Johanna Marsden BVSc MRCVS
From the 1st of January 2021 Arla bought in a new policy stipulating that no animal should be slaughtered before eight weeks old. This new policy will also be included as part of the new farm assurance measures from Autumn 2021, with an expected 12-month period given to put the new rules in place. This change will directly impact all Red Tractor assured dairy farms, and adaptions will need to be made to ensure that all calves are kept alive until at least eight weeks old.
This new policy does not mean that the calves must stay on the farm of birth, however additional processes will need to be put in place to ensure that the calves are not slaughtered under eight weeks old. Here we will cover the options and adaptations to farm processes that will help you to get the most from each calf born.
With an additional 60,000 calves due to be reared up to 8 weeks old each year, it is important to consider what calves you want to produce. If rearing your own heifer replacements, we advise using sexed semen and to be careful to only produce the number of replacements required.
To achieve the most from sexed semen you should carefully select which animals to use it on, and for the greatest genetic gain we advise using bulling heifers as well as 1st and 2nd lactation cows. As the conception rate is still slightly lower than conventional straws it is also important that the cows you select are healthy, with no underlying fertility issues and with a BCS greater than 2.
If an animal fails to conceive twice with sexed semen, then for the 3rd insemination a beef straw should be used. In seasonal calving herds the same should be applied but to the first 3 weeks of service.
Selecting which beef semen should be based on the breed and size of the cow; choosing a beef breed that is overly large is likely to be detrimental to her health and cause calving difficulties. Using Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) will help to select breeds that suit your cows and producing a good calf. Whether you are rearing until eight weeks or selling, it is important to consider any stipulations for breed requirements for your chosen outlet market.
The next decision is whether to rear the calves yourself or to find an outlet for them. There are several things to consider before making the decision including; space, staff and what to do with the calves past eight weeks old.
There are different options for creating new calf rearing facilities including constructing new sheds, poly tunnels, calf igloos or converting old buildings, however, if converting buildings you need to ensure that they have a good air flow, no drafts and are dry.
If rearing the calves yourself is not an option, then you must find an appropriate outlet for them. When they are 10 days old calves can be sold either at market or privately to rearers, or contract reared by another farm. Farms on a supermarket contract you should be able to utilise their integrated supply chain to assist with this.
If you have a known outlet for the calves where they would prefer steers you can ring the calf before 7 days old, otherwise it is best to leave the bull calves entire as it can open-up a wider market.
Whether you are currently free of TB or under restriction it is important to have a plan in place as your usual outlet will not be possible, this must include either housing and rearing yourself or selling in the Orange market or to an approved TB isolation unit.
Whatever you chose to do with your calves it is important that they are healthy, in a suitable environment and free of disease. Ensuring good colostrum management during these early stages is essential for every calf, and will give them the best chance to reach their full potential.
If you would like to discuss your calf rearing options in more detail, you can contact Molecare Farm Vets on [email protected]