Calf rearing offers opportunities to expand farm businesses

Farm family is rearing dairy-bred calves for Gamechanger, the supply chain partnership between Sainsbury’s and meat processors ABP
calendar icon 27 March 2024
clock icon 4 minute read

Rearing calves can be a time-consuming endeavour involving regular trips to market to purchase calves with an often-uncertain background. Time was the greatest barrier for Yorkshire-based farmers David and Sarah Green, who accommodated ‘bed and breakfast’ pigs, ran an arable business, a flock of sheep, and a successful farm shop. Last year though, they spotted a Facebook post presenting a new business direction.

For the past year, the couple who live at Northallerton in North Yorkshire, UK, have been rearing dairy-bred calves for Gamechanger, the supply chain partnership between Sainsbury’s and meat processors ABP. Gamechanger is a pioneering integrated beef supply chain, supplying low carbon beef for the retailer’s Taste the Difference Aberdeen Angus range to offer both farmers and the retailer security, stability, and consistency and keep great tasting, high quality British beef in consumer’s baskets.

Gamechanger calves

“We saw Gamechanger on social media. Having a dairy background and having worked with calves we got in touch with the team. Calf rearing sounded a viable option for our farming system which still includes sheep and mainly a grass-based system, after converting from arable last year. We took on a batch of Gamechanger calves and liked their quality and performance, so ended the ‘B & B’ pig enterprise and have since reared five batches of calves. We were pleased with how it went last year and hope to keep growing numbers by taking in bigger batches of calves this year," said Green. 

Gamechanger begins with a supply base of dairy farmers which provides high-genetic calves sired by exclusive Aberdeen Angus bulls, who are selected for Gamechanger on their performance throughout the supply chain. The Gamechanger team arranges everything from the calf selection to transport, with batches of high-vigour calves being delivered to rearers. Operating on a bed-and-breakfast basis, rearers receive a management fee in return for the provision of buildings, labour, straw, electricity, and water.

The rearer model works well alongside other enterprises as it is time efficient and low stress. There’s no need to leave the farm to buy or sell cattle, it offers bespoke cattle feeding plans, provides management software and has a team of experienced staff only a phone call away. At the 100-acre (40ha) Castle Hills Farm, the Green’s operate on a bed and breakfast basis, with all vet support, medications, vaccinations, milk powder and concentrate feed supplied by Gamechanger. At one time, 176 calves are housed in two batches of 88 calves, with one batch on milk and the older batch weaned onto concentrates.

“The rearer model really suits our system, our sheds accommodate the calves well and it works nicely alongside the sheep enterprise and the farm shop. It takes up a lot of life doing what we do, but the income means we could potentially expand and take on a staff member, which would give us time for other things in life whilst ensuring the continuation of the business for future generations," noted Green. 

All Gamechanger cattle have EID tags and rearers receive an animal health plan to minimise losses, along with advice from dedicated Gamechanger vet, Tim Potter, to assist with calf health concerns. Agriwebb farm software is given to calf rearers to help with efficiently managing performance and for recording cattle weights and medications. Gamechanger covers the cost of the calf, milk powder, feed and vet costs, providing security and stability against volatility in input costs. The competitive rearing fee is paid on a per-head basis for the management of those calves. In addition, rearers can access a bonus which is rewarded for meeting the key performance targets. Rearers are also rewarded annually for engaging in development areas such as attending the rearer academy.

“The backup from the Gamechanger vet team is good, they respond to queries quickly, and emergencies are dealt with swiftly. That support really takes the pressure off if we have a problem. Alongside the vet team there is a dedicated Gamechanger calf rearing team who are there to assist you with any issues and come and do farm visits. Our calf housing is serving us well so far. New arrivals settle-in normally within 24-48 hours with our aim to keep stress levels as low as possible. The genetics behind the calves that arrive seem solid and give us a calf with vigour and stature which in turn gives us relatively consistent daily liveweight gain. Ultimately, we want calves that thrive and that is what we get,” Green said. 

The growing network of Gamechanger farmers produce, rear, grow or finish Gamechanger cattle across the UK with some farmers combining more than one stage, for example rearing and finishing, or dairy farming and rearing.

Gamechanger is expanding and requires more farmers to join the programme at different stages of cattle production. Gamechanger offers a wide range of models to suit a variety of farm businesses.

“We would recommend Gamechanger to other people who are looking for alternative revenue streams which maximises the current infrastructure of their farms as well as their other work/life commitments. All farms and businesses are different, but this has proven a good option for us and may be a good option for other farmers looking to diversify and we'd recommend an informal chat with the Gamechanger team to find out more information,’’ said Green. 

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