – 0.1g – gives a large increase in intake, an additional 3kg DM a day.
"Maximising bite size and making it easier for cows to harvest grass depends on presenting a tall, dense, leafy sward. We must present grass to the cow – ideally entering paddocks at 14cm and leaving them at 7-8cm."
Topping, alternate grazing and cutting or a leader/follower system would reduce the residual herbage to 4-5cm (1.6-2in).
Supplements would be needed to maintain performance during a grass shortage or to maintain cow condition above that possible from grass alone. But Dr Mayne advised against feeding a forage buffer or total mixed ration at grass.
"Cows get a lot of comfort out of bulky feeds such as silage – leading to higher substitution rates of forage for grass and a lower yield response."
But concentrates give a high milk yield response, and can be targeted at individual cows.
"There is a strong case for maintaining in-parlour feeders to target supplement feeding during the summer. With lower grain and soya prices we should be able to buy supplements almost as cheaply as grass silage."
Dr Mayne suggested an early, mid and late season concentrate would be ideal to balance grass through the season. Research is determining the concentrate type.
Feed rates would reach 8kg for a 40-litre cow in mid-May and 9kg for a cow giving 35 litres in late August (see table).
Dr Mayne said there would be a good response to concentrate fed in August and September as grass quality declines. "The biggest challenge would be getting 8kg into cows at good spring grass."
"Feeding 8kg of cake may seem a lot, but remember it is a 40-litre cow. In winter, you would be pushed to get her to give 40 litres off 8kg, so it is economical." *
Feeding concentrates at grass could help high genetic merit cows make more of grass, Sinclair Mayne told visitors at Clares Barn Farm.
Mid-May Late August
target yield (litres a day) target yield (litres a day)
25 35 40 25 35
Milk from grass (litres) 27 29.5 29.5 20 24.5
Conc levels (kg a day) 0 5 8 4.5 9
• Economical for high yielders.
• can target individual cows.
• lower substitution rates.