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Stackyard News Jan 2012

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Livestock Businesses Benefit from 3m of Grants

Almost 1,000 farms in the North West of England have already benefited from more than £3 million of Performance Grants available under the NW Livestock Programme.

Ed Friend organised a nutrient management plan and a resource efficiency audit through the NW Livestock Programme.

Ed Friend

Now producers in the region can apply for funding from a new £20m national grant scheme which aims to help businesses to become more profitable, while reducing the impact of farming on the environment.

Farmers, foresters and horticultural businesses can apply to the new scheme under the Rural Development Programme for England for grants covering a maximum of half of the total cost of projects in uplands areas and at most 40% of the total cost of projects in non uplands areas.

The Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme will offer grants of between £2,500 and £25,000. In the North West the FFIS replaces the performance grants that were previously available.

This nationally consistent small grant scheme replaces some of the regional variations which the RDAs have been delivering.

While the Performance Grants have been discontinued due to the new FFIS grants, the support available under the NW Livestock Programme still comprises one to one technical plans with trained advisers and vets, knowledge transfer and network opportunities via the website, the demonstrations, groups and the monitor farms.

Access to the FFIS grant support for farmers in the North West (Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire) will be through the current RDPE North West Livestock Programme’s subsidised technical plans to help applicants meet the requirements for a successful application.

The first round of applications to the new FFIS closes on January 17 with applicants likely to receive a decision by the end of March. The next application window is yet to be announced. Grants can be paid out until December 2013.

Applicants will be assessed on their ability to meet one or more of six objectives:

  • save energy and reduce carbon emissions;
  • reduce dependence on artificial fertilizers through better use of manures
  • improve soil quality
  • improve animal health and welfare
  • save and recycle water
  • promote woodland management by processing timber more efficiently

A handbook which can be downloaded from Defra’s website has been designed to help applicants get the most from FFIS. It gives examples of eligible grant items for nutrient management, resource efficiency and animal health and welfare for beef, sheep, dairy pig and poultry farms. A leaflet highlights the key points of the scheme.

The NW Livestock Programme grants which, two years into the four years originally planned, are being replaced by FFIS grants, have been formally offered to the value of £5.3m in total, of which just over £3m has been claimed.

This grant funding has helped around 900 farms, of which around 70% are animal health and welfare projects, the rest being nutrient management or energy/water saving projects.

Of the funding offered so far, 47% has gone to Cumbria, 30% to Lancashire and 21% to Cheshire and Warrington, and the rest to Manchester/Merseyside. This is very much in line with the numbers of livestock farm holdings in each area.

AHW projects have included  back-flush systems, heat detection, comfort mattresses and cubicles, rubber flooring, specialist mobile or static handling systems (including EID) for sheep and cattle, specialist calf feeders, ventilation improvements.

NM projects include roofing middens, covering silage pits, slurry aerators, and slurry separators.

RE projects include heat recovery systems, plate coolers, rainwater recycling systems and renewable water heating systems.

The NW Livestock Programme has six key areas - animal health and welfare planning which is provided by SAC, nutrient and manure management planning as well as resource efficiency auditing, the latter both provided by Promar International. If the recommendations include capital investment, producers may be eligible to apply for grant aid.

It has offered Performance Grants once plans or audits have been conducted. Knowledge transfer has also been part of the package through farmer groups, demonstration events, monitor farms and the Livestock NW website.

For £150 plus vat farmers can take advantage of a grant-aided Nutrient and Manure Management Plan that could help reduce fertiliser bills by 20 to 30%.

The resource efficiency report looks at ways of reducing electricity on farm and better use of water for the same cost per plan.

Animal Health and Welfare Planning involves an assessment of health issues on farm and identification of the key problems. After discussion with the farm’s vet and livestock adviser, a programme of actions is agreed, developed and documented in a health plan.

Sampling can be carried out, including blood or milk screening, faecal testing or analysis of forage or soil samples to the total value of £250 per farm.
The cost is £160 plus VAT for the AHW plan.


Case studies

Programme helps piglet mortality

David Goodier

David Goodier
While Lancashire producer David Goodier had already decided to invest in a new farrowing house, through the animal health and welfare project he was able to build a unit meeting the latest welfare standards for the 3,000 pig rearing business he runs in partnership with his father near Kirkham.

“We knew that pre-weaning mortality was an issue for us, so we made the decision to build a new farrowing house, but as is often the case, the level of investment required was prohibiting us from making the most of the latest technology that was available,” said David.

Technical advisor, Ian Cairns of SAC, while conducting the health planning assessment with David, identified three key health planning priorities – to reduce the pre-weaning piglet mortality rate, improve sow fertility and breeding performance, and to monitor and improve the growth rate of growing pigs.

Through funding from the programme David made some key changes. “We were able to invest in new technology including an air sourced heat pump system that manages the air flow in the farrowing house and under floor heating mats in the piglet lying areas,” said David.

The new building’s specialist high welfare features includes wider farrowing crates and sow lying areas that are an inch higher than the piglet floor area and are made of cast iron slats. This makes milk more accessible to the piglets and keeps the sows comfortable and cool. Piglets lie on plastic slats which are again, more comfortable and hygienic.


Health plan pinpoints cow and calf management

John Waller
John Waller
John Waller’s mixed herd of 110 black and whites and Jerseys at Killington in Cumbria were achieving yields of around 9,000 litres per cow but he was struggling with fertility and disease issues around calving.

John, who farms around 400 acres in partnership with his father, Robert, runs 400 sheep and 100 beef cattle as well as the dairy herd, said: “Our vet picked up on our fertility problems and had identified calving index and cow health were issues. But we were struggling to make much headway – our calving index was stuck above 460.”

When SAC technical adviser, David Baxter, visited Hallbeck to conduct a health plan assessment they identified two key issues – that dry cows had too much condition and that heat detection needed to be improved. “We were getting high levels of metabolic disorders in early lactation,” said John.

Attention was also drawn to calf rearing. Daily liveweight gain was also lower than it could have been, meaning that heifers were joining the herd at a later stage.

John applied for a performance grant to help towards installing a heat detection system and an automated calf feeder.

“Since we changed our dry cow management we have had far fewer metabolic problems and cows are calving more easily. The heat detection system has helped. Calves are also looking better,” said John.


New slurry management cuts inputs

Richard Close

Richard Close
Slurry storage capacity was an issue for Richard Close on his 400 acre Cotestones Farm near Carnforth in Lancashire where he runs the 160 cow Sparrowgill herd of pedigree Holsteins in partnership with his parents.

Cows are housed in cubicles bedded with wood shavings, something that further complicates slurry disposal.

“Because we don’t have enough slurry storage we are forced to spread during the winter. We tried using umbilical spreading to reduce compaction but, because of the bedding we use and the fact that we feed a lot of maize, our slurry was too thick and sticky to pump properly,” Richard explained. “And so we were left taking tankers out in all weathers just to keep the store emptied.”

James Webster from Promar International assessed the slurry facilities and confirmed that the slurry had a high dry matter and higher than average nutrient values.

A number of soil samples were also taken and by combining these with the slurry analysis a full nutrient management plan was created for the farm, detailing where and when slurry should be spread in order to make the most of the nutrient value within it.

James also recommended a slurry separator which James received a performance grant towards.

“The separator runs on off peak electricity so it is cheap to run. The liquid can now be spread using an umbilical system. Through more tailored fertiliser application I reckon we have saved £4,000 in a year,” said Alan’s father, Richard.


Energy advice saves cash

When Ed Friend and his wife Penny, both qualified vets, returned home to the 200 acre farm near Bridgemere in Cheshire they revolutionised the business.

Expanding the farm to 500 acres and the dairy herd to 300 cows, they built a new parlour and dairy on a greenfield site and adopted a low cost system.

Ed organised a nutrient management plan and a resource efficiency audit through the NW Livestock Programme.

“The advice was really useful,” he said. “The nutrient management plan has helped us to manage our grazing systems in a way that maximises the benefit of muck and slurry and the resource efficiency audit gave us ideas that we wouldn’t have otherwise considered.”

As a result of the advice, Ed decided to install a heat recovery unit (HRU) as well as a second hand DX bulk tank. He also put in a plate cooler to pre-cool the milk before it hits the tank.

The HRU was predicted to save almost £500 per year, with the plate cooler saving more than £600 and the switch to a DX tank saving around £300.

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