Herd health is a priority for Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassadors Ben and Tori Stanley as they strive to future-proof their growing business.
The long-term aim for Ben and Tori Stanley is to produce about 150 finished cattle per year to supply their own farm shop and other local butchers from a healthy and disease-free closed suckler herd.
The Stanleys’ business is relatively new, and initially only having a short-term tenancy, most finished cattle had to be bought-in as stores.
However, in 2015 they secured an additional long-term tenancy on the 162-hectare (400-acre) Park Farm in Melbourne, Derbyshire, which has enabled them to plan further ahead.
Ben says: “The increase in acreage and long-term security has enabled us to start to build up a suckler herd which ultimately will be able to supply sufficient finished animals for our retail needs.
“Not having to buy-in stock will give us better control of disease prevention and, as part of working towards this, we are putting a robust herd health planning regime in place.
“Herd health is vitally important for us. Not only are healthy animals more productive, but it is extremely disheartening looking after sick animals. We have great pride in our stock and want them healthy at all times.
“Although we are not selling pedigree stock at the moment, as a young business, we cannot afford to let disease take hold in our herd. A later aspiration will be to sell pedigree stock, so building health is important.
“We are selling meat direct to the consumer and it is important for us that they have trust in us that our animals have been raised to high health and welfare standards.”
In establishing the suckler herd, to get the best value, Ben and Tori invested in older cows, in-calf and with calves at foot.
These are mainly Longhorn and Longhorn cross, with the breed chosen for its eating attributes and marketability.
Ben says: “The disadvantage of buying older stock was a higher disease risk, but we just did not have the finance to go out and buy sufficient heifers.
“Also there is a smaller pool of high health cattle to choose from within the Longhorn breed, but we tried to buy accredited cattle in larger groups where possible to reduce risk.
“We have now closed the breeding herd for health reasons and intend to grow numbers by retaining most heifers as replacements over the next few years, focusing on prevention rather than cure.”
Currently, the main disease risk area is bought-in stores and Ben works closely with his vet, Robert Howard, of Scarsdale Vets, Derby, on a testing and monitoring regime.
Ben says: “Initial breeding cattle were sourced privately where possible from high health herds or blood-tested prior to purchasing.
“Fortunately, we still have our original holding, Woodhouse Farm, and so if this was not possible, they were blood-tested and isolated there for at least a month before being moved to the new farm to join the herd.”
Once the base herd was established, all cows were tested for BVD, IBR, Johne’s disease and leptospirosis and any reactors culled.
Park Farm does not have any neighbouring livestock farms. Boundaries at other farms which are grazed are double-fenced and any that are not are only used for silage or arable crops.
Ben says: “We only source store cattle privately from the same few suppliers. We work closely with them on health testing and prevention, with most of them now implementing the same protocols as us.
“Purchased stores are kept at Woodhouse Farm completely separate from the breeding herd which is kept at Park Farm so there is no contact between the two.
“Biosecurity is important and people, equipment and transport should be disinfected if moving between sites and after going to the abattoir. Deadstock is removed at the gates.
“One of our biggest concerns is neospora, as there are a lot of footpaths on-farm. We would really like to see a vaccine for this being produced.
“We attend shows to support them and promote our business, but show cattle are kept isolated and blood-tested before re-entering the herd.
“For us, it is all about minimising risk and continuing to monitor herd health closely, focusing on areas which potentially pose the biggest threats.”
Knowing the aims of the business is crucial, believes Robert Howard, the Stanley family’s vet.
He says: “A good farmer and vet relationship is not just about the farmer knowing the vet and having the same vet every time; it goes further than that.
“It is not up to the vet to dictate what a farmer should do. Every farmer has different aspirations
for their business and it is important their vet understands what they are if they are to offer the best advice. Then they can work together to identify the biggest challenges and risks and put plans in place to mitigate these, which are practical and likely to be cost-effective.
“For example, in Ben’s case we are monitoring for Johne’s disease, so we do some blood tests
on the same day as we do the TB test to reduce cost and labour.”
This article is part of a ‘Disease? Not On My Farm!’ series which showcases proactive beef and dairy farmers taking pride in their robust herd health and disease management approach.