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Farming Newcomer Applies Technology to Calf Rearing

The introduction of new Ultra Start Pellet from NWF is seeing fast uptake pre-weaning and exploiting the growth potential at an early age.

Chris Webb rears 160 beef-cross calves at Rowe Farm in Shropshire with his business partner Chris Roberts. Calves are
purchased from farms across Shropshire and Cheshire at 2-3 weeks of age for resale as weanlings at around 3 months. The calves are raised on milk, ad lib starter, straw and water; a combination that Chris feels effectively primes metabolism for intake of solids and promotes early growth. On the same system, dairy heifer calves are contract reared for local dairy farmers. With five crops a year, Chris hopes to have 800 calves running through the shed at full capacity.

Chris Webb started his calf business from your ‘less than average’ farming background! After over 20 years working in the computer technology industry, with a large majority of his time as Technical Director for several hosting companies he founded, Chris pursued a complete change in career and went into partnership with a local farmer in Shropshire, Chris Roberts. Whilst he admits it was a steep learning curve entering a new industry, one which is highly skilled and intricate, Chris thrived upon the challenge of calf rearing and has now established a hugely impressive automated rearing unit at Rowe Farm in
Ellesmere, Shropshire.

The Rearing System
Chris has been able to apply his technical literacy to his farming by implementing a computerised feeder system which individually
recognises each of the 160 young calves on-site from special electronic collars. Calves are penned in 8 groups of 20 calves’ as the calf goes into the feeding area, its tag is electronically identified and allocates the exact quantity of feed required. This allows Chris to control the ration to individual calves, and it encourages progressive weaning to minimise stress on the animal. The intelligent system will immediately signify and send a live alert to Chris’s phone if a calf is not feeding correctly, enabling him to monitor performance, health, and well-being of that calf.

In December 2016, Chris worked closely with Angus Little, NWF Technical Sales Specialist, to analyse calf nutrition and feed
regimes on the farm and began to trial the new NWF Ultra Start Pellet. With lactose included within the pellet formulation, it
seeks to attract calves through smell association to milk sugar (lactose). It also utilises the excess lactase enzyme circulating
the calf’s bloodstream that is a precursor of lactose digestion when the calf is on milk – leading to improved feed conversion
efficiency. The pellet also supplies carbohydrate to the rumen environment, encouraging rumen development.

Chris Webb says; “I am always excited by new products on the market and after discussing Ultra Start with Angus, I was very
inquisitive and keen to trial it. The first batch of calves that are on it have shown a positive growth rate, they’re alert and healthy
– but my greatest observation is that the calves are eating far quicker pre-weaning, having an accelerated impact on weight
gain. I’m so far very impressed with the pellet; it’s really driving intake, it is easy to work with and I’d happily take more.”

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