For calf rearers and beef finishers in the Blade Farming family, the secret of success isn’t really a secret at all.
For 20 years, those involved have all played an important part in the continuous improvement of the Blade system. In return, they have knowledgeable and helpful people like Rachael and Katie, Harry and Tim, supporting them…and it doesn’t cost rearers or finishers a penny.
How can this be, you may wonder? In short, this non-secret is eliminating avoidable waste and increasing productivity by good teamwork among rearers, finishers and the Blade support team.
Working with Blade Farming, you’re never on your own. Support is always available at the end of a phone line. This means your valuable time, day-in day-out, can be devoted to applying the system that’s been proved over the past 20 years and continues to be refined.
Rachael Hopkins, as mentioned above, looks after the supply of calves from dairy herds where they’re born onto calf rearing units. She says the biggest challenge is co-ordinating collection and delivery on a large geographical scale while minimising the distances and time that calves are in transit.
As well as looking after a large number of existing dairy herd sources, she recruits new ones and helps them fulfil the Blade essentials: Colostrum within six hours of birth; cleanliness and hygiene; and record keeping, for example. The aim, of course, is to assure the best possible readiness of each calf for its three-month spell on a rearing unit with minimum 120kg liveweight a must-do target.
Rachael sees assurance or reassurance as an essential factor for everyone involved: Source farms are paid an assured price, insulating them from a ‘bad calf trade’; rearers can be confident that calves come from known sources where their birth and first couple of weeks have been well managed; and finishers have the assurance of vaccinations and known growth rates during rearing for example, from professional rearers with very high standards.
From Rachael, the baton passes to Katie Tomley who looks after Blade calf rearers from Lancashire to Cornwall. As a go-between from Rachael – whose job she used to do – to Harry who covers the finishing stage, Katie describes her main challenge as juggling multiple parts of the system. This demands clear communication and good planning. She’s clearly an advocate of the Wise Old Carpenter’s rule – measure twice, cut once – and double-checks everything.
To feed growing demand from parent company ABP’s retailer customers for Blade beef, Katie is on permanent look-out for new calf rearers and is hands-on with their familiarisation and training in the Blade system. As a personal measure of success, she says it’s happy rearers who take pride in producing ideal calves for the next stage, and finishers who are equally happy to receive those calves.
Looking after those finishers in the eastern half of the country is Harry Jackson’s responsibility. Just like his colleagues, recruiting new members to the Blade family is an important priority. This opportunity has recently opened up for many additional farms with the launch of a low-cost finance option for the incoming reared calves.
Clearly, this reduces markedly the working capital required to get started in beef finishing. In combination with a mechanism that sets at the outset a minimum finished price, Harry adds that this takes care of two major obstacles facing many would-be beef finishers, whether independent or with Blade.
Once working capital is taken care of, the main attribute required from potential new finishers is market-led awareness. Blade/ABP’s retailer customers demand precise carcase specifications in order to create the size of premium cuts that shoppers want. For steers, maximum deadweight is 315kg, and heifers, 290kg. Harry works closely with finishers to hit these targets, which he suggests soon become second nature. A welcome simplification for finishers is that the EUROP grid doesn’t apply.
As a result of working together towards a common goal, Harry adds that it’s rewarding for both parties to see the positive impact a Blade finishing unit can have on a farm business. There’s the farmer’s pride in producing great cattle with decent and dependable financial returns, and the job fulfilment enjoyed by Harry, Katie and Rachel from being part of the machinery helping this to happen.
This brings us to the paternal overview taken by vet-in-chief and internationally recognised calf health guru Tim Potter. For more than a decade, Tim has overseen development of high welfare, minimum disease protocols. These include respiratory and digestive health, vaccination and building design, BVD surveillance and performance monitoring.
Working directly with rearers and finishers’ own vets, Tim and the entire veterinary team are responsible for harmonising local working methods to a consistently high, national standard defined by Blade.
Returning to where this started, the secret that isn’t secret is a common purpose, shared by everyone involved. No one in the Blade extended family need ever feel alone. Rearers and finishers can call each other as well as their Blade support team for reassurance or advice. All can share the fulfilment of producing some of the best beef money can buy in UK shops or restaurants.
Ultimately, the Blade system is geared to one simple purpose: Happy customers who keep coming back for more. Working backwards along the beef chain, happiness means different things to different groups, for example:
1. Shoppers – consistently fabulous premium steaks.
2. Retailers – reliable supply, consistent high quality, sustainable and quality assured production methods.
3. Beef finishers – healthy reared calves arriving at good weight-for-age, with high genetic potential to use feed efficiently and grow quickly.
4. Calf rearers – well-matched batches of colostrum-protected, healthy calves with high genetic potential to achieve rearing targets.