Why vet support has been a Gamechanger for growing family business

A proactive health plan is at the heart of maximising profit for four brothers as they grow the family farming business in Buckinghamshire.

For the last two years, the Brinklows have been rearing dairy x beef cattle for Gamechanger, our integrated supply chain programme with Blade Farming and ABP for Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range. In batches of 90, the calves are reared over 84 days, starting on automated milk machines before moving to a weaning shed.

Eldest brother, Jason Brinklow, who works full-time off farm as a police dog handler, says that the health planning and veterinary support from Gamechanger has been critical to making rearing straightforward and rewarding:

The success is in the detail: each batch is delivered at the same age, within a close weight spec so we can vaccinate them all at the same time at each stage which is more efficient and more effective. The timing, too. For example, vaccinating for pneumonia as soon as possible after arriving at the unit, when they’ve been on the move, are in a new environment, and are at their most vulnerable to illness. The all in / all out process means we can fully disinfect the sheds between batches, and with Gamechanger’s focus on genetics the calf quality is much higher than we’ve received from other systems. We’ve definitely seen an uplift in herd health and less mortality with Gamechanger.

Gamechanger’s attention to health starts with the genetics, using semen from a named high-quality sire crossed with dairy cows, and continues throughout the process with a well-honed preventative health programme developed between Blade Farming and Clinical Director of Westpoint Farm Vets, Tim Potter.

The programme mitigates principally against pneumonia and ringworm, but Tim tailors it if farms are prone to certain infections. He will guide farmers how to identify early signs of disease.

The benefit of working with over 35 Gamechanger rearers across the whole country is the broad overview we get. It’s enabled us to develop a health programme that minimises disease and the management time and losses associated with this, but also if there is a disease pattern in different regions, or outbreak, to be able to react quickly and appropriately. It’s a really important relationship and knowing the farms, we can see how to best build healthy herds across the system to streamline management and profits for all Gamechanger farmers.

The veterinary support starts from before a farmer takes their first Gamechanger cattle, with Tim and his team assessing the unit and making suggestions (on things like layout, feeding systems and ventilation). The advice and education continues throughout the rearing and finishing period, with a minimum of two annual visits and 24/7 telephone support. Jason, whose brothers Aaron, Phil and Paul, also work full-time off farm with one in the police and two as firefighters says:

Tim helped us to improve evenness in the herd by increasing the number of creep feeders to minimise competition. Small changes like this benefit the whole system as we reach our targets and finishers receive heavier, faster growing stock.

They became involved in the family farm in recent years as it hit financial difficulties in a determined bid to give their children the option of a career in agriculture. 

Alongside the Gamechanger unit, the brothers, aged 35-40, have a 1,000-place pig unit also on contract as well as 50 breeding ewes on 80 acres of permanent grassland. They’ve also recently kept two batches of calves for finishing.

They each have their own key roles, whether principally sheep, chief mechanic, or the cattle and pigs, but share the responsibilities. The bonus of all four working shift patterns is four fresh pairs of eyes coming in at different times of day to notice any changes in the livestock, says Jason: 

We probably catch any issues even quicker, and it’s great to have Tim on the end of a quick text to advise us on treatment or whether to get the vet in.

Herd health and hygiene has always been important to the Brinklows with well-ventilated open sided barns, regular re-littering and cleaning of the milk machines, and Gamechanger’s health protocols have helped build on this. Having such good herd performance is part of the matrix that makes Gamechanger work really well for their business, he adds:

Gamechanger financing the stock has allowed us to start with reasonable numbers which we couldn’t have done otherwise, and having a fixed price for the stock at the end takes away the volatility. Then it’s just up to us to look after them as best we can to maximise herd health and profit potential.