Duchy College farm health project 'boosts' productivity

cows The project organisers said by working together cattle farmers had been able to increase calf growth rates

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A £4.5m project to improve the health of farm animals by sharing knowledge between farmers is leading to increased productivity, its organisers claim.

The Healthy Livestock Initiative is being run by the Rural Business School at Duchy College in Cornwall.

The health conditions being tackled include lameness, fertility problems, parasites and respiratory disease.

Eight thousand farmers have been taking part across Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Gloucestershire.

The project began in autumn 2010 and is due to finish this autumn.

Organisers said in some cases mortality rates had been cut and the value of animals had gone up.

One part of the EU-funded initiative has involved 18 sheep farms and five beef farms being grouped together.

The farmers take part in regular workshops about specific illnesses and general health planning.

They also get one-to-one advice from vets and livestock specialists.

'Outside view'

Farm advisor Tim Dart said one of the biggest issues the project had been addressing on sheep farms was the number of infertile ewes.

He said by introducing vaccination and other measures, half the sheep farms taking part had cut their infertility rates.

He also said improving the ewe's nutrition at lambing time had increased their survival rates and boosted their gross value to an average of more than £55 per ewe.

Mr Dart said: "Most farms have made considerable progress, leading to improved health and output."

Brian Ayre, a sheep farmer from Brayford in North Devon, said: "It's always good to have an outside view of your business, and to see where you are strong or weak.

"The one-to-one vet time has also been brilliant and listening to the problems that fellow sheep farmers have encountered means you can be ahead of the ball."

Beef consultant Elwyn Rees said one farm had cut calf mortality rates by 10% and other farmers had boosted calf growth rates which would improve their profits.

Paul Ward, the project manager, said 92% of the farmers surveyed said they wanted the project to continue after its official end date later this year.

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