As part of our new #farmsmart feature, each month we will showcase ways in which agricultural innovation can improve farm businesses. Innovation for Agriculture have in no way been sponsored to publish this feature and remain committed to providing independent information to the UK agricultural community.
Oliver Paul is a fifth generation suckler farmer with a family background in agri-business, originally in feeds & malts and now diversifying into the award-winning Suffolk Food Hall. Here, Oliver tells us how important the farm is to the overall business and how they use Herdwatch farm management software to simplify their farm paperwork and make better on-farm decisions.
The main business is the Suffolk Food Hall, which has all you would expect in a large farm shop along with a café, restaurant, garden centre, event facilities, commercial kitchens, pilates studio, two gyms… and more! However, local food is always at the core and their own beef is their champion product.
Oliver told us, “Our family has a long history with Red Polls, the local native cattle breed. Their milk heritage, along with easy calving, good nature, and good conversion of dry and relatively poor grass into slow reared beef, makes the Red Poll a sensible choice for our closed herd system. We keep around 70 head on about 40 hectares of unimproved pasture for the suckler and fat stock herd, with some arable land let on and managed woodland set aside.”
Focused on the end product
“The principle aim is to supply a specialist product for our own butchery, through a low input system from cattle that are grazed on natural grassland to produce tastier, healthier meat and help maintain biodiversity. Ultimately, our customers want a small, slightly fatty, stronger tasting (a little older) meat and that’s what we give them.”
Oliver added: “Over time, management of the suckler operation has become more sophisticated. Performance data has therefore been important to help us make informed decisions, such as how to ‘beef’ up progeny using an Angus terminal sire (chosen as it is also polled) to give crossbreed vigour. As the farm business is marginal; we find that small cows who wean good strong calves with minimal time and other costs (few concentrates, medicines or vets etc) are important.”
Making changes to save time
“In pursuit of an extensive system with reduced direct human contact, we’ve recently upgraded the cattle handling system and built a new barn for easy housing. Moreover, straw for muck and contracted silage etc. have reduced the workload and enabled clear cost definition, along with reduced risks. Whilst this is not always the cheapest solution, it now allows us to spend more time on other parts of the business.”
On getting started with Herdwatch, Oliver said “Previously we used another cattle manager software package which only worked on the PC in the office. It did not have an easy to use app that we could use on our smartphones, when out and about. We did some research online and found the Herdwatch farm management app. Activating the free Herdwatch trial could not have been easier, particularly with the BCMS download, so little data entry was needed and no transposition risks.”
Simplifying farm paperwork
“Herdwatch has made registering calves so much quicker and easier with tracking animal information on mucky bits of paper, now well in the past! Medicines are all recorded easily too, which is very helpful for our farm quality assurance, as well as feed recording which is of great interest to me, to help correlate conversion and performance.”
“The weight recording is particularly good on Herdwatch NextGen with the ability to record weights for groups of animals all at once, you can also filter your animals between different weight ranges to identify your best performers.”
Oliver adds “We calve twice a year, so we record bulls running with mobs for nine weeks twice a year. Fertility is cross-checked with a PD, so calving is defined and timeboxed. The Watchboard in Herdwatch helps with this and change over dates etc are set as future tasks. Herdwatch is enabling us to take the next stage in determining the performance (fertility and feed conversion) of our bloodlines, within our adopted extensive system.”
“Moving animals in and out of the farm has been made so much easier and, so far, without a mistake! The use of technology really cuts out human error. One of the biggest benefits of using this software is its cloud-based capability, providing the functionality in the field, at home and in the office, using different devices.”
Quality Assurance and Herd Health Book
Herdwatch allows you to scan your medicine purchases into the app and track your livestock and is fully compliant with Red Tractor and BCMS (& APHIS). So, once you record your remedy purchases, remedy treatments and feed purchases, there’s no need to write them into any book.
On passing farm inspections, Oliver says “Passing farm inspections has been so much easier mainly because Herdwatch demonstrates that our system is well managed. All the data is there whenever we need it and we can show it to the inspector on the spot.”
Closing, Oliver commented “Herdwatch is very easy to use, although complete familiarity might take a month or two. So, stick with it! Good data will always, in time, provide better information.