Setting up a beef enterprise to finish black and white bulls for Buitelaar Group has given Aidan Taylor the opportunity to return to work on the family farm in Lincolnshire.
The Taylor family have farmed at Digby in Lincolnshire since 1935, running a mainly arable/poultry and grain storage business on the 121-hectare (300-acre) holding.
But with most of the land now in a contract farming arrangement, there was insufficient work at home for Aidan Taylor.
After studying at Riseholme College and then taking a degree in agriculture at Harper Adams University, Aidan worked on a number of local farms but remained keen to set up his own project on the family farm.
A visit by Aidan and his father, David, to a Buitelaar Group open day sparked the idea that finishing cattle for the company, might just provide the opportunity they were looking for.
After further research the family agreed that this was the way forward.
Aidan says: “I am really grateful to the family for allowing me to have a go.
“Knowing what the calves are going to cost and Buitelaar underwriting the finished animal, means we can calculate what we are likely to earn.
“This takes away the uncertainty and gave us the confidence to invest in the new infrastructure.”
“This takes away the uncertainty and gave us the confidence to invest in the new infrastructure”
Adam Buitelaar, chief executive of the Buitelaar Group, says: “Fuelling my passion for supporting young farmers, it is extremely rewarding for us to see new businesses like Aiden’s expanding under our cattle contracts.”
The building work started late in 2018 and the first calves arrived in March 2019, meaning that within a year of starting the project, Aidan was able to sell cattle.
He says: “We take about 40 four- to five-month-old weaned black and white bull calves a month at around 150kg, which are mainly coming from a Buitelaar calf rearing farm in a TB4 area in Yorkshire.
“The aim is to sell 40 cattle a month, so there is a constant turnover. They go at around 440kg liveweight, 240kg deadweight, at 10-11 months old, grading P+2 or better, with quite a few 0-.”
They had been killing out at 50 per cent but we are now pushing them more towards 51-52 per cent,” says Aidan.
The cattle are slaughtered at Woodheads, Spalding, with Aidan delivering a batch there each week. With no previous livestock experience and a new shed to build, Aidan really was starting with a blank canvass.
He says: “We have done everything on a budget and it is still very much work in progress. But the aim was to make everything as easy as possible, so the whole operation was not too time consuming.
“I can feed and bed up in an hour-and-a-half which leaves time for me to do other work off farm. I can get help from my younger brothers, Edward and James, and my fiancée, Katie, if necessary, but most of the time I do everything myself.”
The shed is split into six pens split by two-metre concrete panels, each of which can hold 40 animals.
Cattle remain in the same batch the whole time they are on-farm to minimise disease risk, but are moved along the building closer to the handling system and weight scale, as each batch is sold.
They are fed calf pellets when they first arrive and are then transitioned onto a barley-based ration fed from double sided hoppers.
Aidan says: “Initially, I was mixing the ration in a mixer bucket but was finding it became too dry and flour-like.
“So now I use an on-farm mill and mix which comes about once a month and mixes 40 tonnes at a time which gives me a moister, more palatable ration.”
Aidan has also installed LED lights on a timer in the shed which are set to extend daylight hours for the cattle which encourages them to eat more.
Daily liveweight gain is currently 1.4kg, but the aim is to push this up to 1.5kg/day.
Aidan has a straw for muck arrangement with a neighbour, with pens bedded up daily using a straw spreader, and are mucked about and washed down after every batch of cattle ready for the next lot.
A key part of the new build, in terms of both safety and ease of management, was the installation of a handling and weighing system, which sits at the end of the shed.
Aidan says: “Most of the time I am working on my own so it is important I can handle the cattle easily and safely.”
The handling system has a curved race with solid outer sides leading to a squeeze crush style weigh scale.
Aidan is able to move the cattle out of the shed into a holding pen and then through the race using solid swinging gates and into the crush, by himself.
He says: “I have had to make a few tweaks to the system since we started but it works well.
“I use the Breedr app as a management tool. It is linked to BCMS and from the moment the calves arrive I can put all their information into it. I weigh the cattle regularly and the data goes straight to my phone.
“It also acts as a medicine book recording all treatments as well and purchases and overall usage.
“It means I have all the data in one place and easily accessible.
“The calves come already vaccinated for pneumonia and IBR, so vet and med costs have been minimal. So far as I have had very few health issues, just occasional pneumonia and an odd lame one.”
With the first stage of his business plan now successfully up and running, Aidan is now looking at future expansion.
He says: “We are hoping to put up another building so we can expand numbers. This time I will be looking at buying-in three-week-old calves from one of Buitelaar’s collection centres, rearing them and taking them right through to finishing.
“Not only does this shorten the supply chain, but it gives me the opportunity to make more profit.”