By Debbie James

A major beef procurer and processor is exploring priorities for achieving optimal performance at its new rearing and finishing research unit in Powys.

Pickstock Telford has established the research facility at Brongain Farm, Llanfechain, to inform decision making on its supply farms.

The facility will act as a hub for live trials and knowledge transferring between farmers and its partners in the beef supply chain.

Pickstock Telford procures livestock directly from farmers, processing 100,000 cattle a year and exporting to over 25 countries.

To protect its future supply chain, the company wants to create a model of production that is achievable and profitable for beef producers and one that delivers a consistent carcass.

It also wants to address some of the big challenges the industry faces, including carbon emissions.

Building design, ventilation and automatic calf feeders have been carefully selected with the aim of achieving high health status and reducing the need for antibiotics.

The rearing, handling and finishing facilities have capacity for an annual throughput of up to 1,000 dairy-bred beef calves, which are sourced from farms within a 40-mile radius.

Rowan Pickstock, the third generation of the Pickstock family to work in the business, says his ambition is to produce a consistent animal that meets consumer demands and a system that offers improved financial viability for producers.

When calves arrive on farm at 14-21 days they are fitted with calf jackets.

These are worn until calves are a month old or longer if the temperature is 2°C or lower.

Farm vet Rob Edwards says how calves are managed on the supply farm has a big influence on how they perform in the rearing facility.

“It is vital that when they come here they are healthy and disease-free,’’ he says.

Calves that have needed treatments are not accepted as they are classed as high risk.

The supply farms have robust colostrum management plans in place, says Mr Edwards, of Cain Farm Vets.

This includes the use of refractometers to estimate serum total protein in grams per deciliter (g/dL).

A value greater than 5.5g/dL, an indication that the calf has absorbed adequate levels of the milk protein antibody IgG from the colostrum, is required in at least 80 per cent of calves on supply farms.

Calves must be drinking three litres of a 15 per cent protein milk replacer twice a day before they arrive at Brongain Farm.

“There is less stress on the calves when they move from the supply farm if they are drinking the same quantity and quality of feed,’’ says Mr Edwards.

The unit doesn’t accept calves that have been reared on raw milk because of the disease risk, he adds.

The automatic feeders are calibrated to assume calves are 14 days old on arrival and have an automatic cut-off for weaning at 70 days; after the first two days on three litres of milk, feed intakes are gradually increased, up to a maximum of 8.5 litres/calf/day at day 63 and reducing thereafter.

Each calf pen has a station for dispensing starter concentrate nuts ad lib; the aim is to have calves eating 2kg at weaning.

Pneumonia is the biggest disease challenge the calves face so they are vaccinating and there is emphasis on detecting infection at the earliest possible stage.

Cattle finished at 18-21 months at 630-650kg liveweight (330-350kg deadweight) at a minimum of 0 grade carcass conformation and processed at Pickstock’s plant in Telford, Shropshire.