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Farming

It’s all go for Moat Goats

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A family business: Meg and Damian McNamara with 4 month old Iori

GOAT farming couple Meg and Damian McNamara of Moat Village Farm, New Moat, Pembrokeshire, have been recognised for keeping the countryside vibrant by the Pembrokeshire FUW Countryside Business Award 2017.

The award, a £200 cash prize, perpetual trophy and a year’s free membership of the FUW, is presented every two years to someone who, 40 years of age or under, has developed their own business in rural Pembrokeshire.

“In presenting the award we recognise the fantastic work our young people are doing to keep our rural areas of Pembrokeshire vibrant and economically active places. Meg and Damian are very worthy winners of the award indeed and we can be proud to have such an inspirational farming couple in our midst,” said FUW Pembrokeshire County Executive Officer Rebecca Voyle.

Meg and Damian were both raised on dairy farms in Pembrokeshire, and always had a strong ambition to farm themselves. Although they both work outside of agriculture, Damian works as a Process Operator at Valero Refinery and Meg is a qualified Bank nurse, currently on Maternity Leave, they have managed to fulfil their farming ambition alongside keeping their day jobs. Meg also participated in the 2017 Agri Academy Business and Innovation Programme.

They bought their first land, a 12.5 acre field, in April 2015 and also farm 72 acres of Meg’s family’s farm. Their first goats arrived just 7 months later, having decided that this diversification would be both challenging and rewarding. Their herd now numbers 200 breeding female Boer goats.

Their agri-food business, Moat Goats, operates from farm to fork with home-bred kids reared by their dams. The male kids are finished for meat and the females are retained to increase the size of the breeding herd. Grass is grown both for grazing and for silage, with surplus sold for extra revenue. Mixed leys with herbs are also being tried to exploit health and production benefits.

Talking about a usual day on the farm Meg said: “We start by feeding the goats, checking and observing that they are ok, then it’s on to bedding down and we also spend time on farm work such as fieldwork and farm maintenance tasks. We also aim to post a picture or post on social media every day, as well as answering phone calls, responding to emails, and making sure that we market the business properly.”

As the male kids fatten and finish, Meg and Damian organise the slaughter in Maesteg, Bridgend and butchering of the carcasses locally at Cig Lodor, Rosebush. They then promote and sell the product online and started selling goat kid meat direct from the farm in October 2016. Now they supply meat boxes to customers throughout the UK via courier delivery, using social media for marketing. They have also supplied several local butchers with their goat meat, such as Chris Rogers in Carmarthen, T.G.Davies in Newport, Andrew Rees in Narberth, Gary the Butcher in Llandysul and DMS Llanelli and sell from the farm itself.

Speaking about the need to diversify, Meg explained: “We were aware that we needed to diversify in farming as we didn’t have enough land or time to compete with dairy, beef, sheep farmers.

“We experimented at home with jam making, cheese making, bought some heritage pigs before falling in love with 2 pet Boer cross goats and deciding to make a business from this interest.”

Meg and Damian exploit every opportunity to raise awareness of their quality produce, devising recipes, posting photos of the goats and the meals online and also supplied meat for a cookery demonstration at the 2017 Pembrokeshire County Show.

The business is going strong but there were some challenges the couple faced when setting the business up. Damian said: “The biggest challenge has been learning how to feed, handle and manage a goat herd – they require attention to detail which we have learnt through trial and error. Juggling farm and business commitments with family life and work off the farm remains an ongoing challenge especially with our young baby.”

Not ones to sit on their laurels, the couple are very aware that there are challenges the sector and their business faces. “Marketing and increasing our customer base remains a top priority for us but it’s also about raising awareness and promoting the benefits of goat meat – it’s low fat, low cholesterol, and high in iron.

“But of course, farming goats in north Pembrokeshire there is always the concern of a TB breakdown. So we take care of complying with all the necessary biosecurity and work hard to minimise contact with other herds,” said Meg.

Damian added: “We will deal with all of these challenges as a family unit and will continue to raise awareness of our business and the nutritional value of goat meat through social media. That way we hope to be selling more carcasses to the retail customer. We also intend to expand the business and therefore retain all the female kids for a few more years. Currently, we’re aiming for a herd of approximately 400 breeding females.”

It is clear that Meg and Damian are passionate about their produce and they encourage everyone to give goat meat a try.

“Goat meat is really tasty! It’s similar in texture to lamb and really easy to cook. Try something like pulled shoulder of goat kid or a simple quick-cook recipe such as chops, cutlets or sausages and have a look on our Facebook page for inspiration,” said Meg.

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Farming

Big Farmland Bird Count returns

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JIM EGAN has sent out a rallying cry for people to pick up their binoculars and go bird-spotting for the Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) which returns on Friday, February 8.

The passionate organiser of the count, organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), is urging farmers, land managers, gamekeepers and all wildlife enthusiasts to spend 30 minutes recording what species they see on their patch of land from February 8th to the 17th.

Your support will help identify the farmland birds that are flourishing due to good conservation methods and ones in need of most support.

“It would be fantastic to see even more farmers to take part in the count this year,” said Jim.

“Counting birds on farms is a great way to recognise what species are there as well as being an opportunity to take time out and see the benefits of work such as wild seed mix and supplementary feeding.

“Taking part and submitting results enables us at GWCT to shout about the important conservation work many farmers are doing.

“We want landowners to be proud of their efforts. We will make sure that the public and policymakers hear about what can be achieved on Britain’s farms. The BFBC is a very positive way to showcase what can be achieved.”

Backing this vital citizen-science project, running for the sixth successive year, is the NFU, which is this year’s sponsor.

President Minette Batters is vowing her support to the count by going bird-watching on her farm in Downton, Wiltshire.

She will be joined on day one with GWCT biodiversity advisor Pete Thompson, an advocate of the count, both of whom will be ready with their binoculars, notepads and sharpened pencils, recording what they see.

“I am delighted to be taking part in this year’s GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count which the NFU is pleased to be sponsoring for the very first time,” she said.

“It’s becoming an important national event where thousands of farmers and growers around the country are able to take stock of and importantly, take pride in what they find on their land.

“The NFU supports initiatives like the Big Farmland Bird Count as without sound management of the environment, enhancement of habitats, protection of wildlife and support for pollinators and soils, we do not have farming businesses.

“So, I would encourage all farmers to take part, and also remember to submit your records to the GWCT, so we can pull together a vital national snapshot of the state of the nation when it comes to farmland birds.”

A record-breaking 1,000 people took part in last year’s count, recording 121 species across 950,000 acres.

A total of 25 red-listed species were recorded, with five appearing in the 25 most commonly seen species list. These include fieldfares, starlings, house sparrows, song thrushes and yellowhammers. The most plentiful of these were fieldfares and starlings, which were seen on nearly 40% of the farms taking part.

At the end of the count, the results will be analysed by the Trust. All participants will receive a report on the national results once they have been collated.

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Farming

New Flock and Herd Health Officers

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HYBU Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has appointed two new Flock and Herd Health Officers to its ambitious five-year Red Meat Development Programme, designed to equip Wales’s lamb and beef industry for a changing future.

The posts are key to delivering the programme’s commitment to helping farmers achieve on-farm efficiency and drive best practice in proactive animal health planning.

The programme is supported by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

Lowri Reed hails from a farming background near Llanon in central Ceredigion, whereas Lowri Williams is from Llanfihangel y Creuddyn near Aberystwyth, and is a graduate in Animal Management and Welfare from Harper Adams University.

Dr Rebekah Stuart, the coordinator of the Flock and Herd Health Project at HCC, said: “We’re delighted to have recruited two officers with experience and knowledge of agriculture and flock management to this important strand of work.

“There are few things that can have as great an impact on the efficiency and bottom line of a livestock enterprise as a proactive and coordinated approach to animal health and eradicating disease.

“The project will help farmers to work with vets to put health plans in place and monitor their effectiveness. Since opening an initial expression of interest window late last year at the Winter Fair, we’re encouraged by how many farmers are keen to be involved. We look forward to working with them to put this exciting project into action.”

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Farming

Agri-food robotics centre launched

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A NEW advanced training centre in agri-food robotics will create the largest ever cohort of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) specialists for the global food and farming sectors, thanks to a multi-million-pound funding award.

The world’s first Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) for agri-food robotics is being established by the University of Lincoln, UK, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £6.6m for the new Centre which will see a massive influx of high-level robotics expertise at a vital time for the agri-food industry. The CDT will provide funding and training for at least 50 doctoral students, who will be supported by major industry partners and specialise in areas such as autonomous mobility in challenging environments, the harvesting of agricultural crops, soft robotics for handling delicate food products, and ‘co-bots’ for maintaining safe human-robot collaboration and interaction in farms and factories.

Professor Tom Duckett, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Lincoln, is the new Centre Director. He said: “Automation and robotics technologies are set to transform global industries – within the UK alone they will add £183bn to the economy over the next decade.

“Agri-food is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – twice the scale of automotive and aerospace combined – supporting a food chain, from farm to fork, which generates a Global Value Added (GVA) of £108bn, with 3.9m employees in a truly international industry.

“However, the global food chain is under pressure from population growth, climate change, political pressures affecting migration, population drift from rural to urban regions, and the demographics of an ageing population in advanced economies.

“Addressing these challenges requires a new generation of highly skilled RAS researchers and leaders, and our new CDT will be dedicated to delivering that expertise. It will be a real focal point for robotics innovation in the UK.”

At Lincoln, the CDT represents an important partnership between robotics researchers from the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS) and agricultural experts from the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT), as they work together to combat these pressing issues facing the global food chain.

Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology, Professor Simon Pearson, said: “It is widely agreed that robotics will transform the food and farming industries in the coming years, but there is still a major skills gap in this area. Working with our industry and academic partners to design the 50 PhD scholarships will enable us to expand the UK’s science and engineering base, delivering a flood of skills and expertise that will drive our food and farming industries into the future.”

Professor Richard Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at UEA, added: “Agriculture remains an important and atavistic activity in the UK but it the most dangerous of all the main UK industry sectors. Given that, isn’t it astonishing that so much effort is devoted to robots for driving and delivering parcels to your door?

“This project will initiate a new movement to build robots to handle the unpleasant, difficult and repetitive aspects of farming. At UEA our expertise is in Computer Vision which is making computers that see. We’d like to build robots that can see when an ear of corn has ripened or be able to measure the amount of sunlight falling on a field of wheat or to tell when beans are ready for picking. We look forward to developing new systems that handle the challenge of being on a farm.”

The Centre brings together a unique collaboration of leading researchers from the Universities of Lincoln, Cambridge and East Anglia, together with the Manufacturing Technology Centre, supported by leading industrial partners and stakeholders from across the food, farming and robotics industries. These include John Deere, Syngenta, G’s Growers, Beeswax Dyson, ABB and the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board.

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