“New app is quickly improving performance and profits”

Farmer Gary Spence explains how Breedr app is transforming the way he farms

Gary Spence is one of the first farmers supporting the development of Breedr, a new app that helps farmers trade, finance and produce livestock more profitably using data. Gary rears and finishes between 80-100 calves a year of beef on his family farm in Kilkeel, Northern Ireland, and contract rears about 80 dairy heifers for a neighbour. He uses a grass-fed system supplemented by home-grown grain. Gary is also a Sustainable Agriculture Technician, so acutely aware of the need to monitor animal performance and reduce methane production; he explains the importance of precision livestock production. 

Currently, I’m buying a lot of dairy-cross animals, and what I’m trying to do is to have my own integrated supply chain, so I’m working with dairy farmers and buying semen for them, and seeing which bulls work for both of us. For that I’ll use Breedr’s data analytic tools to see which bulls are the best fit, the most profitable, and which work for both the dairy farmer and me. We can then have a chat and use that information to make a decision that works for both of us. 

I’m finding it interesting to look at the sire performance reports on Breedr, even of individual animals within the same breed. I can compare my own animals with those from known farms and animals bought from market, and see if their calves daily liveweight gain (DLWG) is performing better or worse. Then looking at my own supply chain I can see which farmers I want to buy from, and which animals are more profitable for me.

The sire report on Breedr shows me really clearly which animals are going to give me the best performance. For example if you want a 320kg carcass, the animal needs a 640kg live weight. If it is putting on a kilo a day it will take 600 odd days to reach the required weight, but if it is only gaining 0.8 kilo a day it will take much longer to reach slaughter – will need more feed, produce more methane, nitrous oxide, and ammonia. 

The time this saves me is a major benefit, as is being able to see the actual monetary value of each sire. Instead of just saying that one bull is outperforming the other, it gives you a financial value – its worth, for example, £120 more to use this bull. It displays this information clearly, so instead of trying to look through numbers and get your head around all the information it is collated for you, making it easy to make the big decisions.

By monitoring performance we can make better breeding decisions and monitor trends etc. that is really beneficial, as well as the ability to compare supplier farms to identify where there are persistent problems with herds. If five of the ten calves I bought from a particular farmer had health problems, maybe there was an issue before I got them?  We can also see the impact of interventions to see if an illness has affected lifetime performance and the cost of that and also the impact on efficiency. So it helps to streamline procurement and improve the health of the herd. 

On the dairy side of the business, the heifers come to us at 5-6 months and we see them through the first summer – just before they’re going to calf we return them to the local dairy farm. We are paid per day per head for looking after them.

The dairy farmer I’m working with also has performance targets, what weight the heifers need to hit for first service and for calving down. I’m able to track their weights and progress through Breedr and then adjust their diet accordingly. I can also record the financial cost to me, and the income and monitor the profit and loss – well, hopefully only profit!

I am using a farm management software package, and found I was I having to duplicate my efforts quite a bit and it was very prescriptive, but because Breedr works with my Farm Management System there’s more flexibility; you can choose two or three different parameters and that makes the data a lot more useful.

One of the tools Breedr gives me is the predicted date of sale, when each animal will be most profitable. I’m tight for space at the moment, so on Saturday I sold 18 animals and was able to use that information to decide which animals were the least efficient and get rid of them off the farm, and retain the more profitable ones.

I am looking forward to when Breedr launch their online livestock market later this year. I hope to use it not only to find the best store animals but also to sell my finished animals in advance to the processors as forward contracts. 

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