Calf rearers, Wayne and Theresa Russell are proof that success can be made from juggling farm-life and work-life.
Hannah Noble visited them to find out more...
For the Russell family, attention to detail has always been a key part of ensuring a successful business.
However, investment in data collection is allowing for more of a focus on daily liveweight gains (DLWG), paving the way for research into feed conversion ratios.
Wayne and Theresa Russell and their grown-up children, Richard, Ben and Katherine, have been contract rearing calves on their Herefordshire farm since 2008, but seven years ago began rearing for Meadow Quality, taking 65 calves per month.
Following the discovery of a bTB reactor, the family took the decision to make the farm an approved finishing unit, meaning it can accept calves from farms locked up with bTB.
There are 500 calves on-farm at any one time, mostly continental cross, with about 35 Hereford and Aberdeen-Angus calves per month. They are split between three rearing sheds for the youngest calves and two larger sheds for weaned calves.
The rearing sheds are split into two sides and, for biosecurity purposes, each side is filled with one batch of 65 calves, which are never mixed until after weaning. Each side is comprised of five pens which can carry up to 13 calves.
Mrs Russell says: “For the first two days, calves are randomly allocated to the five pens. They come in on a Thursday and on Saturday they are run down the race, tagged with an EID tag and their weight is recorded. They are then sorted by weight.”
Calves are weighed every week for the first six weeks and then every two weeks once weaned.
A once-a-day milk feeding protocol is in place, feeding in the evening with three litres of milk to 600g of milk powder.
Mr Russell says: “It is important to ensure they are getting the same quantity of powder as they would when spread over two feeds, but we find four litres of milk is too much in one hit.”
Milk is mixed using a 110 litre mixer and water is heated through a gas boiler with the thermostat set to 42degC, cooling to 39degC once it reaches the trough. It takes approximately one hour to feed 170 calves.
“The target weaning weight is 85kg and they must each be eating 2kg of cake per day before they can be weaned. But they stay in the rearing sheds for a minimum of five weeks irrespective of weight,” says Mrs Russell.
Each calf gets about 17kg of milk powder, made up of whey-based powder with 10 per cent skim powder, before it is ready to be weaned.
Mr Russell says: “If the milk contains any more than 30 per cent skim powder we find they do not eat enough cake and end up being on milk for longer. The 10 per cent powder means the milk satisfies the initial appetite but they are soon looking for more food. It is definitely best for us.”
The newest calf shed took the family 18 months to design.
Mrs Russell says: “We wanted to get it just right. We used perforated sheets, mostly used in horticultural buildings, which can be adjusted to let in light and air.
“We have been in the new shed just less than a year and can already see pneumonia cases are lower and, subsequently, so is antibiotic usage. DLWG is also up by 0.1kg in the new shed and this increase continued all through the winter too.”
Once calves are weaned they are moved into larger group-housed sheds, fed four to five kilos of a 16 per cent protein concentrate per day with ad-lib haylage and straw.