Welcome to the latest issue of the RH&W newsletter.

It’s been another busy month for the livestock sector and RH&W with multiple working groups making great strides forward with the Sheep welfare strategy – a document developed by industry for industry. It’s a great privilege to have so many highly knowledgeable and engaged individuals supporting this work as we plan to launch the second welfare strategy later this year for the ruminant sector.

I was kindly invited to speak earlier this month at the Royal Welsh show as part of a seminar for NFU Cymru on the future priorities for animal health and welfare. This allowed a great opportunity to widen RH&W awareness at a grassroots level in Wales and there were great discussions around the need for more partners and collaborative working which is something we are proud to support with our steering group and working groups.

With best wishes,

Gwyn Jones, Interim Chair

Former chairman reflects on RH&W’s progress

Nigel Miller, the inaugural chairman of Ruminant Health & Welfare who stepped down from the role earlier this year, has reflected on his time at the helm of the group in a column for Farmers Weekly.

In his column, Mr Miller lists some of the group’s achievements to date. These include:

“RH&W has accepted the challenge of continuing the work and building on the success of the Sheep Health and Welfare Group (SHAWG) and Cattle Health and Welfare Group (CHAWG),” said Mr Miller.

“The progress we have made is very much due to the expertise and commitment of the steering group and our professional team – I have enjoyed being part of the group and its journey.”

Read the full reflection piece here.

New rules for non-assured livestock farmers

Non-assured UK livestock farmers are being reminded of new rules that come into force on 13 December 2023.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has issued a reminder to non-assured producers that from this date they will need to provide a declaration signed by a vet following an annual farm visit, in order for their products to be eligible for export to the EU.

Previously, a farmer declaration was required, however the new rules stipulate that farmers must undergo regular animal health checks conducted by qualified vets to obtain this declaration.

AHDB international trade development director, Dr Phil Hadley, said it was important farmers were aware of the new rules because the UK ships approximately 72% of all its meat exports to the EU.

“It is particularly significant for the sheep meat sector, with 94% of sheep meat exports destined for the EU with a value of £475m in 2022,” added Dr Hadley.

“In addition, £347m worth of beef meat was exported from the UK to the EU in 2022.”


Reduced carcase weights

The number of lambs slaughtered at UK abattoirs was up 4% in the first half of 2023, according to figures from Defra.

Glesni Phillips, from Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), said UK abattoirs processed more than 5.9 million lambs in the first six months of the year.

“This is up 4%, or 251,400 head, on 2022 levels, and 6% ahead of the longer-term five-year average,” added Ms Phillips.

She said cull ewe and ram throughput was also noticeably higher between January and June – up 4% to 823,000, however average carcase weights were lighter and down by 1.9kg on the year to 26.4kg.

It was a similar picture for lambs and overall, the average sheep carcase weight for the six-month-period was down 0.5kg to 20.1kg, while the total throughput of sheep and lambs was 6.8m.

“When compared to previous years, current levels are high and some 6% ahead of the five-year average,” said Ms Phillips.

“However, due to the lighter carcase weights for both categories of sheep, the total volume of sheep meat produced in this period is only 1% higher than year-earlier levels at 141,400 tonnes.”

She said prime cattle throughput was also up in the first half of 2023 to one million, however average cattle weights were down 4.3kg to 344.8kg.

Read more in HCC’s July market bulletin here.


New grant funding for English livestock farmers

Defra has announced more than £29m of funding to help English livestock farmers improve animal health and welfare.

The funding includes £10m for cattle farmers to help them replace aging cattle buildings with state-of-the-art facilities, and more than £19m to help farmers buy livestock equipment to boost on-farm animal welfare.

The cattle shed funding, which will be delivered through the Animal Health and Welfare Infrastructure Grant, will offer support ranging from £15,000 to £500,000.

This will prioritise new and upgraded calf housing, including giving farmers access to funding for roof-top solar panels on calf housing buildings.

Meanwhile, the £19m equipment funding has been allocated to more than 3,000 cattle, sheep, pig and poultry farmers who successfully applied to the first round of the Animal Health and Welfare Equipment and Technology Grant.

The scheme provides grants of between £1,000 and £25,0000 to help farms purchase items ranging from livestock handling equipment to reduce lameness in sheep or cattle, or sealed water tanks to reduce disease transmission in pigs.

Announcing the funding, UK Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “Our animal health and welfare grants are helping farmers improve conditions for their livestock.

“Not only is that good for the animals, it’s also a way to improve productivity and help them to be more profitable.”

Read more here


Anthelmintic resistance study

Anthelmintic resistance study

A Welsh farmer has been awarded funding to travel to Australia to learn about anthelmintic resistance on sheep farms.

Tudor Roderick, from Brecon, is one of two farmers to be awarded a scholarship from Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) at this year’s Royal Welsh Show.

A recent agriculture graduate from Aberystwyth University, Mr Roderick will travel to Australia to learn about the country’s sheep enterprises approach anthelmintic resistance and extreme weather scenarios.

“The HCC Scholarship will allow me to seek new ideas and bring knowledge back to the Welsh sheep industry,” said Mr Roderick.

“I’m particularly interested in their practice of breeding replacements with higher resilience to perform with a worm burden; I believe this is a practice which is highly replicable in Wales and could lead to reduced reliance and resistance to anthelmintics.”

The other scholarship recipient is Dan Jones, a National Trust tenant farmer on the Great Orme, who plans to study farming practices in the USA and the UK to understand the latest techniques and advances in conservation grazing and upland farming.


Project to breed low methane sheep

Sheep industry leaders have been awarded £2.9m from Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme to work on a project to breed low methane-producing sheep.

The three-year project – Breed for CH4nge – Breeding Low Methane Sheep – is led by sheep genetics company Innovis in partnership with industry and academic bodies including the National Sheep Association, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL).

It will involve measuring methane emissions from 13,500 sheep from 45 flocks with a view to collecting the necessary data to build and develop the tools required to genetically reduce methane emissions from sheep and improve the efficiency of the national flock.

New innovative tools and technologies, including Portable Accumulation Chambers (PAC), will be used to predict methane emissions from grazing sheep, while measurements such as rumen size and microbiota will be taken to ensure reductions in emissions positively contribute to sustainable genetic improvement of ewe productivity on UK grass and forage.

NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker, said: “We have to move faster in terms of farming being a solution to climate change, and play our part in the UK’s 30% methane reduction by 2030 targets agreed during COP26.

“Through this work, the consortium will identify ways to reduce our emissions but also ensure we do this in a way that maintains the wide range of sustainability traits inherent in many of our flocks.”

Could daffodils hold the key to lower methane cows?

A new research project has been launched to investigate the potential of using a chemical derived from daffodils to reduce methane emissions from cattle.

The project, which has been awarded £2.8m from Defra, is led by scientists at Scotland’s Rural College in collaboration with industry partners including Innovate UK, the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), Wynnstay, and Grampian Growers.

As part of The Dancing with Daffodils project, SRUC scientists have successfully extracted a chemical called haemanthamine from daffodils.

They have then used an artificial cow’s stomach in a laboratory to show how it could reduce methane emissions in cattle by 30% when added to feed.

CIEL business development manager, Annie Williams, said: “The project will focus on the development of an innovative feed additive to reduce methane emissions and enhance protein utilisation in ruminants; the cultivation of a new cash crop, daffodils, for farm diversification purposes; and the creation of a precision on-farm gas analyser to monitor methane emissions.”

Professor Jamie Newbold from SRUC said the college will be involved in the evaluation of the new additive and responsible for assessing the dosage with the greatest potential to reduce methane emissions, while also improving feed digestion efficiency.


Welfare strategies update

The UK Dairy Cattle Welfare Strategy for 2023-2028 has been well accepted by industry and researchers.

The strategy, which aims to help the industry show progress in welfare over the next five years, focuses on six key areas:

  • Thriving cows – ensuring all dairy animals are bred, reared and cared for to thrive in all systems
  • Healthy feet – ensuring a proactive lameness management plan is in place on every UK dairy farm
  • Comfortable cows – maximising cow comfort in housing and at pasture
  • Appropriately nourished cows – ensuring a healthy body condition throughout the year
  • Healthy udders – continued improvements to udder health to reduce cases of mastitis
  • Positive welfare – moving towards ‘positive welfare’ by providing an environment that allows animals to exhibit normal behaviours such as curiosity or play

Work is now underway on a similar strategy for the sheep sector in conjunction with industry partners including the National Sheep Association, NFU, and Sheep Veterinary Society.

The strategy will be launched later this year so watch this space!