What was the challenge/ problem that was addressed?
It is essential to have weights of the animals to be able to make genetic evaluations of them and to carry out the breeding program of Pirenaica Cows under the PGI Ternera de Navarra (Navarra veal).
Weight controls have allowed the selection of animals for their meat production characteristics, having reached acceptable levels for a breed such as the Pyrenean breed, which is managed under semi-extensive conditions.
To date, the collection of these weights on the farms has been done by the Association of the Pirenaica Cows Breeders of Navarra (ASPINA) staff, who went to the farms with a weighing scale.
There are shortcomings for further progress in the improvement of the breed due to the circumstances that most limit the ability to carry out the weight controls necessary for the calculation of these genetic indices, which are those inherent to the beef cattle production system in our region:
- Increasing size of herds.
- Producers who in some cases also work elsewhere besides in the farm.
- Increasingly extensive systems.
- Very adjusted labor force for animal management in farms.
- Advanced age of farmers.
- Discouragement due to insufficient profitability of livestock production.
Therefore, the time availability of the farmers is reduced, and sometimes, as the management is more extensive, the farmer cannot pick up the cattle from the field when the weighing scale is there. Another point that generates reluctance is related to biosecurity, as carrying the scales from one farm to another is not perceived as something positive in this respect.
How did you solve the problem?
Through “self-monitoring” i.e., the farmer himself can weigh his calves when it suits him best in terms of management. To carry out this “self-control”, digital scales were installed in 25 pilot farms to store the weights of the animals and send them to the association for genetic improvement for the PGI Ternera de Navarra, as well as to improve the farm’s own management and livestock advisory services. This will have a consequent impact on the sustainability of the farms, making them more competitive and profitable and improving the life quality of farmers.
The aim is to improve the collection of weighing data by livestock farmers by providing them with a tool and a work process that represents a significant improvement in the management of farms and is adapted to their needs.
This type of action is necessary to break the current downward trend in the number of Pyrenean cattle, the lack of generational replacement and the low economic performance of the farms. Moreover, as the Pyrenean breed is an indigenous breed adapted to our conditions it is important to carry out actions to maintain it.
What are the success factors in solving the problem?
The cooperation among all the actors involved: the farmers, the Association of Pirenaica Cows Breeders of Navarra (ASPINA), INTIA, the scale manufacturers and the PGI Ternera de Navarra.
The funding of the 25 scales’ costs by the Measure 16.2 of the Rural Development Programme of Government of Navarra.
Ability to demonstrate to farmers the main advantages of self-weighing compared to the traditional method, which are:
- Flexibility, it can be carried out at the most convenient time for the farmer and in the most convenient place for himself and the livestock.
- Animal stress reduction, as there are no outsiders in the farm.
- Monitoring the growth of individual animals at any time. This will help making decisions (management, feeding, genetics, quality, etc.). E.g., identifying the best-performing animals; detecting specific problems in farm/animal management or in animal health; and comparing performance between animals from different groups, feeding plans, housing structures, handling, etc.
- Knowing the final weight of each animal will help in the marketing the product.
- It reduces the cost of the data collection system and makes it more sustainable (less travel, fuel, labor, etc.).
- Involving the farmers more directly with their breeding programs.
Unexpected fails if any
One of the 25 farmers didn’t use the scale during the monitoring period agreed. No reasons were given.
The final assessment of the project is very positive.
The results obtained have improved the quality of farmers’ work and led to the incorporation of new farmers to the automation of registration and data transmission.
This system has led to a significant improvement to the management of livestock farms and has been adapted to new needs. Auto-weighing is necessary to improve farms’ profitability, compensating the initial cost of the scales. This project has shown that it is possible to know the optimal time of weaning, the real weight, the creation of batches according to age and according to the productive state of the mother and feed storage. In addition, individual gains and intakes can be monitored to calculate the transformation index, which makes it possible to make modifications to feed or feed compositions. In summary, it has been demonstrated that it is possible to know the optimal time, slaughter weight and carcass yield, final growth rate, final weight before slaughter and carcass yield, in order to make genetic evaluations and carry out the breeding program of Pirenaica Cows.
What role does the advisor or advisory service play within the practical case?
- Support farmers in installation of scales at the most suitable location based on the characteristics of each farm.
- Training for farmers on the operation and use of scales.
- Organization of demonstration days.
- Disseminate the use of auto-weighing of Pyrenean beef cattle to other farmers in Navarra (video, article, networks…).
- Analysis of the data obtained for better technical-economic management of the farm. Improve conversion rates, use different feeds (different composition) depending on the weight of the animals, find out the optimal time for slaughter, which coincides with the best meat and carcass quality, thus avoiding excess feed costs. At the same time, management will be improved with more homogeneous batches, improving animal welfare and reducing veterinary costs.
Can your approach be transferred and/or adapted for other innovation challenges and regions?
Estimated transferability on a scale from 1 to 5
(where 1 is easy and 5 very difficult)
For sharing the experience on the good practice, please contact Maite Aguilar Ramírez (email@example.com)