SPOURS MAXIMISE MARGINS
Monday, 23 January 2017 09:14
As we move towards Brexit in 2020 and remaining UK farm support moving towards marginal land Rodney Magowan reflects on the role of Galloway cattle. Can the experience of the Spours family prove useful to Ulster farmers in the uplands?

SPOURS MAXIMISE MARGINS FROM MARGINAL LAND
 
THE Spours family farm 4,370 acres of tenanted land across north Northumberland comprising large, scattered blocks of heather moorland plus improved lowland.
Daniel Spours finds Galloway cattle maximise margins and reduce labour being ideal quality beef producers and conservation grazers
 
 The emphasis is on self-sufficiency and keeping inputs to a minimum for the enterprises based at Twizell Farm, near Belford, just north of Alnwick.
 
A herd of commercial Aberdeen Angus cows and a commercial sheep flock along with arable land were the mainstay of the business until 2010 when a block of 1,800 acres of heather hill at Chatton Sandyfords was designated SSSI to help encourage wild juniper plants and protect the many archaeological features...

“We had to reduce sheep numbers on the moorland and there were areas of vegetation that required a native breed of cattle to reduce the moorland grasses and help encourage juniper growth,” said Daniel Spours, who farms in partnership with his brother Richard, father Lawrence and uncle Paul. There are also two full-time staff with casual labour employed at peak times.

“We looked at various native breeds and, originally, Galloways were our second choice. But then the end users we spoke to praised the superior eating quality of Galloway beef and we already knew about the ease of management - de-horning, easy calving and that they were very low maintenance cattle. A big plus as we already had a massive workload.

“They are fantastic, non-selective grazers which we knew would suit the SSSI scheme,” he added.

Five years on from investing in Galloways the Spours are not only reaping the benefits of conservation grazing, but are selling quality meat to a successful nearby on-farm restaurant overlooking the causeway to the world famous holy isle of Lindisfarne.

“The herd was started to help fulfill the SSSI (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) scheme requirements, but now with a ready outlet for the Galloway meat we are planning to increase numbers. Our original goal was to have a 60 cow herd with half to a terminal sire but we are going to increase numbers to 90 cows and run them pure bred as we now know the full potential of the breed.

“It was a bit of a leap in the dark but I am really impressed with the Galloways and particularly how well they are finishing,” Daniel added.

The Galloways have fitted into the farming system which is complicated because of the scattered grazing land up to 10 miles away from the home place at Beal.
 
CROPPING
 
The cropping land runs to 1,200 acres which rotates with improving the grassland. Of the arable crops, 600 acres is grown for sale with feed grades being utilized on farm. Wheat, barley, oats and oil seed rape are grown as well as fodder beet, kale and sheep feed rape.
Famed for their ability to produce beef with taste at minimal cost the Galloway is popular from German heathland to the green Glens of Antrim.

The commercial Angus herd runs to 260 cows plus 30 breeding heifers following, all bull calves are finished by 16 months and sold to Scottish beef processors AK Stoddart along with any heifers not kept as herd replacements. All the cows are crossed with a registered Angus bull; although the herd is not registered it is likely that a small pedigree herd will be established in the future.

The Galloway herd now numbers 50 cows, most of which are registered cattle.  Before embarking on the new herd, Daniel saw the attributes of the breed at John Carr-Ellison’s nearby Beanley, Powburn farm.

Foundation cows were from Beanley, Miefield and Moor House with heifers from Blackcraig, Romesbeoch, Klondyke and the Nether Cleugh herds added. The aim is to buy larger animals with more frame which the hill land can carry - and those with a good quiet temperament.

Stock bulls are bought from the Galloway Cattle Society’s Castle Douglas sales and current herd sires are Ballavair Marley, Barquhill Frank and Value of Kilnstown, the spring 2016 purchase.

Daniel personally has carried out some AI on the Galloways with success and there are a number of bull and heifer calves by Orinocho of Over Barskeoch on the ground.

While most of the replacements will be home bred, some bought-in heifers will also be included. Next year up to 20 heifers are expected to be added to the herd and the intention is to run three bulling groups to suit the way the hill is split. Heifers are calved at three years old.

The Galloways are calved in the spring from the end of April behind the commercial Angus herd on the lower ground. Cows receive no assistance or housing at calving unless it is required.

“The Galloways certainly do the job and we have seen huge improvements in the reduction of the coarser grasses. The sheep are keen to graze the areas which have been cleared by the cattle,” affirmed Daniel.

“They are very low maintenance and while on the hill they only get a mineral supplement. Weaned calves are housed and fed a maintenance ration of barley and silage through the winter while the cows out-wintered on the hill are fed big bale silage when required.”

 Galloway steers are finished between 22 and 27 months old off grass plus roughly a tonne of a finishing diet costing £140 introduced at the turn of the year... The only other inputs, veterinary costs and labour, are minimal.
Hardy Galloway cattle meet the needs of farm businesses aiming to benefit as any remaining government support is increasingly directed towards poorer land after Brexit in 2020

The first Galloways were finished as bulls along with Angus cattle but the Galloways struggled to reach a weight that would leave much profit as they are a slower maturing breed, but still managed a fairly respectable 300kg deadweight at 16 months. Roughly £900 a head at that time and considering the lack of inputs there was still profit in them.

Then it was decided to run Galloways on another year as steers. This is proving a much better and more profitable system, which utilizes their favourable eating quality rather than losing them to the meat industry as mince.

They are slaughtered at J A Jewitts in Spennymoor and hung for 21 days and processed at Reiver Country Farm Foods, Reston, near Berwick. 

Carcasses weigh between 365kg and 420kg, grade R4L and kill out around 55%. Cattle are not regularly weighed before slaughter as Daniel believes adrenalin is the largest contributing factor to spoiling meat so cattle are drawn based on condition to reduce handling and stress.
  
Since February 2016 roughly two whole carcasses a month have been sold to The Barn at Beal, established almost 10 years ago by farmer and entrepreneur Rod Smith on the mainland furnenst the causeway to the popular visitor attraction Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

The Spours as sole beef and lamb supplier to The Barn restaurant also provide 10 home produced lamb carcasses a month in what everyone sees as ‘very much a partnership’ with Daniel receiving feedback from the chef and customers so that the product can be adapted to suit the real market.
 “Sadly in farming generally animals are slaughtered with little or no feedback to the actual producer,” he said.

Head Chef at The Barn at Beal for the last five years, Cameron Waterhouse, is a great fan of Galloway beef and its consistency in producing a wide variety of beef dishes from breakfast sausages to rib of beef, rolled brisket to sirloin steaks. Mince, as well as being made into lasagna, is made into burgers.

 Chef Cameron noting that, “The fat content of Galloway beef is perfect for making burgers with just a little seasoning. Most burgers elsewhere include rusk but our meat only burgers are gluten-free, and, as a result, we have been included in guides for coeliacs eating out.
 
BURGERS
 
“We have sold around 3,000 Galloway beef burgers in the summer school holidays.”

The Barn at Beal sources local products and Cameron says provenance and traceability are key to the foods produced in the kitchen for the restaurant and bar for both the many passing visitors and those staying at the on-site camping facility.

The Spours family’s sheep enterprise, which numbers 3200 breeding ewes, is split between hill and lowland. This has also been changed over recent years from a traditional stratified flock of Scottish Blackface ewes on the hill and Scotch mules on the lower ground to Easy Care ewes on the hill which are bred pure and then draft ewes are crossed with Suffolk sires on the lower ground.

“We are still producing a similar number of lambs off the hill as we were even though ewe numbers are down 300,” Daniel Spours noted.

The other side of the sheep enterprise is an intensive continental flock of ewes producing E and U grade lambs from three quarter bred Texels and purer which are crossed with Belgian type Beltex rams. The Texels are split 50-50 between Texel and Beltex rams and are run on the better ground and lambed inside from March 25.

This year E grade store lambs out of hoggs have sold at Hexham Mart for up to £96 a head while finished lambs readily make more than £2.20 a kg.
  The next major Galloway Cattle Society sale in Castle Douglas, an hour’s drive from Cairnryan ferry, is on Friday, Feb 17. For details browse www.gallowaycattlesociety.co.uk   ph; 01556 502753 or e mail 
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GALLOWAYS SHINE IN THE GLENS
 
GALLOWAY cattle, for generations common in the Glens of Antrim, are proving popular in other parts of Ulster including the western Mournes and the Sperrins. As farm support moves from the lowlands to marginal ground this hardy breed has a growing role to play in beef production and conservation grazing.
 
GARRY SCOTT JOINS CIP
Monday, 23 January 2017 09:03
GARRY Scott has joined independent brokers CIP Insurance as a specialist in providing agricultural cover.
Garry Scott, CIP Insurance Brokers.
 
 Married with four of a family, the eldest is 12, Garry lives on a suckler farm near Magherafelt. He graduated in animal science and agriculture following studies at Greenmount College and Queen’s University Belfast.
 
 Garry joins CIP Insurance Brokers after a decade with a large national insurance company proving cover for farmers, contractors and other rural businesses.
  However, with CIP, the NI based and family owned independent brokers, Gary can now help clients compare premiums and polices from a range of major companies to identify the cover and cost best suited to their needs.
 
   With a head office in Crumlin, Co Antrim CIP Insurance Brokers Ltd operates province wide specialising in providing policies for farmers, their families and other rural businesses.
 
  For peace of mind at pleasing premiums contact Garry Scott tel; 07851 634029 or CIP Insurance Freephone 0800 1777 880.
 
TO LAMB WELL PLAN WELL!
Monday, 23 January 2017 08:57
Dog tired from lambing and fed up bottle feeding then invest in a Ewe2 warm milk feeder to save you time and effort, improve lamb growth rates and reduce the risk of digestive upsets.
LAMBING either early or late making time now to plan for those busy weeks pays says Volac’s Alistair Sampson.
 
 “Checking lambing pens and lambing box essentials will help maximise numbers sold in 2017. Even those of us in sheep a lifetime can learn from what went right or wrong previous years.”
 
Top lambing tips:

Ewes must be in the best condition possible for the last six weeks of pregnancy when 70% of foetal growth takes place. Getting this wrong can cause poor lamb survival rates, low birth weights and inferior quality ewe colostrum. Group and feed ewes according to scanning results and their condition score. Getting the mineral balance right is important too, so ask your nutritionist for advice. Consider asking your vet to blood sample ewes 4-6 weeks pre-lambing to make sure their diet is delivering the required energy and protein status.
 
Over 45% of sheep producers aim to rear more lambs artificially in 2017 as a weak pound makes every lamb worth more. Well proven ad lib milk feeding systems save time and boost lamb growth rates. Why spend hours a day bottle-feeding when already dog tired from lambing? The Ewe 2 range of warm milk feeders from Volac teat feeds up to 25 lambs ad lib. Lambs that drink little and often to give naturally better DLWG.
 
Don’t skimp! Stock up with the equipment and supplies you’ll need. Once lambing starts you won’t want to leave the yard. Order well in advance materials such as disinfectant for pens, iodine for navels, castration rings, feeding tubes, marker sprays, sterilisation equipment, Volac milk and colostrum replacers. 
 
Remind yourself of those essential disease management interventions pre and post lambing. For example, boosting ewe clostridial disease and pasteurellosis cover 4-6 week pre-lambing. Separate and treat lame sheep well before housing. Check protocols for dealing with any abortion problems, scours or joint ill. 
 
Thoroughly clean and disinfected sheds at least a fortnight before ewes come in to lamb. Use plenty of clean, dry bedding to reduce the risk of spreading lameness and other infections such as watery mouth, joint ill and coccidiosis. Good lighting makes it so much easier to check stock without disturbing them too much. Avoid overcrowding. A typical 70kg ewe needs 1.2m2 to 1.4m2 of floor space and 45cm of trough space.
“Even those of us lambing sheep a lifetime can still learn from what went right or wrong previous years and plan now to do better,” Alistair Sampson, Volac NI.
 
 At lambing an extra pair of hands is invaluable. Have you got enough help 24/7? Ag or vet students can be ideal temp staff though vary in their experience and knowledge. But above all they should bring energy, enthusiasm and initiative to the job. Just add your clear instructions on what needs done
 
Set targets for reducing lamb losses 
 
Good records benchmark performance and help identify potential problem areas. Recording doesn’t have to be complicated – just do it! The aim is less than 15% lamb losses, but top flocks are achieving closer to 10%. 

Targets for reducing lamb losses:
 
Less than 5% from scanning to lambing
Less than 5% during lambing and the first week of life
Less than 2% from the first week until weaning
Less than 2% from weaning until sold.
 
 Ask your vet for advice if:

Ewe losses are more than 3%
Lamb losses are more than 15%
More than 2% of your ewes are barren at scanning.
 
For further information contact Alistair Sampson, Volac NI, tel; 07860 626442.
 
 
£18,500 PINK BALE BOOST
Monday, 10 October 2016 09:59
A charitable campaign that has seen farms nationwide displaying bright pink silage bales in aid of breast cancer research has been hailed a huge success.
 
Organised by dairy nutrition company Volac, the campaign has raised over £18,500 for the ‘Breast Cancer Now’ charity from sales of a specially-produced pink film to wrap big bale silage.
Volac pink film on silage bales raised £18,500 for breast cancer research in 2016!
 
Jackie Bradley, from Volac, said: "This amazing £18,500 far exceeds the £10,000 raised in our similar campaign last year.
 
"The response has been nothing short of amazing with eye catching bright pink bales in fields up and down the country. A testimony to the generosity of farming folk and a very visible reminder that visiting your GP with any concerns or attending for free NHS scans is vital.
 
She added: "The campaign has enjoyed huge support from journalists and many farmers have done really creative things with pink bales to make them stand out even more!
"The aim was to help raise awareness of the disease – while all the time raising money for a charity that helps fund breast cancer research at over 30 centres across the British Isles."
 
Money was donated to the campaign from each roll of pink Topwrap film farmers purchased – with contributions coming from Volac, as well as Trioplast, the film's manufacturer, and from the merchant supplying the roll.
 
Special bright pink stickers were also available for farmers making more traditionally-coloured green or black bales, who also wanted to donate and demonstrate their support.
 
For further details of more than 100 research projects at 30 centres browse www.breastcancernow.org
 
 Two of these research projects supported by Breast Cancer Now are led by Dr Niamh Buckley at QUB. 

 
Dairy Farmers wanted
Thursday, 28 July 2016 16:38
Dairy Farmers wanted to participate in an exciting international project

AgriSearch (The Northern Ireland Agricultural Research and Development Council) is looking to recruit a small number of innovative dairy farmers as “pilot farms” for an exciting new European project.
EuroDairy is a network being initiated to increase the economic, social and environmental sustainability of dairy farming in Europe, at a time of unprecedented challenge for the sector.

Funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme, EuroDairy will foster the development and dissemination of practice-based innovations in dairy farming, targeting key sustainability issues following the abolition of milk quotas: socio economic resilience, resource efficiency, animal care, and the integration of milk production with biodiversity objectives.  

EuroDairy spans 14 countries, from Ireland to Poland, and from Sweden to Italy, encompassing 40% of dairy farmers, 45% of cows and 60% of European milk output.

EuroDairy will establish a network of 120 innovating dairy farmers (pilot farms) across Europe to demonstrate best practice, and push boundaries in the application of new knowledge.

AgriSearch is seeking to recruit a small number of Northern Ireland dairy farmers to participate in this European network. Pilot farms should be implementing innovations in one or more of the following areas:
Resource efficiency
Animal care
Biodiversity
Socio-economic resilience

Pilot farmers should have:
Good physical and financial performance
Good communication skills
Good record keeping
Be willing to host farm visits from both local and international farmers
Be willing to participate in local meetings (including operational groups)
Be willing to go on an exchange to visit other farmers in Europe

Pilot farmers will be financially benchmarked for two years using the European Dairy Farmers financial comparison system.  For this reason, we would particularly welcome applications from farmers who are already participating in the EDF financial comparison programme.

Farmers will also be required to submit additional information (which will depend on the type of innovations they are implementing on their farms).

AgriSearch will be seeking to form farmer-driven ‘Operational Groups’ to target specific problems or opportunities for the dairy sector. The EuroDairy network will link these groups cross-border, so that innovations identified in one country or region, can be shared with another. Pilot farmers should be willing to participate in such operational groups.
Farmers who are interested in applying to become a pilot farmer should download an information pack and application form from the AgriSearch website www.agrisearch.org or request one by contacting Jason Rankin on 028 92681613 or email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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