Beef Focus: Measuring methane on a 380 ac research farm

Bromstead Farm is a mixed grassland and arable farm located in Shropshire and is a beef research farm for the UK operations of ABP Food Group.

The size of the farm is 153 ha with approximately 200 acres located around the farmyard and an additional 180 acres located on the north side of the road.

The original block of land is mostly grassland, but also includes woods and wildlife ponds.

Handling unit on ABP’s Bromstead farm

Recently, ABP invited a number of media representatives to tour the farm and Agriland was present to learn more about the research that was taking place there.

A number of ABP representatives were on hand to answer questions. These included:

  • Bob Carnell: CEO of ABP UK;
  • Dean Holroyd: Technical and Sustainable Development Director of the ABP Group;
  • Liz Forde: ABP Agricultural Projects Manager;
  • Andrew Macleod: Farm Manager, Bromstead Farm;
  • Professor Jude Capper: ABP Chair in Sustainable Beef and Mutton Systems at Harper Adams (Livestock Sustainability Consultant).

Each year, the farm purchases four groups of 120 calves from the dairy herd to perform emissions, performance and feed efficiency trials.

While the calf harvest in Ireland is more seasonal, the UK calf supply is available all year round.

Some of the farm’s 15 month old Angus cattle

Calves are born on dairy farms and then go to farms dedicated to raising calves until they are weaned from milk.

From the breeding farms, the calves then arrive in Bromstead. This is done as part of ABP’s integrated Blade system. All cattle are finished under 20 months and sent to ABP’s Ellesmere site for processing. Cattle are selected for the factory primarily based on their level of finish, not target weight.

Farm manager Andrew MacLeod explained: “We try to do it as commercially as possible because there’s no point in doing something that farmers can’t keep up with. Our goal is to do things here that other farmers can build on and pursue. »

Diagram of how ABP’s Blade agricultural model works

While the farm is operated commercially, a number of new technologies are being tested on the farm that measure methane emissions and investigate ways to reduce emissions produced by beef cattle.

When Agriland Visited the site, the cattle on the farm were mostly Angus crossbred cattle, but other breeds were also on display.

There are no slatted sheds on the farm and all pens are dry litter. Andrew explained that slatted sheds are rare in the area and the abundance of straw available means it is the preferred option.

Finishing trial cattle are laid on sawdust. Indeed, if they eat straw, it will have an impact on the feed efficiency data.

Cattle on a feeding trial at Bromstead

Much of the work on the farm involves examining the genetics of cattle and the impact of genetics on certain traits of interest.

Liz Forde, ABP’s agriculture projects manager, said, “Data is everything because you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Finishing cattle are weighed weekly and younger cattle are weighed once a month.

ABP agricultural project manager, Liz Forde

All cattle are EID tagged and all recorded data is linked to the corresponding EID tag number for the animal. End-to-end data is collected on each animal from the veal stage through finishing and processing, where beef quality data is also collected.

The objective of the research is to see which genetics and which agricultural practices are the most efficient from an environmental and financial point of view.

“It has to work for the dairy farmer, the calf raiser, the farmer finishing the cattle, the factory and ultimately the consumer.”

It was highlighted during the on-site visit that cattle populations are decreasing year on year in the UK. On top of this, the dairy industry in the UK is under increasing pressure to produce a calf that is valuable and ‘fits into the production cycle’.

“Our position here is that the most efficient animal is the most profitable animal for the farmer, but it’s also the most environmentally friendly animal.”

Farm manager Andrew MacLeod added: “With the liveweight gain we can only work on averages because with weekly weigh-ins they could be 2kg/day and the following week they could be at 0.5 kg/day.

Andrew MacLeod, Farm Manager, Bromstead Farm

“We see that they always have a good three weeks and one less. When cattle enter the barn, there are factors like compensatory growth which also stimulates weight gain.

The farm manager also stressed the importance of good genetics saying “there is significant variation in performance, even within a breed”.

“The difference between the best and the worst genetics is up to 300kg liveweight at finish.”

Before cattle are sent for processing, data is collected on fat covers by backfat scanning. Rump, loin, intramuscular and sirloin fat is identified by CT scan.

The blue of the shirt

During the farm walk, Andrew showed participants a pen of 15-month-old Belgian Blue cattle from Jersey cows. The group of 25 was a mix of heifers and steers. Another 25 cattle from this group were put out to grass in the spring to compare performance. The heaviest animal in the shed group weighed 500 kg.

The cattle were all bred from the same Belgian Blue sire who was easy calving and short gestation.

Emissions

The farm currently has two systems for measuring livestock methane emissions.

These are:

  • GreenFeed bins;
  • Zero Emissions Livestock Project (ZELP) collars.

Explaining the systems, ABP’s Technical and Sustainability Manager, Dean Holroyd, explained: “GreenFeed is an American system. They are feed bins and everything that goes in and out is metered.

technical and sustainable development director of the ABP group, Dean Holroy

The GreenFeed Bins are designed so that when an animal’s ear tag is registered, a small amount of food will drop every 20 seconds for a duration of three minutes.

This happens five times a day for three weeks when a clear picture of the animal’s methane emissions forms.

Farm research found up to 100g/day difference in methane emissions between different cattle genetics

Holroyd also noted that some products have been shown to reduce emissions, such as: “Bovaer, 3-NOP, DSM products and flaxseed products”, but he noted that research would indicate that some other products are “a bit more questionable”.

“Some additives work for a while and then stop. It’s hard to prove things work long term.”

The second tool for measuring methane emissions on the farm is the Zero Emission Livestock Production (ZELP) necklace.

This collar is put on cattle and includes a battery and wi-fi. It analyzes livestock emissions and neutralizes methane, like a catalytic converter in a car.

The collar has no impact on livestock performance and can measure emissions continuously. It can reduce livestock methane emissions by 40-50%.

Data collected from GreenFeed bins and ZELP collars are also correlated when analyzed.

Commenting on his research, Professor Jude Capper, ABP Chair in Sustainable Beef and Mutton Systems at Harper Adams, pointed out that from years of data, “we could predict methane emissions from livestock over the based on mathematical modelling.

Teacher. Jude Capper, ABP Chair in Sustainable Cattle and Sheep Systems at Harper Adams (Livestock Sustainability Consultant)

Capper pointed out that from this data, the research aims to “determine the ideal time to finish the cattle.

“In the best animals, we were able to observe a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per kg of beef.”

Capper added that it was just enteric methane and not a carbon footprint for the entire farm.

“If we use these equations to develop toolkits that farmers can use to integrate their performance data, then they can have a better prediction of the best time to send them to market.”

Bob Carnell, CEO of ABP UK, said: “One of the big challenges facing the industry is talking positively and proactively to consumers about the quality of beef we have here.

“Getting that message out to a consumer on the street is a challenge, but it’s a challenge the industry needs to overcome because we have inherent strengths in this part of the world that we need to get across more proactively and positively. ”

“We can’t do this alone, but I’m very clear that we need to do something to highlight the positive aspects of beef production in terms of nutritional and environmental benefits,” Carnell concluded.