Reaseheath agriculture graduates launch calf rearing business

Reaseheath agricultural graduates Chris Webb and Larry Anscombe have joined forces to form a thriving calf rearing business. Along with their friend Chris Roberts, the entrepreneurial pair launched their calf unit while they were first year degree students and continued to expand it alongside their studies. They have grown quickly from an initial intake of 30 calves to rearing 130 calves on a farm at Welsh Frankton, Shropshire, and, after just a year and a half, are taking over the tenancy on a second larger unit nearby.

The core of the business is raising beef-cross calves on milk and concentrate. The animals are purchased from farms across Shropshire and Cheshire at two to three weeks of age for resale as weanlings at around three months. On the same system, dairy heifer calves are contract-reared for local dairy farmers. Already the business is attracting return custom, with the partners attributing their success to their niche specialism, to making the most of technology and to their high standards of welfare.

The calves are machine-fed in groups of 25 to 30, with electronic identification collars to allow individual monitoring, ration-control and progressive weaning to minimise stress and post-weaning check. From arrival, calves have ad lib starter, straw and water, and are fed 1kg of CMR daily. This drives early growth during the period of maximum feed efficiency and also primes their metabolism for high starter intakes as they progress onto solid feed.

By combining traditional good stockmanship with feeder automation and technology for monitoring health and performance, their system is able to deliver healthy calves with excellent growth rates, despite a relatively low workload. Careful monitoring of live weight gain also allows changes and protocols to be continuously tuned, compared and assessed.

Chris Webb came to Reaseheath as a mature student, having previously run technology companies following a maths degree at the University of Cambridge in the 1990s. He doesn’t have a farming background, so studying for a Foundation Degree in Agriculture with Dairy Herd Management helped him build the skills and knowledge to enable him to break into a new industry.

Larry, who comes from a farming family, studied for his Level 3 Extended Diploma in Agriculture at Walford College, Shropshire, completing this as student of the year. He then progressed on to a Foundation Degree in Agriculture at Reaseheath to enable him to aim higher in his chosen career.

Chris Roberts graduated from Harper Adams in 2007 and now works as a partner in his family dairy farm. He was instrumental in a successful conversion to robot-milking in 2011 and subsequent expansion of the herd, so he is no stranger to the benefits technology can bring to a farming business.

Both Reaseheath graduates credit the success of their partnership with the inspired teaching and balance of academic and practical learning which they received while undergraduates.

Chris Webb said: “Reaseheath provided a great learning experience which included a comprehensive, well-taught course which was directly relevant to real-life farming. I enjoyed studying with a friendly, tight-knit group from a mix of backgrounds. The specialist dairy side of the course is unique in the UK as it’s condensed into studying for two days a week, enabling many of us to hold down farming jobs at the same time. Our course manager, Dr Jane Richardson, inspired and encouraged us to pursue our start-up business.”

Larry, who is a member of Whitchurch Young Farmers Club, added: “Rearing calves to three months of age can be a hassle for some farmers as it is an additional task alongside running the mature animals. We have chosen to concentrate on this area and, so far, it has proved very successful.

“Just because we use modern technology doesn’t make us less of a stockman. It allows us to focus more on the health of the calves while having a more flexible lifestyle.”

For further details on buying or selling calves, or for a chat about this start-up business, contact Chris Webb

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