Chris Webb

Plenty of calves

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Farming 2015-09-25

Chris, Larry and I have been rearing calves at Frankton for fourteen months now. Our little unit has grown rapidly since those first thirty arrivals and we’ve raised several hundred happy, healthy calves.

The enterprise now comprises 120 calves on milk in four pens, usually with a couple more weaned groups being reared on starter ration and straw.

Frankton panorama

The automated feeding works well, giving us flexibility, good efficiency, and significantly reducing the daily workload. We’re feeding 6–7 litres of milk replacer per day at 150 g/litre concentration and have averaged around 0.9–1.0 kg/day liveweight gain, with some calves managing 1.2–1.3 kg/day over the first ten weeks.

We try to aim for the best health and welfare we can, which also tends to translate into good financial performance, and we’re continuously trying to improve our system in this area.

Beef calves

Although our first machine was theoretically capable of supplying an extra two parallel feed stations, we decided that the slow mixing rate in this configuration would frustrate calves kept waiting for milk. We bought a second machine to serve the extra two feed stations needed to double in size from 60 to 120 calves.

Earlier this year we diversified into heifer rearing, adopting 88 Friesian-Jersey cross heifer replacements from a local spring block calving herd. These arrived at just over one week old and left a few weeks post-weaning, at 11–13 weeks of age. Since then, I’ve enjoyed visiting them back on their home farm and seeing them grow up.

Heifers

I like the mix of these two sides of the enterprise. The beef calves give us a higher return but also involve a greater capital commitment: we have to buy beef calves up-front and there is also greater uncertainty in the final price depending on market conditions. We’re hoping to continue rearing heifer replacements alongside our own beef animals, especially in spring and autumn during block calving season.

As the Frankton unit is thriving, in the New Year we’re hoping to expand to a second site a few miles down the road in Welshampton. There should be space there for at least another 240 calves and we’ll be able to rear on a proportion of them ourselves as beef cattle. Exciting times!