Over 120 farmers were in attendance at Foyle Food Group’s annual Autumn Nutrition Event which was held at the Foyle ‘Farm of Excellence’ in Co. Tyrone on Friday, October 6.
Foyle suppliers from across Ulster were in attendance at the event which featured talks from Andrew Clarke, Foyle Food Group, Gareth Anderson, FarmGate Nutrition and Jennifer Howse, who spoke on the importance of mental health in farmers.
The event featured a tour of the farm where areas of research were highlighted and the most recent developments were on show.
Research is ongoing on the farm examining methods of improving efficiency, reducing input costs, and improving animal welfare whilst also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Andrew Clarke said: “Foyle supports knowledge transfer partnerships with our suppliers and these events encourage positive discussions about future beef farming practices.”
Brushes and Bokashi
Cattle brushes have been found to be a key driver of performance on the Foyle farm. Findings have shown 0.2kg/head/day live weight gain in trials conducted on Aberdeen Angus cattle.
Similar trials are planned to go ahead later in the year to potentially assess the cause of this increased performance.
‘Bokashi’, was also a topic of interest at the farm walk. This involves adding a microorganism mixture into bedding and ensiling it for eight weeks once it is mucked out, creating an anaerobic environment.
This manure management strategy is used on the farm to break down organic matter, making it more suitable for land application.
Energy and carbon are retained in the bokashi end product, stimulating soil microbiology, improving soil fertility and preventing carbon loss as CO2.
Farmers were taken to Foyle’s newly-built cattle shed, the design of which demonstrates a high level of animal welfare.
Maximum levels of natural light are captured to facilitate the evaporation of moisture from the soft-bedded lye-back area, reducing bedding costs.
Other features include polycarbonate roof sheeting, mono-pitch design, open sides and an automatic climate control curtain.
Collectively these contribute to maintaining a consistent environment for cattle, minimising the incidence of respiratory disease and reducing energy costs.
An automatic slurry aeration system within the tank maintains slurry in a semi-liquid state for use when required.
This removes the need for mixing slurry benefitting staff safety and minimises disturbance to cattle.
Staff safety is a major area of focus in the new handling facilities at the farm which were completed in 2022.
There are exit points in every pen, eliminating the need for staff to go inside the pen with cattle at any point.
Also, the layout meets the company’s commitments to improving animal welfare. There are anti-jump rails, anti-backing bars, a double race which merges into single file, auto drafting technology and grooved concrete flooring.
Additionally, the ‘budbox design’ obeys natural behavioural principles, encouraging animals to go back to where they came from and go around the handler.
The farm has adopted a feed-bunk management system which it says is useful in their aim of feeding cattle to peak intake and meeting the focus of maximising feed efficiency.
Andrew Clarke explained that “This theory has originated from research conducted by the South Dakota University. They have found that finishing beef cattle should be fed to 99% of their maximum dry matter intake to ensure optimal performance.
“Also, the quantity of feed provided to cattle must match the amount the animals can consume without causing digestive upsets.
“Following feeding, bunkers are assessed based on the residual feed remaining. A score of 0-0.5 is ideal, or as little feed remaining as possible.”
Feeding regimes at the Foyle farm are kept consistent daily, with each feed being provided at the same time in the morning and evening.
Feed is also pushed up in the early afternoon to drive intakes and increase cattle performance.
Andrew Clarke, lead farm liaison at Foyle Food Group, addressed the audience on current work the company is undertaking in its Superior Genetics Programme in collaboration with Aberdeen Angus Quality Beef.
The programme encourages suppliers to use bulls of high genetic merit as the benefits have been demonstrated with Foyle’s own bull, ‘Elliot Bravo’.
Trials with this sire have found reductions in finishing age by 40 days. Using top sires for traits such as 200 or 400-day weights has the potential to improve progeny weight by approximately 18.5kg without considering any other management tools.
Gareth Anderson from FarmGate nutrition spoke to the audience on the total mixed ration used on the finishing farm.
The guidelines he discussed for finishing diets included:
- A target dry matter intake (DMI) of 2% body weight;
- High energy dense diets of around 12MJ/kg DM, starch;
- Sugar inclusion of >20%;
- Crude protein between 12-14%;
- Fibre content of >25%.
Gareth emphasised the principle of higher dry matter intake correlating with higher liveweight gain.
Aspects of good practice were highlighted, such as good pit-face management, regular forage analysis, consistent mixing and access to clean water.
Gareth explained several different sources of starch and sugars, protein, fibre as well as alternative feed additives including Elensis.
He said this product improves daily liveweight gain and has methane-reducing properties, as trialled on the Foyle farm.
He finished with talking through examples of beef blends which are appropriate for the autumn period.
Jennifer Howse, a PhD student from the Royal Agricultural University and previous agricultural liaison at Foyle Food Group addressed the importance of mental health in the red meat sector.
This message included advice on how farmers can think about positive ways to approach the challenges they face within farming and managing their business.
She emphasised the importance of aiming to tackle the initial struggles or signs of mental ill-health before they begin to build up.
Jennifer also discussed the isolation farmers can often feel and encouraged the audience to talk and reach out if they are struggling.
She offered ‘5-a-day checklist’ for farmers and those in the farming community:
- 1: Be honest with yourself and those around you;
- 2: Talk openly about daily challenges and listen;
- 3: Care for yourself as well as you care for others;
- 4: Contact that person you’ve been saying you should;
- 5: Plan for the unexpected – make the right choices.
Donations were received following the talks for Rural Support, a local listening and signpost service for farmers and farming families across Northern Ireland.
The event closed with a barbeque and steaks were provided by Foyle Food Group.