An innovative approach to funding a new business venture was what was needed for the Rose family to make it possible for unwanted dairy bull calves to be raised for their beef.
The issue of unwanted Jersey male calves had always been an issue that was close to the family and one that inspired real emotion among the farmers, with the Roses wanting to make Jersey beef sustainable both economically and environmentally.
Natalie Rose of Ellerton, near York, has pinned her hopes on a concept called “crowd funding” after finding a way to make it financially viable to raise bull calves born into dairy herds, which would otherwise be destroyed at birth.
Crowd funding means taking small amounts of money from several interested parties and giving rewards to them in return.
Natalie is rewarding those who fund her idea with meat from her family’s herds.
For the past couple of years, Natalie has been trying to make the public aware of the plight of dairy bull calves using a photogenic young Jersey calf by the name of Ted.
As the face of her campaign, Ted caused quite a stir when she took him into a city centre photography studio in York to have his picture taken.
Natalie decided, however, that awareness-raising wasn’t enough and was determined to come up with a business proposition that would make it possible for her to rear on the bull calves in the Rose family’s Jersey herd.
Supported by her husband Robert and brother-in-law Paul, she hit upon an idea and set about producing a business plan that she could take to the banks to try to attract funding.
Natalie explained: “More than 90,000 dairy bull calves are shot each year.
“Most farmers would prefer to make a loss and rear the unwanted calves, but, with the milk price being so poor for so long and calf rearing being an expensive proposition, the losses have grown too great and the only option is to shoot them shortly after birth.”
She continued: “I recognised that the only way to save these calves was to eat them.
“As long as somebody is willing to pay for the meat, they can at least have a few months or years of life.
“The economics were unattractive, but I was determined to give it a go. Jersey cattle are famous for their rich milk, but the bulls are small and not very heavily muscled like a traditional beef animal, which makes them unappealing to beef rearers.
“However, the beef is exceptionally tender and frequently comes top in taste tests.”
Natalie realised that the only way to make her Jersey bull calves pay was by cutting out the middle man and selling their meat directly to the public through her website – www.jerseybeef.com.
And a time when dairy processors are coming under so much fire and attracting so much criticism for their approach to pricing, the idea of dealing direct with the customer will be a very attractive one – particularly for those rearing Jersey cattle. Robert and Paul played their part by introducing Natalie to a grazing technique known as “mobstocking”, which she credits with helping to keep her production costs low.
Mobstocking means that cattle graze in a small mob in an area with just enough grass for one day, rather than having access to a full field for several weeks.
They are then moved on to a new area each day, continuing the process. Natalie explained: “Mob stocking ensures that the cattle get a full, fresh sward every day, so they are well fed, but it also means they graze very efficiently, eating every bit, including weeds.
“When they move on, it completely rests the area, allowing the grass to grow back without the need for fertilisers and reseeding.
“Also, because the cattle move on so much, parasites can’t build up, so there’s no need to control them chemically or otherwise. “The next part may be of particular interest to farmers currently wrestling with high overheads.
“It makes the business more viable because we don’t have to buy fertiliser, seeds, pesticides and wormers, and we don’t have any tractor work to do on the pasture.
“We do not have any cattle feed to buy and we can support more cattle on the same piece of ground, which all helps to make the meat cheaper.” She added: “I wanted to make Jersey beef easily accessible in order to save as many calves as possible.
“I had to make it affordable and convenient, so I’ve kept my prices in line with the supermarket and sell by mail order so the meat turns up on the customer’s doorstep with little effort on their part.
“It was also important to me that it was eco-friendly, so I have striven to make it GM-free, soya-free and grain-free.”
Despite coming up with what appeared to be a sound business plan, Natalie hit a brick wall when she approached the banks for the funding that she so desperately needed.
She explained: “This was never a business that could make do with natural growth alone; it takes two-and-a-half years to grow a Jersey bull into beef, and most of the costs are in the initial rearing period.”
Not one to be easily deterred, Natalie decided to try crowd funding instead – an approach that a growing number of small businesses are turning to at a time when securing funding from the banks is becoming increasingly difficult.
She uploaded a video about her business to www.peoplefund.it – a crowd funding website set up by the team behind celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s “Chicken Out!” and “Hugh’s Fish Fight” campaigns – and invited members of the public to provide funding in return for meat.
For a £25 pledge the farm offers £35 of meat – an interest rate of 40 per cent.
A £40 pledge buys a sack of milk to feed a calf for 22 days and earns the investor five per cent off their meat for the duration of their custom.
Natalie was well on the way to reaching her £2,000 when she spoke.
She added: “We’ve always been big fans of grass roots action so crowd funding is the ideal way to fund JerseyBeef.com.
“It feels good to offer the public a chance to help bull calves and be able to give something useful in return.
“The more pledges we get, the more calves we can save.”
Of course no one likes the idea of calves being shot but the family are hopeful that the idea of animals being given an extra lease of life, combined with their good taste, will be appealing to farmers.
For more information about the project visit www.jerseybeef.com or call 01757 289 640.