Chris & Sue: Leaving Rearing Behind

Introducing Chris & Sue

Chris and Sue Miles have enjoyed rearing calves with Meadow Quality for over 30 years, originally starting the relationship with Mid-West Calves’ John Wayne in 1989. Chris and Sue have worked with several members of the Meadow Quality team since, most recently, they have received support from one of our Livestock Marketing Specialists, Chris Jones. Whilst drawing calves at the Miles’ farm in Cheddar Gorge, Chris asked them about their career…

What’s changed during their career?

Over their rearing career, the Miles’ have observed many changes within the industry, particularly around legislation. When they started rearing, calves were fitted with a single metal ear tag – items which are now sold on eBay as ‘vintage antiques’! Farmers were not required to maintain cattle passports for tracking the movement of livestock. Over their 30 years with us, the Miles’ have weathered crises such as the foot-and-mouth and blue-tongue virus outbreak, saw the establishment of new legislation and regulations, and the introduction of plastic EiD tags and cattle passports.

These changes have brought with them the need for investment in administrative tools, as well as the time that is taken to manage additional paperwork. The extra time required for further administration has reduced the time afforded to rearers like Chris and Sue for calf care. Nevertheless, they managed to maintain their own high standards, prioritising their calves’ health and welfare – an excellent achievement.

Whilst some legislative changes reduced the time available to them, some technological advances have brought noticeable improvements to their industry. Chris and Sue track calf weights by regularly weighing the calves individually. It’s an important process for monitoring calf productivity and identifying any problem calves with poor growth rates. Previously, prior to sending the calves off-farm, they would be individually weighed which is a long and time-consuming process. In recent years, however, they have been able to weigh in bulk, using a local weighbridge for ease and speed. Since changing this method, when the calves leave the farm, they are bulk weighed on the lorry to give an accurate average weight of the group.

Talking from experience…

During their conversation, Chris asked the Miles’ if they had any wisdom to pass on to their fellow rearers and, much like the UK Government’s communication in 2020, their overriding message was space! Whilst acknowledging that, in terms of profit, rearing calves is all about numbers, Chris and Sue’s number one tip was to give calves as much space as possible. Overcrowding, they said, leads to more illness and competition for essential feed, water, and space. By avoiding overcrowding, they have achieved consistently high performance in their rearing unit. Calves grow on better, plus, it makes it easier to keep clean!

The Miles’ also remarked on the importance of persistent care. Quick identification and speedy treatment of any illness is paramount, they said, recommending that rearers go the extra mile when caring for a sick animal – just as you would for your own child. For 30 years, they have made sure to stay amongst their calves, allowing them to spot any illnesses as they start and prevent them where possible.

The benefits of working with Meadow Quality

By joining Meadow Quality hosted rearer meetings, they have stayed up-to-date with modern health processes, vaccinations and dietary advancements. Within the meetings, they have enjoyed discussing developments and listening to expert speakers from veterinary practises, feed companies and pharmaceutical groups. Pulling from these resources has helped the couple achieve excellent results in their rearing process. Over the last 7,000 calves they have reared, the rearing partnership has achieved a very low mortality rate of 0.74%. Through MQ’s rearers meetings, they have made some very valuable contacts throughout the industry, which have been able to support their enterprise.

The Miles’ told Chris that they felt that their relationship with Meadow Quality had provided many benefits. Whilst additional legislation consumed their time, Meadow Quality were able to buy them some back. They have been able to rely on their Fieldsmen, supported by the MQ administration team, to provide a consistent flow of baby calves for the rearing unit. Working with them during each stage of the rear, the Fieldsmen have then facilitated the sale and movement of calves when they leave the rearing unit. This support has taken the pressure off Chris and Sue, allowing them to focus on rearing the calves to a high quality and standard of health.

Highlights and next steps

The Miles’ told Chris that, over their years in the industry, they have enjoyed many career highlights, met some lovely people and made lifelong friends. They are now excited for their next chapter. They are leaving the calf rearing business behind to focus their energy on their holiday cottages business which they run from their farm. Without the pressures of a commercial rearing business, the couple will continue to look after their other animals, including a small group of Hereford heifers. They will also have more time for other interests such as fishing and walking. The semi-retired lifestyle will afford them more time to spend with their grandchildren and each other.