‘Horizon’ dairy beef project continues to build momentum

The Dale Farm: ABP Group ‘Horizon’ dairy beef collaboration was launched in June 2021.
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And 18 months into the project, farmers on the ground are confirming that the vision for the programme is fast becoming a reality.

A case in point is Sam Neely, who farms close to Maghera, Co Londonderry with his father George and sons, Aaron and Matthew.

The family members are quick to confirm that their participation in the Horizon programme has fundamentally changed their approach to farming.

Left to right: Stuart Cromie, ABP; Sam Neely and Andrew Fyffe, United FeedsLeft to right: Stuart Cromie, ABP; Sam Neely and Andrew Fyffe, United Feeds
Left to right: Stuart Cromie, ABP; Sam Neely and Andrew Fyffe, United Feeds

Sam further explained:“Previously we would have bought in stores and brought them through to finishing weights. But, in truth, it was all a bit of a lottery. Market prices kept changing and we had no idea as to what animal health problems we were bringing on to the farm.”

He added:“Horizon has changed all of this for the good. The programme is allowing us to source well reared, dairy-cross weanlings with a known parentage.

“The cattle are coming to us at an agreed price. We also know the final price for the animal at slaughter. Courtesy of both ABP and United Feeds, there is an excellent advisory service available to us.

“So, at the end of the day, it is our management skills that determine the final margin that we actually make. And this is the way it should be.”

Three Generations of the Neely Family with Andrew Fyffe, United Feeds & Stuart Cromie, ABPThree Generations of the Neely Family with Andrew Fyffe, United Feeds & Stuart Cromie, ABP
Three Generations of the Neely Family with Andrew Fyffe, United Feeds & Stuart Cromie, ABP

But more of this anon!

The Horizon programme was conceived by Dale Farm and ABP as a sustainable model for dairy beef production in Northern Ireland. It has the stated aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The partnership aims to provide full traceability from calf-to-carcass. Specifically, it will provide inputs and technical advice – from United Feeds, Genus ABS NI and AI Services (Northern Ireland) Ltd – to support animal welfare and production efficiency.

In essence, the initiative has been designed to make the livestock better at converting feed to protein, so that they can reach their target weight at an earlier stage and therefore reduce their carbon footprint.

Animals participating in the scheme are expected to be marketed at 20-24 months, some four months below the average slaughter age achieved in Northern Ireland.

Calves for the programme are initially sourced from Dale Farm members and brought through to the weanling stage on ABP-coordinated rearing units. Throughout this process, the highest management standards, in tandem with bespoke calf rearing protocols, are adhered to.

Sam Neely again:“The young cattle arrive with us in peak condition. We bring-in groups of around 40 calves at two monthly intervals. Our aim is to provide the highest levels of comfort for the animals on arrival.

“A newly built shed has a slatted rubber floor, which is helping to reduce stress levels for the calves.

“The scope of the building is such that the animals have plenty of fresh air circulating around them at all times.

“All of October and the first half of November was a quite a challenging period for the youngest weanlings, from a respiratory point of view.

“This was a direct consequence of the very humid weather conditions at that time. However, all the cattle got through this period unscathed.”

Sam puts a strong focus on getting as much performance from grazed grass forage. The cattle have access to a paddock grazing system throughout the spring and summer months while Sam commits to making three cuts of very high-quality silage on an annual basis.

The animals are retained in their original groups throughout their stay on the Neely farm and this results in minimal stress for the animals.

Complementing the forages available is a range of bespoke concentrates, formulated and manufactured by United Feeds. These have been developed to ensure that the exact nutritional needs of the cattle are met at their various growth stages.

United Feeds’ nutritionist Andrew Fyffe is familiar with many of the farms in the Horizon programme. He commented:“On arrival the weanlings are placed on a high protein nut, formulated to encourage as much frame development as possible.

“As the animals progress, this ration is made available by way of a coarse blend. But the priority remains that of encouraging the skeletal growth of the animals in the most effective way possible.”

Sam Neely confirmed that all the young stock retained indoors are fed meals at the same time. “By taking this approach, it is much easier to see those animals that are off their feed,” he stressed.

All the cattle on the programme are finished indoors over a 90-day period. In this phase they are fed a TMR comprising grass silage and a bespoke United Feeds blend.

Andrew Fyffe again:“The finishing ration is high in starch, which ensures that the cattle have the required cover at time of slaughter. This is balanced with appropriate levels of fibre and a high quality mineral pack plus Yeasacc yeast which ensures each animal performs optimally at all times.

“We are managing to get Aberdeen-Angus heifers away at 21 months, killing-out at around 300kg,” Sam Neely explained.

“Steers need an extra couple of months. But it’s worth the wait. They are currently killing-out around 330kg.”

Stuart Cromie is the Blade Farming representative for ABP in Northern Ireland. He is a regular visitor to the Neely farm.

Stuart commented:“The work put in by the Neely family has confirmed the scope of the Horizon project and its potential to deliver real value for the beef sector during the period ahead.

“The scope of the programme to develop further is significant. I would be delighted to speak with any farmer wishing to get involved with the project.”

For further information on the Dale Farm: ABP Group ‘Horizon’ dairy beef programme, telephone Stuart Cromie on 07977011841 or your Dale Farm or United Feeds representative.

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