As part of her PhD project, Jenni McIntyre was given the opportunity to spend six weeks working with the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB), the CASE partner in her BBSRC studentship. Here she describes her industry placement at AHDB Beef and Lamb in Warwickshire.
Just south of Coventry, north of Stratford-upon-Avon and east of Kenilworth castle lies AHDB. It’s in the middle of an old agricultural showground, which is being converted into a centre for agricultural excellence. The AHDB receive levy money from farmers and processors and they use this money to conduct relevant research; based in labs, literature searches and on farm trials from which they obtain up-to-date information for the farmer and feed this back to the farming community, processors, retailers and consumers. AHDB also invest heavily in marketing, trade development, market intelligence and knowledge exchange with the industry. The government works with AHDB to form policy and will ask them for advice on various issues, including topics as diverse as ammonia emissions in pig slurry, antibiotic use in farm animals and BREXIT.
Genetic improvement is always helpful and here at AHDB they have a Signet team, responsible for generating Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) in UK sheep. Sam Boon, Manager of Signet, and Emma Steele, a breeding consultant, have been working with Lleyn breeders to develop EBVs for faecal egg counts and IgA saliva levels. IgA is key in immunity against various strongyle parasites and can be specific to individual species. With the help of Dr Karen Fairlie-Clarke in Glasgow, the Lleyn farmers have been providing thousands of samples of saliva in the hope of generating EBVs for Teladorsagia circumcincta resistance. Recently Sam and Emma have begun asking the farmers to send samples to Glasgow to speciate the strongyles present in the faeces. I was able to take part in a Lleyn breeders meeting at a cattle market in Worcestershire, where I explained what constituted a strongyle faecal egg count and why it was important to speciate to help correlate their strongyle faecal egg count EBV with their IgA EBV. The farmers were all really engaged, interrupting us repeatedly to ask questions and we had a lively and interesting discussion over lunch on all aspects of worms, breeding and business related genetics. Emma and Sam, with Liz Genever, are also working towards EBVs for the common terminal sires – using CT scanning to assess muscle and fat yields of the carcases of live sheep!
COWS (Control of Worms Sustainably) in cattle are updating their website. COWS is staffed by volunteers from various agencies and universities, so this can take a while as those involved are doing the work in their free time. I was given the task of cataloguing the material on the present website so that it can be appropriately transferred to the new one, which is being built by a design company who know a lot about websites but little about cattle parasites. There is a wealth of material available – from a technical manual covering all applicable parasites (liver fluke, GIT worms, lungworm, rumen fluke and external parasites) and how to manage them as a mixed group of diseases, to farmer leaflets with quick, distilled information and imaginative cartoons.
But what else did I get up to while I’ve been here? I can recommend both Kenilworth Castle, a partly ruined home of Robert Dudley, who once created a vast mere and exquisite pleasure gardens for Queen Elizabeth I. Also Charlecote Lucy, a beautiful National Trust property surrounded by gardens and a vast deer park. It was the first place in the UK to farm Jacob sheep and has some fantastic walks both in and around the grounds.