Health and welfare must be viewed as one, says US dairy expert

There must be a move away from thinking of farm animal ‘health’ and ‘welfare’ as separate issues, for the benefit of both animals and productivity, according to renowned US dairy welfare expert Dr Jim Reynolds.

Speaking at a dairy research collaboration event hosted by Agri-EPI Centre, CIEL and VetPartners, Prof Reynolds said high welfare, achieved by being compassionate to the mental and physical condition of animals, must be regarded by all in the farming industry as being at the forefront of animal health.

Dr. Reynolds said: “If we are going to use animals for purposes, we must provide them with good lives. This involves considering if the animal has positive emotions – is happy – or if the animal is anxious, afraid or in pain. The science of animal welfare has progressed from focusing on reducing bad things that happen to animals to including what is necessary for an animal to have a good life.

“Providing animals with ‘good’ things such as clean, dry, and comfortable housing, also reduces the ‘bad’ things, such as disease and decreased production. We therefore need to bring the approach to animal ‘health’ and ‘welfare’ back together and build this into the cost of production.”

Dr Reynolds, a professor of large animal production at California’s Western University, is currently on a three-week tour of the UK, where he is speaking at various meetings and events.

He attended the collaboration meeting at Agri-EPI’s Centre’s South West Dairy Development Centre in Somerset, which was attended by 13 organisations and companies involved in dairy welfare.

Professor Reynolds stressed the importance of collaboration across research and industry to address welfare issues, a message which chimed with the participating researchers, vets and farmers.

Agri-EPI and CIEL have invested in new and complementary capabilities that are now available for the dairy sector to use in finding transformative solutions for this important sector.

Matt Dobbs,  Managing Director of Westpoint Veterinary Group and close partner of Agri-EPI Centre said: “I was pleased with Agri-EPI hosting leading dairy researchers from across the UK at the new state of the art Dairy Development Centre in Somerset. With a keynote speaker passionate about animal welfare and the backdrop of the new welfare focused Dairy Centre to stimulate discussion, we were delighted that the group committed to continue collaborating to further enhance the UK’s leading reputation for farm animal welfare. Key to the future will be the application of technology and the group agreed to focus on early detection of farm health and welfare issues.”

The meeting delegates were from:

  • Agri-EPI Centre
  • Farm Vets South West
  • CIEL
  • Kingshay
  • Bristol Vet School
  • Vet Partners
  • Innovate UK
  • Duchy College
  • West Point Vets
  • Aberystwyth University
  • Queen’s University, Belfast
  • Steanbow Farms
  • University of Nottingham

Another ground-breaking project for East Lothian Satellite Farmer

Agri-EPI Satellite Farm Network Logo

A beef producer working with Agri-EPI as one of its ‘satellite farmers’ is involved in an innovative scheme with Mark & Spencer which uses technology perhaps more commonly associated with crime scenes than supermarkets. Scottish beef farmer Niall Jeffrey, of Bielgrange Farm in East Lothian, is taking part in the M&S scheme using DNA samples to allow meat products on the shelves to be traced back to the exact animal they are from.

The technology has the potential to give the consumer greater confidence about the source of their meat, to further boost the reputation of Scotland’s red meat around the world and even to make beef farming more efficient.

Niall was recently featured on BBC Scotland’s Landward programme explaining the scheme.

Marks & Spencer is building on the compulsory tagging system which has been in place since 2000 and provides each animal with its own passport.

Under the new scheme, each animal’s passport is scanned at the abattoir and the ear tag number recorded. The carcass is then swabbed, and a DNA sample taken. This means that a packet of meat can be tested, providing information about any meat that contributed to it, down to the farm and the exact animal it came from.

Steve McLean, the Head of Agriculture and Fisheries at Marks and Spencer, said: “DNA is unique genetic fingerprint. It’s closely associated with a crime scene, it works in the same way, we are able to trace the product regardless of how complex a final retail product that we are making is and we can work it back the way. So it gives us the genetic fingerprint of all the animals that make up that final retail product.”

“Through the work that we are doing we are able to identify lines that are more efficient, that give better eating quality. For me when we take that information and we build it back into breeding programs we will make our Scottish farming base all the more efficient and that’s got to be good for the industry.”

Logo BBCAgri-EPI’s Farms & Commercial Manager Gavin Dick said: “While Agri-EPI isn’t directly involved in this project, it demonstrates that, like all of our satellite farmers, Niall is an innovator who is open to trying new things to improve the productivity of his business and the quality of his products. Farmers like Niall are leading the way in transforming food production.”

Read more about this project on the BBC website.

First China SmartFarm crop to be harvested

The exciting collaboration between the UK and China around Agri-Tech innovation will reach a milestone today, June 10, when the first crop to be grown as part of the SmartFarm Project will be harvested.

The aim of Innovate UK’s SmartFarm concept is to develop a holistic approach to the food supply chain for a more efficient and sustainable approach to farming and food production. Beginning with the Agri-EPI-led pilot ‘SmartFarm 1.0’ in China, the plan is to create a transferable model for utilising a range of technology to gather data on inputs and outputs, in order to measure and reduce variation and increase productivity at all levels of the supply chain.

Agri-EPI Centre has been working closely with a variety of Chinese and UK partners to deliver SmartFarm 1.0.

In China, the primary partners are NERCITA, the National Engineering Research Centre for Information Technology in Agriculture – host of the main elements of the SmartFarm 1.0 – and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technologies China Rural Technology Development Centre (CRTDC) which oversees the Chinese delivery partners.

 In the UK, the project is funded by Innovate UK. Partner companies SoilEssentials and RDS Technologies have contributed technology and expertise to the project. As well as academic partners from Strathclyde University and James Hutton Institute. Their involvement has helped to create a platform for UK Agri-tech companies to become involved in Chinese markets.

The initial focus of SmartFarm 1.0 has been technology associated with arable crops to create a better understanding of productivity from the land resource. Agri-EPI’s Chief Technical Officer Dr Shamal Mohammed and Project Manager Freddie Reed, along with colleagues from RDS, will be in China to see the winter wheat crop harvested, yield mapped, and other datasets are collected at the NERCITA Field Station Xaiotangshan on June 10.

 They are looking forward to discussing the project with NERCITA colleagues and representatives from the Chinese government during a formal reception.

 Dr Shamal Mohammed said:

“Our collective aim has been to develop a smart farming concept using various layer of data layers with a holistic approach to understand current levels of productivity and provide the insight to deliver improvements in term of food production and environmental sustainability. We are very grateful to our Chinese partners for their collaboration and we are looking forward to build a long-term partnership to advance Agri-Tech sector in both countries. We are also grateful for funding and support from Innovate UK.”

 Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Innovation Lead for the Agri-Tech Centres said:

I am pleased that this collaboration between the UK and China is under way as part of the UK China Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy Agri-Tech Flagship Challenge. It is the output of a bold vision inspired by an MoU signed between CRTDC and Innovate UK in November 2016 and has taken of a lot of hard work with colleagues from CRTDC and NERCITA and the UK’s Agri-EPI Centre to deliver. I am sure it will help to deliver positive benefits to the Chinese people as we work together to solve some of the worldwide major challenges facing agriculture.” 

Like the UK, China has a strong focus on increasing agricultural efficiency, productivity and environmental standards. Its 13th 5-year plan on Science and Innovation, adopted in 2016, positions Agri-Tech at the heart of the programme, with a significant £1.5 billion of government investment in this area between 2016 and 2021.

Following on from this, Innovate UK and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technologies China Rural Technology Development Centre (CRTDC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2016, in which both parties agreed to explore mutual collaboration.

SmartFarm is a key component of the Agri-Tech Flagship challenge, one of the major deliverables under the UK-China Science Technology and Innovation Strategy signed last December in London.

PartnersPartners SmartFarm 1.0SoilEssentials, NERCITA, James Hutton Institute, University of Strathclyde, RDS Technology, CRTDC and Innovate UK (funder).