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Why is technology key to rearing healthy calves in a sustainable way?

As part of her year long placement as a McDonald’s Progressive Young Farmer, Katie visits different stages in the beef supply chain. Here she walks us through her experience on a calf rearing unit in Wiltshire.

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Intro

For my last and final on farm placement I worked several months on a calf rearing unit in Wiltshire, run with Blade farming. The unit is home to up to 480 young beef cattle at a time and this is where they spend the first few months of their lives before they go to other farms to grow on and finish.

 

As well as getting hands on experience with all aspects of animal husbandry, including feeding, vaccinating and veterinary treatment, I got the opportunity to witness all the amazing technology that helps the owners to rear strong and healthy calves.

 

I was impressed with the milk feeding machines which allow each calf to be individually fed the correct amount of milk they need to grow and develop. As well as feeding them, the machines weigh them every time they drink, and can measure their drinking speed.

 

This allows us to easily work out daily liveweight gains and their feed efficiency ratio, and it also indicates quickly if the calves have any health problems.

As well as technology to monitor the calves’ welfare there are also lots of health protocols in place throughout the Blade system.

 

There are checks to look at ventilation, warmth and stocking density in calf housing to reduce the need for veterinary treatment on all calf rearing farms like this. While I was on the farm unit, we hosted a visit from one of the McDonald’s Sustainable Beef Clubs.

 

These are groups run by McDonald’s to share knowledge and best practice between farmers on how to reduce their carbon footprint. Beef farmers involved in the Sustainable Beef Club project have managed to reduce their carbon emissions by an average of nearly a quarter in six years.

 

The beef club visited this unit to look at the housing design. Impressively, the whole farm was constructed by my host farmers over the last ten years. It was great to understand the attention to detail that went into the design to allow the animals to thrive, and how the investment in technology on the farm has enabled more information on calf health to be easily gathered. I even enjoyed helping out in the building of some new calf sheds.

 

Hopefully some of the skills I’ve learnt will help me to put up some new buildings at home! My placement year has been amazing and I’ve learnt so much. From the high level of innovative technology used on farms to the business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit needed to run a successful farm business.

 

Now I’m coming to the end of the placement, the last stage is to spend time working in a busy McDonald’s restaurant to see the final stage of the supply chain.

 

This will be a completely new experience for me and one I’ll look forward to updating you on in the near future!

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