Changing up the game in the family farming business

One Welsh farmer has integrated contract finishing with Gamechanger into his wider beef and fruit growing business to lock in efficiency and certainty.

As part of a bid to streamline systems on the mixed family farm on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, Tom Higgs has recently started finishing calves on contract for Gamechanger, the integrated supply chain created by Sainsbury’s, ABP and Blade Farming. Built into his wider beef finishing enterprise, the key advantages for Tom have been the quality and health of the herd, combined with knowing the final price he’ll get for them from the day the calves arrive on farm.

When Tom returned to the 500-acre farm in 2009, after completing his degree at Harper Adams, there were over 600 sheep and a beef suckler herd of 60. He quickly reduced the sheep numbers, retaining 150 to maintain the pasture on the clifftop area of the farm as a Site of Scientific Interest (SSI), and phased out the suckler herd focusing instead on buying in calves and finishing cattle on feed grown on the farm. 

We’d been considering Gamechanger for a while, but I like to have control over my buying and marketing so I had resisted,” explains Tom. “We were, however, finding it harder to source good quality calves and combined with the volatility of prices for everything, it was attractive to integrate an enterprise that offered some certainty. Knowing the end value and the price we’ll get on the day the calves arrive has been great for planning, budgeting and security, and I’ve also been really pleased with the quality and health of the stock which has compounded that sense of certainty.

Half of the farm is in grass with the other half growing forage for feeding over the winter including grass, red clover and maize silage, barley, oats and beans. The cattle, who graze most of the year, come in for the winter months. Some of the 10-12-month-old cattle stay out on brassicas until late January or February. 

Finishing for Gamechanger suits our system,” he says. “Buying Gamechanger calves has reduced the effort and cost of rearing, and they are better calves than we could rear ourselves. Their good health and even growth makes management very easy, and finishing at 600kg, lighter than we usually would, reduces our costs. We can use all our home-grown feed and it’s also appealing that the finished cattle are not Europ graded – the spec is met on weight and fat cover – which takes another variable out of the mix.”

Blade Farming, as part of ABP Food Group, works with Sainsbury’s to provide a fully integrated supply chain from farm to retailer, helping to produce consistent, high-quality beef that gives both producers and retail customers confidence. Blade Farming Business Development Manager, Peter Gibbon, explains:

For over 20 years, we have tried and tested systems at Blade to help farmers reduce unnecessary costs and optimise cattle performance. At the same time, we’ve worked closely with end customers to understand their needs which helps us to ensure a high value market for producers. By developing a fully integrated supply chain and these relationships means we can set a forward price so farmers know exactly what their costs are and what price they’ll get on the day the cattle leave the farm, which is especially attractive when markets at both ends are unpredictable.”

The weaned calves arrive at three months weighing approximately 100kg and are on the finishing unit for 12 to 17 months before coming into ABP at an average age of 20.5 months. The finishing model can be selected to suit the farm’s production system. 

To be a Gamechanger finisher, farmers need to be Farm Assured and have good quality grazing and forage management. All calves are EID tagged for easy monitoring and management.

Gamechanger also offers an attractive financing option to purchase calves to help cash flow and new entrants, although Tom hasn’t chosen this option.

When we are trying to produce as quickly and efficiently as possible, working with Gamechanger is ideal,” says Tom.