Neil Davies

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Maximising profit from forage is an integral part of the system at Cefnllan Farm, and it has been the driving force behind the business’ change in direction.

Since taking over the farm at a young age, Neil Davies has made many changes to the original farm business, all with the aim of maximising forage utilisation and increasing output per hectare.

The farm was previously home to a traditional suckler herd, comprising 60 British Blue cross Limousin cows plus followers. Calving was in spring and store cattle were sold at the local livestock market. But, with the drive to run a low-cost system from grass and produce more kilogrammes of beef per hectare of grassland, Neil made the decision to transition to a dairy beef system.

About 150 Aberdeen Angus cross dairy cattle are finished each year on the farm’s 105 hectares (259.5 acres) of grassland, with a further 93ha (229.8 acres) of rented land. The calves arrive weaned in the spring and are taken through to finishing at 20 to 22 months old.

The transition to a dairy beef system is grounded by an emphasis on rotational grazing for maximum grass utilisation, which has resulted in pasture quality and yield improvements. Neil says that following the increase in
fertiliser prices, the aim was to increase output from on-farm resources.

As part of this, Neil has also taken on a five-year reseeding programme, with 20ha (49.4 acres) reseeded annually.

He says: “These new leys are very productive in the spring when the business needs to make the most out of the grass.”

The farm’s grass growth data is monitored to ensure the cattle are getting the most from the grazing platform, with the use of plate meters and supporting software.

Cattle growth rates are analysed throughout the grazing season to assess daily liveweight gains and aid decision-making. A flock of 2,400 Epynt Hardy Speckled sheep are also run alongside the beef system, with grazing rights on the Epynt Mountain.

As well as farming full-time, Neil is actively involved in many of the industry’s discussion groups, as well as being a member of the NFU’s next generation group, an Agri Academy 2019 business and innovation member, and a Farming Connect sheep and beef demonstration farmer.

Helen Parr and Daniel Fabb

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Helen and Daniel Parr are first generation farmers, running a herd of 170 pedigree polled Hereford suckler cows across 158 hectares (390.4 acres) of grassland on the Fens. The couple also run a hay and straw contracting
business which Daniel manages, with Helen taking the lead on the beef enterprise.

Without the opportunity of a family farm, both Helen and Daniel have undoubtedly worked hard to achieve what  they have today, applying a real can-do attitude throughout their journey. As a herdsman’s daughter, Helen previously worked on a dairy farm before turning her hand to beef in 2012.

“We began bottle feeding calves and then I got into Herefords, and we decided to go down the pedigree beef route,” she says.

While the beef enterprise is a suckler herd first and foremost, genetics has become a significant part of the business, with the Fabb herd supplying pedigree polled Hereford genetics around the world. Helen’s focus on producing high-quality maternal animals has resulted in them producing breeding stock for artificial insemination (AI) for both beef and dairy customers, as well as selling stock bulls, breeding females and semen worldwide.

The herd is of an elite herd health status, with animal welfare and health a key priority, as well as a prominent focus on Estimated Breeding Values.

The closed herd follows a tight calving pattern, largely served via AI, as well as running an intensive embryo programme, which has enabled them to further improve the herd using genetics from different areas in the world, including Canada and Denmark.

The herd is fed a forage-based diet and grazed on a nature reserve throughout the year, consisting of grass and herbal leys, with bulls finished on Lucerne. Helen says they have changed the way the herd has grazed over the years using different leys, while focusing on improving soil structure.

She says this has resulted in improved performance and eliminated the need for concentrate feed and fertiliser. The couple have also planted 5,000 metres of hedgerows, created woodland areas and established wildflower meadows to improve diversity and provide shade for the herd. Renewable energy from solar panels and wind turbines is used to run electricity on-farm.

Educating the next generation is another key focus of Helen’s, and she has plans for the farm to hold visits fromllocal schools to teach the children about beef production and the local wildlife.

Greg and Rowan Pickstock

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Producing carbon neutral beef by 2030 using only commercial and affordable methods is the current aim of father and son duo, Greg and Rowan Pickstock.

The newly built Brogain Farm is home to a semi-extensive beef finishing system, where dairy beef calves are reared from two to four weeks of age, through to finishing between 18 and 22 months. The cattle are then  processed at the family’s processing site in Telford.

Since building the farm in 2019, both Greg and Rowan have strived to achieve the shared goal of net zero beef production. Among many changes made to try and achieve this, genetics has been a key focus, including the use of composite bull semen on supplying dairy farms to source dairy cross Aberdeen-Angus calves of a higher genetic merit.

So far, a five per cent improvement in growth rates and reduction in finishing times has been achieved.

A mob grazing system has been implemented alongside the reseeding of long-term perennial ryegrass and clover leys. As a result, daily liveweight gains have improved and purchased feed has halved, as have the  associated emissions.

Greg says gaps in hedgerows are also being filled in and trees are being planted on unproductive farmland, such as the corners of fields which are not cut for silage.

He says: “This is all to improve carbon sequestration and biodiversity on the farm, while demonstrating that trees can be planted without impacting productive land.”

A Bokashi fermentation trial is currently taking place on the farmyard manure, with the aim of producing a nutrient-dense fertiliser. Consequently, purchased fertiliser has reduced and is only utilised in targeted areas, with
soil samples taken regularly to monitor soil health, carbon stocks and organic matter content.

Investment in cattle housing has also proved beneficial in terms of profitability and production, including specialised ventilation systems and sloped floors for optimum drainage. Automatic calf feeders have been installed to reduce labour costs and milk powder usage, helping to achieve profit growth.

Both Greg and Rowan believe there will be many opportunities available for UK agriculture over the coming years, and they remain excited about the future of farming.

On Winning Greg and Rowan said

“We were not expecting this at all. We were actually nominated which was special in itself and, as a young family, something we really appreciated as a chance to get recognised. We are proud to work in farming as it has always been in the family and we enjoy it. We have never been to the British Farming Awards and it has been a great night with fantastic food and company.”

What the Judge said

“Clear goal as to what the business / farm wants to achieve and a clear path in how to achieve that. Very impressive what they are doing on farm. Taking an innovative and radical approach to tackling the issues facing the beef industry.”

Paul Coates

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Paul Coates farms alongside his wife, Julie; their two sons, James and Daniel; and his father, at Barrockend Farm, Carlisle, Cumbria. The family run a mixed farming enterprise including beef, sheep and arable, across 202
hectares (499 acres) of arable and grassland, and rent a further 146ha (360.8 acres) of land nearby.

The farm is home to the family’s 40-head pedigree Beef Shorthorn suckler herd, which graze outside all year round. Over the years, improving the genetics of the herd has been a key focus for Paul, with the desire to produce a more efficient cow which is hardy and healthy.

Putting this into practice, replacements are now bred using artificial insemination, allowing Paul to utilise optimal genetics and tighten the herd’s calving pattern with a synchronisation programme.

This reduces days to slaughter and calving index, and also improves the sustainability and efficiency of the herd.

A dairy beef finishing unit is run alongside the suckler enterprise, with 350 dairy cross British Blue cattle housed as part of Morrisons’ elite beef scheme.

Paul says: “The calves arrive on-farm at four months of age and are finished between 16 to 20 months at around 320kg deadweight.”

Since animal health is a key focus of Paul’s, minimising disease risk is paramount. All calves are given a Bovine Rhinotracheitis booster on arrival to reduce antibiotic use, helping to reduce the farm’s carbon footprint due to less days on-farm.

Cattle weight and slaughter data is monitored and analysed every six weeks to ensure optimal productivity and allow for ration adjustments.

“The dairy beef enterprise works well with the rest of the farm, and we are looking to increase numbers to 500 in the near future,” says Paul.

Paul has also been on a journey to improve the farm’s soil health over recent years, which has seen him adopt a minimum tillage system, focus on the relationship between soil pH and nutrient availability, and follow a
more considered approach to muck applications.

On-farm biodiversity has also drastically improved through the planting of wild bird cover and wildflowers, as well as a total of 12,000 metres of hedgerows planted over the last 20 years.