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Farming

Transition milk trial targets calf health at Pembrokeshire dairy farm

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A PEMBROKESHIRE spring-calving dairy farm is introducing a new feeding system for newborn calves in what is to be thought the first trial of its kind in a large-scale herd.

Will and Alex Prichard are feeding enriched pasteurised transition milk to calves in their first 10 days of life rather than abruptly transitioning them to whole milk or milk powder.

Research has shown that feeding transition milk to young calves vastly improves their digestive system’s ability to digest milk, with those benefits sustained to keep them healthy and thriving as they grow.

The Prichard’s, who produces milk from 500 spring calvers, were keen to trial this feeding system in their own herd at Escalwen, Letterston, in the hope of improving calf health and wellbeing.

They are doing this with support from the Farming Connect Try Out Fund, an initiative that funds individuals and groups of farmers and growers to experiment with ideas and bring them to life.

Although the health benefits from enriched pasteurised transition milk have previously been demonstrated in all-year round calving herds in the USA and Canada, it is believed to be the first time it has been trialled in a large-scale block calving herd.

Getting the correct nutrition is crucial in the early stages of a calf’s life.

Even after a few hours the animal loses its ability to absorb antibodies – there is a dramatic reduction within 10 hours of birth and, by 20 hours, that capacity has all but gone.

To establish the effectiveness of the transition milk product, calves born at Escalwen this spring are being blood tested for antibody levels.

The transition milk is also being tested for its immunoglobulin (IgG) status before and after it has been pasteurised.

If it needs enriching this is being done to raise the BRIX value to a minimum of 12.5%. It is then fed to calves during their first 10 days of life.

An optical refractometer is being used to measure milk BRIX as it gives an instant result but by the end of the study all batches of transition milk will have been tested for IgG using Radial Immunodiffusion Assay at the University of Edinburgh.

Vet Dr Ryan Davies, director of Veterinary Technical Consulting Ltd, who is providing expert input into the project, says this will enable the accuracy of milk BRIX to be determined to quantify IgG status.

“We will then assess this against the health status of the calves,’’ he says.

Mortality from neonatal calf diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and navel and joint ill is being monitored and antibiotic use too, as well as daily liveweight gains – at birth, at 30-35 days and at weaning.

The Try Out project hopes to understand more about how dairy farmers with large block calving herds can consistently produce animals that are healthy, productive and have a good quality of life through optimising calf health with preventative healthcare.

More productive animals mean less carbon emissions, higher standards of animal welfare and a reduction in antibiotic usage.

Not only do Will and Alex hope to reap the benefits in their own system but that other farmers will too when the findings are shared with the industry at the end of the project.

“Having the ability to acquire extra resources at the busiest time of our year has allowed us to monitor the results of our actions in a more scientific fashion,’’ says Will.

“Funding large scale testing is telling us so much about what is happening in our own herd environment and most importantly what behaviours and protocols are driving tangible improvements in herd health and antibiotic reduction.”

They had already made big gains in improving calf health before this project got underway.

The five-year average for morbidity in their pre-weaned calves from 2018-2022 was 45%, in line with the national average of 47% – in 2023 it was reduced to 17%.

Use of the Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics was reduced from 1.98mg/ population corrected unit (PCU) in 2022 to zero the following year.

Business

West Wales firm fined £75,000 after man killed by escaped cow

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A WEST WALES company has been fined £75,000 following the death of a 75-year-old man, Huw Evans, who was killed by a cow that had escaped from a livestock market. The incident occurred on November 19, 2022, at Whitland Livestock Market in Carmarthenshire, operated by J.J. Morris Limited.

Father-of-two Mr Evans was crossing the junction at North Road and West Street in Whitland when the cow, which was being auctioned, escaped from the market pen. The animal attacked Mr Evans, knocking him down and trampling him. He suffered multiple injuries and was airlifted to the University Hospital of Wales, where he succumbed to his injuries six days later.

A worker from J.J. Morris Limited was also injured during an unsuccessful attempt to recapture the cow. The cow eventually made its way towards Whitland Rugby Club and a railway line before being subdued and put down by Dyfed-Powys Police.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched an investigation into the incident and found that J.J. Morris Limited had failed to implement essential physical control measures to prevent cattle from escaping. The HSE concluded that the company’s risk assessment was inadequate, referencing control measures that were not in place at the market.

J.J. Morris Limited, based in Haverfordwest, admitted to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £5,047.55 in costs by Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, June 20.

In court, Mr Evans’ son, Dafydd, expressed his grief, saying: “Dad was my best friend, and I miss him terribly. He was taken from us too soon. Losing dad has had a tremendous effect on both myself and my brother. Because of this incident, dad’s grandsons will never fully know him personally, and he will not see them grow up.”

Following the hearing, HSE inspector Rhys Hughes remarked, “This tragic incident was foreseeable and preventable. The risk posed by cattle escaping from the livestock mart should have been identified, and effective control measures implemented. The case highlights the importance of following industry guidance, which is readily accessible and outlines the requirements to safely manage cattle.”

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Business

James Evans MS calls for overhaul of ‘toxic’ Meat Promotion Wales

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A CONSERATIVE MS called for Hybu Cig Cymru to be made fully independent amid concerns about a “toxic bullying culture” within the meat promotion organisation.

James Evans, the shadow rural affairs secretary, warned the farming industry is losing faith in Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), Wales’ meat marketing board.

He said HCC’s chief executive has stood down, two senior executives are leaving and board members are on the verge of resigning.

Mr Evans said: “There have been no board minutes published since 2022, and no up-to-date financial statements or annual reports on their website since 2021.

“This is a very concerning position for HCC to find itself in. The body underpins an industry that’s been valued at more than £1b to Wales.“

The Brecon and Radnorshire MS said a toxic culture of bullying and governance issues within the Welsh Government-owned company are undermining farmers’ confidence.

He said: “A lot of people in the industry, as well, are very concerned about whether the board and the chairman of the board have got the power and the levers that they need to actually turn the organisation around.

“The industry is losing faith.”

During rural affairs questions on June 19, Mr Evans called for a fully independent meat marketing board, run by farmers and processors for farmers and processors.

He told the Senedd: “A lot of farmers I’m speaking to are telling me, ‘Take it away from the Welsh Government, give it back to the industry, give it to the processors, let them directly appoint people onto that board, and, if they don’t perform, they can take them away’.”

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s shadow rural affairs secretary, warned that the situation is “going from bad to worse”, with two directors resigning this week.

The North Wales representative raised concerns about absence levels and staff turnover as he echoed calls for government intervention.

Pressing Huw Irranca-Davies, the Welsh Government’s rural affairs secretary, he warned of the risk of undermining the faith of HCC levy payers and the reputation of Welsh red meat.

He asked: “For how long will you say that this is someone else’s problem?”

Mr Irranca-Davies replied: “We have to leave it to Hybu Cig Cymru to actually work through these issues and do them properly and assiduously. That is HCCs role…

“It is not for me to step in and, in some ways, tell HCC what to do, or intervene in what are sensitive and delicate discussions with both current and former members.”

Mr Irranca-Davies said he has not heard a universal voice from farmers calling for HCC to be made independent of the Welsh Government.

The rural affairs secretary, who is also responsible for climate change, recognised concerns about governance, saying he has met the chair to seek assurances in the past few weeks.

He told the chamber: “In terms of their day-to-day business and their performance, they’re getting on with it. I’ve had those reassurances that performance is not affected….

“But clearly, I’m aware of the internal governance issues and I’m sure they’re focused on resolving them.”

Mr Irranca-Davies, a former MP and Defra minister under Gordon Brown’s UK Government, pointed out that Heather Anstey-Myers was appointed interim chief executive in January.

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Farming

Strict condition expected to be removed from former farmer’s home in Spittal

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A CALL to remove a strict agricultural condition on a Pembrokeshire property, granted in the 1990s for a vegetable nursery which later suffered with the rise of supermarkets, is expected to get the go-ahead.

In an application recommended for approval at Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee meeting of June 25, Mr K Morgan seeks the removal of an agricultural occupancy condition on land at Oakvale, Spittal.

It seeks the removal of a 1993 condition, which reads: “The occupation of the dwelling shall be limited to a person solely or mainly employed, or last employed, in the locality in agriculture (as defined in Section 336(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990), or in forestry or a dependent of such a person residing with him/her, or a widow or widower of such a person”.

Earlier this year, a certificate of Lawfulness was granted at Oakdale; the property having been occupied for over 10 years in breach of the occupancy condition.

An application for a certificate of lawfulness allows an applicant to stay at a development if they can provide proof of occupancy over a prolonged period, normally in excess of four years.

A supporting statement for Mr Morgan’s application says he and his late wife, who had previously run a dairy and arable farm, established a vegetable and plant nursery at Oakvale in 1990, later submitting a successful 1993 application for a dwelling with an agricultural worker condition.

They sold direct from the site and also to local shops, the nursery doing well for a number of years before suffering “with the advent of supermarkets,” ceasing all together in 2010, by which time the property was also serving as a small caravan site, which continues to this day.

Mr Morgan has continued to live at Oakvale whilst managing the caravan site, with his daughter and her family also living on-site to help care for Mr Morgan due to illness.

A report for planners states: “It is possible for the property to be occupied in breach of the condition by any non-qualifying person in perpetuity.  Whilst it is theoretically possible that a future purchaser might comply with the occupancy condition, meaning that the certificate would fall away, the consequences of such an action would result in a loss of upwards of 30 per cent of the value of the property.

“The very low likelihood of this course of action is such that the fall-back position associated with the certificate is a material consideration sufficient to outweigh the conflict with planning policy.”

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