For Ben Moody, rearing calves for Blade Farming was his start up in a farm business of his own. Without the Blade system, in particular the markedly reduced working capital requirement, he says it would probably have been impossible.
Today, 17 years since the first lot arrived, he’s clocked up 174 batches and 21,000 calves. Still in good working order, Ben’s original milk machine is a bit like Trigger’s broom (17 new brush-heads and 14 handles*) and still in use along with three more recent models [*Only Fools and Horses, BBC, 1996].
Having reared calves as a teenager with his father, taking it up in his own right was a logical move, though by no means straightforward. In three purpose-built sheds on a Greenfield site at Northcoombe Farm, Chipstable, Somerset, he started out bucket rearing but soon switched to machine feeders.
At more than 1,000 ft above sea level, the sheds sit in a gentle hollow, surrounded by trees. Ben says that even though this buffers nicely against SW winds, the early days saw too much respiratory ill health.
When buildings guru Jamie Robertson attended a Blade Farming open day, he and Ben calculated that more than half-a-million litres of rain fell on those sheds in a year. Through better ventilation and rain-proofing, and increased capacity gutters, downspouts and drainage away from the building, the prevailing humidity of its microclimate was reduced significantly. Calf health improved accordingly. Other than respiratory disease, the predictable health problems against which to be vigilant are coccidiosis and Mycoplasma bovis.
Each new batch of 120 calves arrives over a 10-day period and is housed in two pens of 60. On average, they’ve consumed 19kg/head of milk replacer at weaning after six weeks on the unit. Moving to the weaned shed, they get ad-lib concentrates and barley straw.
Angus-cross calves arrive at 45kg minimum, all other breeds 50kg plus. By departure, the Blade target is at least 110kg, though Ben’s calves average about 13% higher than this at 124kg. Feed use is 220kg/head concentrate for an average daily gain of 0.9kg – in the early days it was 0.75 – though some individuals can do more than 1kg/day.
On the Blade system, Ben Moody provides housing, labour and straw, with Blade supplying calves, feed, veterinary services and medicines. Ben more or less runs the whole system himself, with occasional help for castrating and dehorning, pre-movement TB testing and post-batch cleaning.
Over the past 17 years, Ben’s business has expanded significantly. It now has a 300-ewe sheep flock and 60 beef finishers; barley growing, private shoot and Countryside Stewardship agreements; a self-built Scandia-Hus farmhouse and 3.9kW of solar panels on one of the calf sheds… all thanks to Trigger’s broom and successful calf rearing.
Why Blade Farming?
Based on 17 years’ experience, Ben Moody sees three huge advantages for him and fellow rearers:
1. The bed-and-breakfast basis reduces working capital markedly. Rearers provide buildings, labour, straw, electricity and water. Blade Farming supplies calves, feed, veterinary support and medicines.
2. Continuous improvement to the system over 20 years to date, meaning rearers trust that everything they are required to do is justified and effective.
3. Blade Farming people are available whenever needed. They strike a balance between being non-intrusive yet supportive and ever ready.