31 Aug 2017
WITH more than 20 years’ experience producing broiler chickens, calf rearers Joff and Emma Roberts understand the need to keep growing livestock free from any disease which compromises performance. Based at Uphampton Farm, Shobden, Herefordshire, the Roberts rear two million broilers/year. Mr Roberts says: “Large-scale poultry producers usually know their cost of production and the importance of limiting the impact of disease on feed efficiency.
“The industry is very conscious of the need to reduce antibiotic usage. We are applying similar principles to calf rearing.” Mr and Mrs Roberts buy-in mixed age groups of continental, Angus, Hereford and black and white dairy cross calves from a variety of sources. Animals are brought in at an average weight of 55kg at about two weeks of age and reared for sale to finishers, latterly through Livestock Link (since 2015), moving out at an average of 130kg. Mrs Roberts says: “We have steadily built up the calf rearing operation since 1999, investing in automatic milk feeders and erecting in 2008 a specialist calf rearing shed incorporating Holm and Laue igloos.
“We have also been experimenting with a freestanding verandah system, which offers mobility flexibility. These allow you to change your farmyard layout to accommodate fluctuating calf numbers.” So impressed by the calf rearing benefits offered by the igloo system, the Roberts have expanded their operation and now rear 900 of their own calves a year for Livestock Link. They also act as UK agents for the igloos, which originate from Germany. Mr Roberts says calf health is absolutely crucial to business financial efficiency:
“The rearing environment is key. Optimal flow of fresh air is vital, but calves which are exposed to draughts will also suffer. The igloos give you the best of both worlds, and provided your nutrition and health management protocols work in-hand with this optimal rearing environment, calves can be reared healthily and efficiently.”
The unit’s calf health plan has been drawn up in consultation with vet Matt Pugh from Belmont Vets. Calves arrive and are eartag bloodtested (IDEXX) for BVD on-farm. Any persistently infected calves (PIs) are immediately removed and culled, so as not to provide a reservoir of infection which could infect other calves and compromise their immune function.