“It’s no good burying our heads in the sand” – ambassador farmer Fraser Jones reflects on his experience at this year’s conference.
I’ve just got back from the British Cattle Breeders Conference which provided a great opportunity to look beyond the farm gate.
Speakers ranged from a grass-roots Yorkshire farmer achieving exceptional results which we all could learn from, to a professor of philosophy discussing the ethics of gene editing and a scientist who deals with the nuts and bolts of the process in his day job.
It was a great experience all round and well worth the time away from the farm. It was good to hear of the new genetic indexes being introduced by AHDB Dairy, especially the new lameness index which can surely help us breed healthier cows. But this has to go hand in hand with good management to ensure we keep welfare standards really high.
Roger Hildreth was the Yorkshire dairy farmer speaker who certainly made me think. We reckon our figures for calf survival at Calcourt Farms are pretty good, but there’s no room for us to be complacent. Roger’s are off the scale! His calf losses of just one per cent between 24 hours and calving as a heifer certainly give us a new target. He’s also one of many speakers who addressed genomic testing of heifers and this is another area we need to consider.
There’s some convincing evidence it pays for itself by really speeding up genetic improvement, but I need to look in more detail at how it could benefit our farm. We’ll have 1,500 head milking by summer 2018 so every decision has to be really closely analysed when taken at this scale. Gene editing itself may be further down the road but it was highlighted as a discussion the industry should be having. It’s no good burying our heads in the sand – we need to consider the pros and cons and take a position as an industry based on the best facts we have.
The prospect of actually editing TB-resistant genes into our livestock is definitely one of the pros, and could potentially appeal to every side in the TB argument, where passions can run so high. If we as farmers can help shape the regulations then they will hopefully work in the interests of safe and healthy food production. But for now it’s back to the business of farming, and getting our new dairy unit finalised and ready for the cows.