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Challenging times call for greater farming efficiencies, says Norfolk vet

PUBLISHED: 07:05 02 December 2018 | UPDATED: 07:21 02 December 2018

Tom Hume of Westover Veterinary Centre. Photo: Steve Adams

Tom Hume of Westover Veterinary Centre. Photo: Steve Adams

A Norfolk vet says forward-thinking livestock farmers can turn the challenges of their industry to their advantage – by focusing on performance and production efficiencies through better animal health.

Tom Hume is a director of Westover Veterinary Centre at Hainford, which is about to open a new branch at the Breckland Veterinary Centre in Snetterton.

He said with farmers facing uncertain times amid changing consumer trends and Brexit, his growing team has shifted its focus onto disease prevention and improving welfare and productivity.

“The bigger picture for us would be Brexit and the financial viability of farms without subsidies,” he said.

“Sometimes spending more increases the profitability. My favourite example is measuring pelvises in heifers. You invest in checking that the pelvis of the heifer is big enough to have a calf and you save money in the long term because you don’t have any welfare issues or loss of production further down the line.

“Maybe at the moment 10pc of our suckler farms would do that. So there is work to be done to encourage farmers into thinking there are better ways to spend their veterinary investment.”

Another example of hardships inspiring renewed focus was this summer’s heatwave, said Mr Hume, which led to a lack of forage and forced farmers to consider feed efficiency and explore different types of food for their cattle.

And he said other big issues “looming in the background” for livestock producers are the public campaigns around issues like the environment and veganism – but better practices would help farmers make their case in those debates.

“One of the things we firmly believe is that if you grow your animals efficiently that is going to minimise the environmental impact as much as possible,” he said.

“If you can finish your lamb in 90-100 days rather than 200, it is more efficient and you have produced that meat while reducing your emissions.

“By feeding animals better and controlling the parasites that slow down their growth, the healthier they are the quicker they will grow.”

Mr Hume accepted that could be a difficult discussion to have with animal rights campaigners, but added: “We believe in farming and, as vets, we have to ensure all animals have the best life, and the best death, possible.

“If they fail to be killed at their target age and weight it is because they have suffered from parasites or a nutritional deficiency or some other disease. So we have to say is it better to be alive longer struggling with these problems, or not?”

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