Long Lane Development Farm is situated just outside Shepton Mallet in the heart of Somerset in the southeast of England. It’s run by the Buitelaar Group and all calves reared on the unit are processed through the Buitelaar Group.

The farm was purchased in 2018 by the Buitelaar Group. The group rears 36,000 calves a year across the UK and Ireland in 14 specialised rearing units. The group also manages 150,000 cattle movements from rearing farms to finishing farms and from finishing farms to slaughter houses, managing the complete supply chain along the way.

Buitelaar Group CEO Adam Buitelaar tells the Irish Farmers Journal: “If you walk into a McDonald’s restaurant, everything is always the same, right down to the amount of tomato ketchup that goes on a burger. We want to bring the same ethos to calf rearing through protocols and processes so we get results.

“We also want to bring some certainty to the market with a guaranteed minimum beef price for the calf that the farmer buys. That way, a farmer knows exactly what they can expect to make out of that calf.”

Calves are purchased from dairy farms and are graded at collection centres based on weight and age.

Long Lane Development Farm manager James Taylor says:“This is one of the most important jobs that we do on the farm. We batch all our calves together based on breed, weight and age. This avoids any bullying issues within groups and we keep the group size to 10 calves in each pen until they are weaned.”

Calves come on to Long Lane Development Farm at around four weeks of age at a minimum weight of 60kg. Many of the calves have been bought on contract in that the Buitelaar Group will be buying all calves from certain dairy farms at fixed prices based on the breed and genetics of the calves.

The group puts a limit of 600kg on the liveweight of dairy cows that they purchase calves from and are aiming for a 320kg carcase weight at 20 months.

Once the calves are on the farm, they receive the first shot of a two-shot pneumonia programme and are allowed to settle into their new surroundings. Calves are housed in specially designed Buitelaar high health units.

The walls of these units are constructed from insulated boarding which, according to the group, retain heat better.

This means that calves exert more of their energy on growth as opposed to maintenance.

We have made a lot of changes to our calf sheds over the years and we are really happy with the performance of our calves

Units cost £330/calf (€393/calf) to construct, so an 80-calf shed would cost €31,440.

Adam says: “We have made a lot of changes to our calf sheds over the years and we are really happy with the performance of our calves.”

Each shed can house 160 calves, 80 on each side, and the 160 calves can be fed by one person in seven minutes using a motorised milk feeder. Increasing liveweight gain and decreasing antibiotic usage are the two main aims for calves while in the unit.

Robotic feeders

Calves consume 25.1kg of milk replacer while in the rearing shed on a 35-day milk programme.

No teats are used on the farm with calves drinking milk out of troughs in front of pens. Two robotic feeders were trialled on the farm but taken out on the basis of too many calves at different weights at the end of the rearing phase.

Calves start off on three litres of milk/day for the first week, reducing back to two litres/day and then one litre/day for the final week and are fed at 7 am and 2.30pm each day.

Calves are fed a 17% protein nut during the rearing phase and then move on to a 15% protein blend. Calves are built up to 3kg of meal at which point they move to the weaned shed at 140kg. From here, they move out to finishing farms for the next stage in the supply chain.

During the rearing phase, calves are vaccinated for pneumonia, dehorned, castrated and they also get an oral drench for coccidiosis at 10 to 14 days of age.

Health management

Health and health management is a huge part of what happens on Long Lane Development Farm and the group has pioneered an IGG test, which can test calves for the level of immunity attained from colostrum in minutes. The test, which is available to all farmers in both Ireland and the UK, costs around €18 to €20/head and can determine IGG status in 10 minutes.

Long Lane Farm was purchased by the Buitelaar Group. The group rears 36,000 calves a year in the UK and Ireland in 14 specialised rearing units.

Adam says: “We can monitor calves coming into the unit with all calves now being tested at the collection centre. In the future, we will be potentially able to offer a premium where calves have attained a high level of immunity and avoid calves with very low immunity.”

Data from the unit shows that calves with an IGG test of 10 or higher led to a reduction in antibiotic usage of 46% in those calves.

Calves are housed in batches of 10 and if a calf is treated with an antibiotic, a green strip of insulated tape is taped around the gate to the pen.

If another calf is treated in that pen, another green strip goes on the gate. If a third calf has to be treated in the pen, all of the 10 calves in that pen receive treatment.

The team, in consultation with their vet, follow a protocol that a calf receives Metacam and an anti-inflammatory for its first treatment. This steps up to Fenflor as a second treatment if first doesn’t work and then Draxin if the second treatment doesn’t work.

The level of detail put into managing the farm is very impressive with the stock performance equally as impressive.

  • 6,500 calves are reared on Long Lane Development Farm in Somerset.
  • Calves are reared in specially constructed insulated units.
  • Calves consume 25.1kg of milk replacer during the milk phase.
  • Calves leave rearing sheds at 140kg and move out to finishing farms.
  • A new IGG test has meant the group can monitor the health of calves coming into the units and make sure colostrum is adequately fed to calves.
  • The group offers guaranteed beef prices for calves purchased from the farm and also offers a bed and breakfast payment of between €2.40/kg and €2.60/kg of liveweight gained on the farm.