21 May 1999

More work, but cost benefit for NVZ producers

PRODUCERS in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones can find keeping the records needed an additional burden, but there are possible cost benefits from doing so.

NVZ manager for the Environment Agency, Robin Chatterjee, says NVZ regulations encourage good practice and should save money by matching fertiliser inputs to crop needs.

MAFFs Guidelines for Farmers in NVZs, posted to most NVZ farms last year, offers a record sheet to ensure the correct facts are kept. But producers do not need to double up records if they are keeping all necessary information elsewhere, he says.

Essential records needed are: Areas of fields, cropping, sowing dates, harvest dates, applications of nitrogen fertiliser and organic manures – their dates, type and, for manure or slurry application method. Also required are numbers of animals kept on farm and for farms with high stocking rates details of any manure taken off farm and where it was taken.

Producers unsure about record keeping can receive help via a one-off free ADAS visit to help them comply with NVZ rules, he adds. &#42

Getting set for action. All cattle in Dan and Rob Evans Warwicks-based Wroxall Simmental herd are electronically tagged before turnout. The family won a tagging system in a competition at Smithfield show. Now, all cattle births, sales, inputs and movements will be fully automated, helping to simplify management and paperwork on-farm.

Efficiencys tagged on this sheep unit

Better stock identification

and record keeping are

increasingly important on

farm. Our stock ID special,

edited by Jessica Buss,

looks at electronic tagging,

keeping cattle passports

safe and traceability. We

start by finding out how

tagging has helped improve

returns for one Shropshire

flock. Jeremy Hunt reports

TAGGING ewes and lambs for almost 12 years has helped flock management and improved efficiency on one Shropshire farm.

Jim and Richard Roberts believe tagging the 1400 predominantly Mule ewes and their lambs and recording flock performance is worthwhile.

"The cost of tags and labour involved is recouped by the benefits of being able to manage the flock more efficiently, says Jim of Lydebrook Farm, Little Wenlock, near Telford.

"As soon as we draw lambs for sale we can pull their mothers out at the same time; any cull ewes can be sold, while ewes to be retained are moved on to paddocks to dry off. It means we can select prime lambs and sort the ewes out as we go through the season. We can do the job quickly and easily and are making sure grass is used by ewes and lambs that need it most.

"When ABP at Shrewsbury opened for deadweight spring lambs this year we made our first deadweight draw from the field at 7.30am. By 8am we had taken 28 ewes out. Some were culls, while the rest were moved on to dry paddocks," he says.

Each lambs tag is removed at the slaughterhouse and returned with grade sheets. The performance of each lamb in terms of weight, grade and fat classification can be cross-referred to its dam and sire.

"From a practical point of view, the big advantage of tagging ewes and lambs is that we immediately know which lamb belongs to which ewe. This is a bonus if you have find a dead or sickly lamb or a ewe with mastitis," he says.

"Every member of the farm staff knows that if they find a dead lamb they have to bring it to the farm office so we can trace the ewe via the tag.

"And by linking ewes to lambs after they have been slaughtered, we can monitor the performance of individual ewes."

Mr Roberts reckons ear-tags cost just a few pence a sheep and stock lose only 5% of tags each year.

The 607ha (1500-acre) unit – plus an additional 242ha (600 acres) of rented land – incorporates two dairy herds and a beef finishing unit. The holding is now registered under Freedom Foods.

"Traceability is bound to become more important in the sheep industry to meet consumer demands, but it also has practical management advantages," he adds.

One bonus for the Roberts brothers is sales of Suffolk x Mule ewe lambs as replacements. "One purchaser specifically wanted parental information about his replacement hoggs and whether they were twins or singles. Because every animal is tagged, we had no problem in providing all the information he needed." &#42

Big boost for UK beef credibility

ELECTRONIC tagging of beef cattle could give a tremendous boost to the UK industrys credibility and will be a major contribution to securing a stable future for British beef, reckons pedigree Limousin breeder Keith Redpath.

Mr Redpaths entire herd carry electronic tags. "The main advantage of electronic tagging is the improvement in the accuracy of dealing with data," he says.

"When a beast is shaking its head about and you are trying to read an ear number it is very easy to make a genuine mistake. I have done it myself."

Mr Redpath, who farms at Ninewell Mains, Chirnside, Berwickshire, and is vice-chairman of the Scottish Beef Council, says that simple mistakes made while writing down ear numbers can be costly. With income from beef cattle so heavily dependent on subsidy payments it is essential that all information is collated accurately.

"Audits that discover errors, no matter how genuine, could prove very costly to beef producers."

He acknowledges that many producers are still wary of the technology associated with electronic tagging.

"There is nothing daunting about using this equipment. Once tags are inserted its only a case of mastering using the hand-held reader.

"It is not a difficult piece of equipment to use and once proficient it can scan and download information in seconds."

At Ninewell Mains, a range of management data is fed into the reader before downloading it into software installed on the farm computer.

"For all routine stock tasks on individual animals such as dosing, injecting for pneumonia and even movement records we scan the animal and use the reader to collect the data. As we download we build up a personal data file on all cattle on the farm."

Mr Redpath is a director of the Borders-based farmer group S B Tag. Members of S B Tag, for which membership costs £100 a year, are paying £1 a calf for central database calf registration, £2.55 for cow administration tags and £3 for official tags. An electronic reader costs £385 with software at around £170.

"We reckon that to electronically tag 150 cows there is an initial set-up cost of about £7 a cow – including tags, reader and software," he says. &#42

Internet widens horizons

A SWING towards computerised records and data transfer on livestock farms is predicted by Signet in the wake of the internets popularity.

John Southgate, Signets general manager, says the internet is widening the horizons of livestock producers who previously felt daunted by the prospect of using a computer.

"More stock producers are using the internet and it is engendering a new feeling of confidence about working with computers. They are realising it is not such a big step to use software to transfer farm data electronically.

"From our point of view, it is a positive move forward and will ultimately reduce the problems of erroneous transcription of data that occurs when information is hand written," says Mr Southgate.

Eight pedigree beef breed societies and some pedigree sheep societies are already electronically transferring data directly to Signet. And producers with the correct software packages can also benefit from this two-way electronic data transfer.

He says there are several software houses offering packages allowing data to be sent from producers to Signet and vice-versa. Breed societies should be able to advise members who these companies are.

But producers about to introduce a computer into their business must ensure the hardware and software system is 2000 compliant, select a Windows-based system and ensure the identity system of the software package complies with new EC identification standards.

Check its compliant

"It may seem unnecessary to ask producers to check that a new hardware and software system is year 2000 compliant, but unfortunately there have been some companies offering systems that are not. Buyers must make sure they know what they are buying and do not assume everything is 2000 compliant, even at this stage of 1999.

"And it is important for producers to check the identity system of their software. When it does not comply with the new EC standards they may find themselves isolated from linking in to the traceability network via British Cattle Movement Services." &#42