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Visit of breeders from Podlaskie Voivodeship to a demonstration farm in Piętki-Gręzki as part of sub-measure 1.2.

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A visit by breeders from the Podlaskie Voivodeship to a demonstration farm in Piętki-Gręzki, as part of the implementation of sub-measure 1.2 “Support for demonstration projects and information activities” of the Rural Development Programme 2014–2020 on “Modern technologies for breeding and raising beef cattle”.

The training of farmers from the Podlaskie Voivodeship at the demonstration farm in the village of Piętki-Gręzki is an operation under the implementation of sub-measure 1.2 “Support for demonstration projects and information activities” of the Rural Development Programme 2014–2020 on “Modern technologies for breeding and raising beef cattle”. This operation is co-financed by the European Union with funds from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

The specific topic of the demonstration carried out at the farm in Piętki-Gręzki, Klukowa municipality, Podlaskie Voivodeship, was “Optimizing the production process in a Limousin cattle herd”. This is another farm participating in the training programme keeping Limousin cattle, where the aim of the demonstration (three meetings of one training group) is to show the proper management of a beef herd, based on rotational grazing and cattle monitoring, using the implemented chips. Also methods to optimize the production process, taking into account the high welfare of beef cattle, and rational water management, including model water management, especially in times of drought. Implementation of the issue on the farm includes spring-summer grazing with preparation of pastures for the grazing season and autumn grazing with preparation of the herd for the winter season.

The demonstration facility set up on the Piętki-Gręzki farm is characterized by the breeding of Limousin cattle, with 40 dams and offspring, totalling over 94 animals. More than 73 ha are at the farm’s disposal, of which 7.5 ha are dedicated to pasture. These are divided into two main parts (paddocks) where the animals stay from May to November, from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. The maximum stocking density is 9 animals per hectare. The pastures are located in the vicinity of the buildings and the barn, where the animals have less than 50 metres to the first paddocks. Later in the grazing season and at the end of the season, winter paddock or an outside yard is available – hardened with permanent access to water and additional roughage. The pastures have been established on arable land, where mowing of remains of grazing, harrowing and fertilization are carried out. On the farm, feeding is based on formulated rations, fed manually to the feed table twice a day for the several cattle feeding groups established.

Four feeding groups have been established on the farm, i.e. cows, heifers, young stock and fattening stock. Feed is conserved in heaps or big bags (CCM) by the farm owners, in the case of heaps an external service is also used. Water is supplied to the facility from the water supply, and watering is done through automatic and group drinkers. Calves are kept traditionally with sucklers on milk. The farm is characterized by indoor and indoor/pasture management. The barn, after numerous and very successful adaptations from old livestock buildings (sheepfolds), is free-stall on deep litter. In the facility, the area averages about 7 square metres per animal. The herd management model adopted harem mating based on bulls replaced in the herd every five years and sourced from domestic pedigree breeding. Heifers are mated at 20 months of age. Mating is year-round, while births are 80% easy and only 5% of difficult cases occur. Calves are born at an average weight of about 45 kg. Due to the high activity of the animals during the day, there is no need for hoof trimming during the year.

As part of the demonstration, the first of a series of three meetings took place on 12 June 2023 and included a theoretical part followed by a practical part.

The theoretical part presented the main issues related to beef cattle breeding, with particular emphasis on the Limousin breed, which were discussed by an employee of the National Research Institute of Animal Production – the scientific supervisor of the demonstration, Dr Piotr Wójcik, Professor of the NRIAP. The subject of the use of this breed in commercial crossbreeding was discussed and the effects of this were shown, as well as the subject of rational and monitored grazing of cattle on pastures. Attention was drawn to the role of pasture in maintaining high animal health, especially when the primary feeding takes place on the feed table. The supervisor discussed the important role of unrestricted access to water, the need to monitor water intake and the 24-hour monitoring of microclimatic conditions in the pasture and barn. The issue of thermal stress and its consequences in terms of improving the welfare of beef cattle was discussed, and new technical solutions helpful in modern herd management were pointed out. Innovative solutions used in beef cattle breeding, such as chipping, rumen boluses, health detection, and thermal stress monitoring through automatic body temperature measurement, were presented. The present possibilities for continuous monitoring of animals through the use of the aforementioned subcutaneous chips in cattle with temperature measurement options were pointed out, as well as a system for assessing animal soiling and a system for assessing animal condition. The role of shaded areas (tree stands in the grazing zone) in improving animal welfare was also discussed, as is happening on one of the paddocks on the farm visited.

In the practical part, which took place directly on the pastures and at the facility, while visiting different cattle grazing paddocks and observing the grazing herd, the participants learned about methods for effective and inexpensive permanent pasture fencing, the role of mobile fencing systems enabling strip grazing and rational management of limited pasture resources. The farmer discussed the work that is carried out within the separate paddocks, which includes the maintenance measures of pasture topping, harrowing and feeding with manure at a rate of 40 t/ha, plus periodic underseeding. The problem of securing roughage for the herd and methods of preserving it for the autumn-winter period was also raised.

The subject of the upcoming drought, methods to counteract it, and the impact on pasture planning also came up in the discussions. In particular, small-scale retention and the need to harvest rainwater, which also takes place on the farm, were discussed. Although this was only the first visit, there was also talk about autumn grazing of cattle, the possibility of selling weanlings and the production costs that a beef cattle farmer has to bear during the grazing season.