Sisters Danni and Beth are rearing batches of calves to sell through their local auction markets and through private sales which are solely driven by social media platforms. “Facebook has been a massive outlet for us, it is super easy to use and gives us the ability to showcase what we have to offer” Danni commented.
The family rent over 200 acres, including the buildings where the youngstock enterprise primarily takes place. Calves are bought from local markets; Market Drayton, Shrewsbury, at around 3-4 weeks old. Calves must have a good health status where a conversation around colostrum management also takes place. “The calves which perform well are from certain sources where we are confident that the calf has been well managed before they have been to the market, particularly their colostrum intake” comments Beth.
Calves are around 55-60kg when they come to the unit, and 125-130kg when they leave, meaning that calves require approximately 0.83kg per day of weight gain. “The last batch we had were gaining 1.2 to 1.6kg daily live weight gain (DLWG) and were a mixture of continental, native and heifers” comments Beth. On arrival, the calves are fed 5 litres per day of NWF Agriculture’s Ultra Milk Blue milk replacer, a 22% protein, 19% oil whey-based milk replacer. “Ultra Milk Blue is one of our bestselling, tried and tested milk replaces which has seen multiple benefits to beef units” comments Elysha Chell, NWF Youngstock Specialist.
Calves are fed milk replacer until they are around 6 weeks old when they are abruptly weaned. This is done so carefully when calves are hitting 90kg liveweight and eating enough solid feed (2.5kg + of blend). Beth and Danni weigh the calves every 2 weeks and carefully monitor intakes around this time to promote rumen development and mitigate any growth checks during this transition. R D Livestock is supplied by NWF with a bespoke 18% protein blend, formulated with palatability in mind to promote intake and contains a range of protein sources and cereals to optimise performance, “Calves are thriving, not only by weight but their shape which is the essential market specification” Danni comments.
Mitigating Risk and Weighing
As calves are purchased from multiple sources, there is always a risk of bringing disease onto the unit. “We acknowledge that there is always going to be a risk but collaborating with suppliers and our vet, we can mitigate this to the best of our ability” add Danni and Beth. R D Livestock is currently trialling medicated NWF Calf Pellets in order to mitigate coccidiosis. “We were using a drench which has its pros, but we found that it wasn’t quite working for us. We have heard good things about medicated feed so thought it was an option to explore”.
Weighing calves is another tool which we use to identify and resolve any issues. “So far the issues we have had are fairly acute, and we have found that weighing every 2 weeks enables us to make more informed management decisions, highlighting individuals which can then be dealt with on an individual basis”, Danni comments. Weighing also supports any pre-empting decisions and targeted treatment. A good example is when calves are disbudded; the vet comes and sedates all the calves, and the procedure is done quickly and quietly which helps reduce the stress on the calves. Some calves which “bunt” the feeder knock the bud site which sometimes gets infected. “We can’t see this initially, but once we have weighed and they have had a slight dip in DLWG, we investigate and find the bud is infected and impacting performance” Beth comments. “Another example was a calf which had infected throat glands – you could not see anything so weighing highlighted that there was an issue” Danni adds.
Beth and Danni put all the calves through private sales and live auctions. They have considered contract rearing and although for some units this is the route to go down, R D Livestock like the flexibility the markets provide and the relationships it helps to grow. With the use of social media, calves are sold across the UK and give them the ability to showcase what they have got easily and transparently. “We want repeat customers and by using platforms like Facebook enables easy communication and the ability to keep in touch” Danni comments. The Facebook page currently has over 11,000 followers, Danni comments that “there is no way you could communicate what we do, reaching that many people, from just advertising in the local paper”.
For the future, R D Livestock wants to increase its capacity to rear calves and grow its repeat customer base.
NWF Agriculture would like to thank Danni & Beth for giving us their insight into their herd. You can follow RD Livestock on Facebook HERE.
For further information on maximising your suckler herd, get in touch with your NWF Sales Specialist or click HERE to view our Beef Feeds & Associated Products.