The Beef Initiative Driving Steady Income

The rapidly growing success of the fully integrated beef supply chain programme, Gamechanger, means there’s demand for more beef rearers like George Breakwell to get in on the game.

When he committed to returning to the tenanted family farm near Bridgnorth in Shropshire, George Breakwell needed to carve out his own enterprise. A dairy farm when he was growing up, in the early 2000s the cows were sold during the squeeze. At the time he
returned in 2014, his father was running a flock of 350 Welsh Mule x Lleyn ewes alongside working full-time off farm.

When George heard about contract rearing with Blade Farming, he saw a way to bring farm sheds back into commission and run a beef rearing enterprise with regular income and no capital outlay. The success of the system meant his father Robert was able to stay on the farm full-time shortly after.

Four years ago, they started rearing for Gamechanger, the fully integrated beef supply chain developed by Sainsbury’s with ABP and Blade Farming, starting with dairy calves. Working with a network of dairy farmers, rearers and finishers, it produces high quality British beef for Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range. George now rears up to 720 calves a year for Gamechanger on a bed-and-breakfast basis over 12 weeks:

“This programme is ideal for younger people like me who need a start. You don’t need a huge amount of capital to get going and there’s the security of knowing there’s guaranteed, steady income over the year. It’s easy to manage as it’s all in, all out. There’s consistently good weight gain and herd health and we know before they arrive what price we’ll get when the calves leave, all paid within a few days. At the start I was able to fit it around working on a local butcher’s farm and contract shearing.”

Designed to offer security and stability to farmers, Gamechanger rearers are given a guaranteed forward price per calf and provided with all feed, vet support and vaccinations, EID tags and free access to the farm management tool Agriwebb. The rearers, who must
have previous livestock experience and be Red Tractor-assured, provide the infrastructure including the milk-feeding machine, feed storage, straw, electricity and water.

George takes 120 dairy x beef calves every 6-7 weeks. They’re on milk for the first six weeks before moving to the rearing shed, their feed intake and performance individually monitored through electronic tagging.

“We work closely with Genus on the genetics of the Aberdeen Angus-dairy cross and with veterinary surgeons and ruminant nutritional consultants on the rearing regime, continuously improving the system for the best feed efficiency, growth and herd health,” explains Katie Tomley, Blade Farming Calf Rearing Manager.

The Breakwells are now also keeping some calves for finishing. They are a special cog in the Gamechanger wheel, as they became its first Approved Finishing Unit (AFU), an APHA approved unit that allows the collection and rearing of calves that are under TB restrictions. This is essential to guarantee the throughput of calves to finishing units and Gamechanger is actively looking for more AFUs to create a strong geographical spread.

Finishers enjoy similar stability with a set management fee. Finishers must have access to good quality forage, as well as being commercially minded to monitor production and respond to results. Gamechanger is scalable and George is planning to double his intake over the next 12 months:

“The whole programme has been designed for ease and steady gain,” he says. “For us, it’s the reassurance that everything is forecast. When you are rearing for yourselves, the value of cattle is so much and your money is tied up for a long time, so this is a brilliant, low-risk enterprise that allows us to plan ahead and easily manage, and we find the Gamechanger team great to work with: unobtrusive but always there when needed.”

As consumers become more conscious of where their food comes from and its environmental impact, Sainsbury’s Agriculture Manager, Jocelyn Orr, said the programme is a win-win for all:

“Shoppers want high-quality beef with transparency and traceability, and farmers need stability and regular, fair income to run their businesses profitably. This unique partnership has been carefully developed with the goal of adding tangible value at every stage of the supply chain.”