Farming Connect Study Visit - Wales YFC Integrated Calf Scheme Group

Funded through the Knowledge Transfer, Innovation and Advisory Service programme under the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 - 2020

Wales YFC Integrated Calf Scheme Group

County Tyrone, Northern Ireland

3rd – 4th November 2015

1) Background

The Integrated Calf scheme group is the vision of the 2014/15 Wales YFC Rural Affairs Chairman, Ceri Davies. When Ceri came into the post of Vice Chairman the current lamb scheme inspired Ceri to think outside of the box and develop a proposed calf scheme. Whilst the lamb scheme was now in its 5th year there would be many more challenges to address and hopefully overcome such as the length of the supply chain, the acquisition of the calves and the threat of bovine TB.

A proposition was drawn up and pitched to the MD of Dunbia, Mr Jim Dobson. Wales YFC, Sainsbury’s and Dunbia have established a relationship over the past five years therefore we felt approaching the company was the obvious choice. The meeting in late spring established many areas in which we needed to apply our attention to e.g our USP and a brand, bearing in mind Welsh Beef has challenges of its own when it comes to brand recognition.

Further work has taken place over the summer along with further members showing interest and with different skills and experience we were keen to get them on board to assist on developing the proposal. A multiple page proposal was drawn up and at the heart of it a story of trust, traceability and passion for this was our unique selling point, Wales YFC celebrates its 80th year in 2016, the original young farmers clubs were established as calf clubs. This early scheme developed by our forefathers received much publicity and support from the media including the owner of the Daily Mail. The Auctioneer would sell the calves free of charge and when it came to profit the first 10% went back into the Management Fund to purchase next year’s calves and the remaining went to the YFC member.

The grandchildren of the original calf clubs who are interested in being part of an exciting scheme will provide a unique story of three generations of farming families and 80 years’ worth of traceability.


On the 8th of July the group have met with a team from Dunbia and were taken on a visit to the Preston plant and to a producer supplying them in the same area that has achieved fantastic results. Whilst we are very pleased to have Dunbia’s interest and support a scheme of this type has already taken a great deal of blood, sweat and tears but as they say ‘nothing worthwhile ever came easy’


The Royal Welsh proved the ideal event to discuss the idea further and we were pleased to have been given the opportunity to relay the vision to Welsh Government officials and the Deputy Minister for Farming and Food. At this point Dunbia believed that we would benefit from visiting a range of systems in Northern Ireland and in particular a calf rearer that has over five years of experience under his belt and in that time has developed a very successful business with his business partner. Gary Fitzpatrick and John Toland were keen to pass their knowledge on to the next generation and as novices we were keen to see them in action and learn from them. John and Gary were shortlisted as the Farmers Weekly Beef Farmers of the Year so this added further interest. The system operating at moss Hill farm is a simple one, Calves are on the farm for about 10 weeks and are sold weighing 130-140kg at around three months old. The calves are weighed on arrival, with weights monitored throughout the 10-week rearing period.

The demand for Moss Hill Farm-reared calves is so strong that the animals are already pre-sold at the point of purchase. The farm is able to boast its very low mortality rate of less than 1%. Calves are reared across two sites in purpose-built sheds, which are designed with optimal ventilation, lighting and feed space. Calves are housed in mixed-sex groups of eight on only the best barley straw, to promote good health and growth. Gary and John plan to erect an £80,000-£100,000 new environmentally controlled calf unit to allow expansion. Calves are fed 450g of milk powder a day twice a day for the first two weeks. This is less than what is recommended by many feed companies and the group of young farmers were keen to see how well the calves were doing on this along with the difference in daily live weight gain in fact Gary and John offer them a lower concentrate milk feed and supplying them with good-quality 16.5% protein cereal meal encourages them to eat more meal, which stimulates papillae development. Moss hill farm rears about 5,000 calves a year run across 26 hectares and all of the calf bedding is fed into a neighbor’s anaerobic digester. In common with Wales, Ireland has a high rainfall but Gary and John see this as a positive and the use the rainwater for washing down pens. Gary and John work very closely with their vet and have a strict vaccination regime, injecting calves with a pneumonia vaccine before they even exit the lorry. A month later, calves are also vaccinated with an IBR vaccine for longer-term protection against respiratory diseases. Housing design is also a key focus for Gary and John, to ensure calves are not overstocked and always lying on a dry bed with ample ventilation. Gary’s moto is ‘If you wouldn’t lie in the bed, you should not expect calves to do so’. Moss Hill Farm has also been involved different areas of research and development. They have worked closely with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development on different feeding trials, and are working with a company looking at EID use on the farm. Therefore with knowledge and expertise in all of these areas it was an opportunity not to be missed.


2) Itinerary

2.1 - Day 1
The first day primarily consisted of travelling and the main purpose of the first day of the study tour was to bring all members of the group up to date with the progress of the scheme, the aims and objectives of the scheme and identifying the challenges. Research and development was shared, questions posed and study tour delegate packs issued.

Members travelled from the counties of Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Brecknock, Radnor, Montgomery and Glamorgan. Therefore a period of time was spent to get to know one and other. The group flew collectively from Birmingham to Belfast.


2.2 - Day 2

The second day of the study tour began before light where we travelled to the farm of John Toland. John Toland is the business partner of the scheme’s calf rearing mentor; Gary Fitzpatrick. John rears calves from a week old that are purchased either directly off farm or via the auction. Calves are bought in at around 50kg and are weaned at around 75kg. Members of the group were given the opportunity to look at the system in place for feeding the calves which consisted of a large vessel to mix the dried milk powder, this then is transferred to a tank and transported to each shed where it is pumped through a pipe into calf rearing buckets and each pen of 5 – 8 caves is fed individually then the bucket moved along. The calves are fed 3 – 3.5 litres a day and fed a dried meal based concentrate called quick start that costs around £500 per tonne. The calves looked to be doing well off the feed and the feed looked and smelt very palatable. We looked into the importance of keeping cattle in controlled bunches and filling the sheds within 5 days to limit the spread of viruses.

The group was able to ask questions with regards to what measures are put in place to ensure that health and vitality of the calves is ensured along with topics such as colostrum intake, pneumonia vaccinations, disbudding/dehorning and castration. Discussions took place with regards to feeding patterns and intervals and feed analysis was scrutinised and compared. The type of sheds were looked at in detail as John and Gary were very firm in the belief that if your ventilation is working in your sheds there is very little need for numerous vaccinations. It was thought that building regulations in Wales would prohibit such high sided structures from being constructed.


We then travelled to the farm of Gary Fitzpatrick where we looked at his system and was given a tour of the calf rearing unit, where he then takes the calves up to 14 weeks. All cattle were fed on barley straw and a grain based concentrate. Ideally cattle would be bedded on barley straw and fed wheat straw but all straw has to be shipped from Sothern Ireland so they make use of what they are able to purchase. It is felt at this stage that cattle can be mixed.


Following the integrated supply chain we were then taken to the next stage of rearing to the farm of Aaron Tallon. Aaron is a young farmer that finishes 100 cattle a year which all come from Gary Fitzpatrick. Dunbia have been very impressed with what he has achieved especially with regards to his results off rotational grazing. Aaron finishes bulls as well as steers and heifers. He has been part of a bull rearing trial recently.


The next stop was to Summer Hill Farm, owned by Steven McAllister. Steven is a dairy farmer who finishes 400 beef cattle; Holstein Freisian and Hereford. Steven provided us with a guided tour which consisted of looking at the improvements in housing including the addition of rubberised slats which has improved the welfare of the cattle. Steven is also taking part in a feeding trail for Dunbia and agreed to share the results with the group. Steven uses a machine to feed all of his calves and operates a collar system to monitor the progress of the calves. Steven is finishing his cattle on wheat straw and a blend of soya, bread, distiller’s grain and molasses.


The day ended with a proposal from Dunbia which certainly inspired many questions.


3) Next Steps

The group came away from Ireland with many questions. All members carried out different parts of research post the visit with items of interest to them. Which included discussions with all of the UK levy boards, vets, Farming Unions as well as websites and from different sources of literature. We then gathered once again to carry out a SWOT analysis based on what we had witnessed and learned. This was then sent to Dunbia and a response was made. The Royal Welsh Winter Fair provided an opportunity to meet once again with Dunbia to discuss our concerns.

Two further meetings are scheduled for early January where the work will continue.

All members of the group that travelled are very much so still interested and are still involved in shaping the scheme. We have gained a unique insight into the amount of work and considerations that are required to develop an intergraded supply chain project. All members have enjoyed meeting together and working as a team and have decided to continue to throw ideas around, share knowledge and support one and other which is very refreshing and it’s very pleasing to see the next generation working together to overcome some of the challenges that welsh agriculture is facing.

The study tour was excellent, all members have learned not only about calf rearing and what is involved in this type of project but it enabled us to bring like minded young farmers together from the whole of Wales. They learned basic benchmarking, calculating cost of production and in turn this has enabled them to be in a position to look at their own systems at home.