Beef Calf

Sourcing Beef Calves : Choosing The Calf

Increasing numbers of dairy x beef calves are opening up new avenues for beef farmers, but how do you decide what will best suit your system?

The margin between profit and loss with calves is very fine, sourcing the correct calf can have a huge impact on your bottom line.  Purchasing calves from one source is the best way to minimise disease risk, procuring calves from multiple units can lead to an increased risk of bringing disease on to your farm. However, with sensible buying and good biosecurity plans, the risk can be managed.

Colostrum intake is something which we have to consider, unfortunately this tends to be an area where we have less influence (unless you are buying from one source and have a relationship with the farmer) It’s good practice to have some idea if a calf has received adequate colostrum, especially as there is a proven link between colostrum intake, immune status of the calf, and subsequent performance.  Calves that have had inadequate colostrum intake at birth don’t perform as well as those that had the recommended 10% of birth weight.  Have a look at the calf checklist below for what to look out for.

Top tips

ZST Test: A simple blood test carried out in the first week of life that measures immunoglobulin levels – speak to your vet about the availability of this

Transport: Calves do not like stress! The shorter we can keep the length of transport the better for these young calves

Electrolytes: Once calves have arrived on the unit, it’s a good idea to administer 2L of electrolyte per calf

Calf weight: Calf weight is a great indicator of health and future performance – but only if we take the calf age into account. Being sold an 80kg calf sounds great – not so great if you realise it’s four months old!  Before you buy your calves, have an idea in your head of what weight you will be happy with bearing in mind their age.

Buying / sourcing calves checklist

Is the calf alert?

Does the calf have clear eyes?

A dry navel

Ensure there is no swelling of joints

No signs of scour or pneumonia

Bright and shiny coat

Weight to age correlation is correct

keep good records of calf returns and disease – this should enable easier future sourcing


Remember………….a healthy calf is a profitable one!  

Eimear Diamond
Calf Specialist
You can follow Eimear on Twitter @Diamondcalf1 or find out how to contact her directly by clicking here.

Angela Barraclough of Gatelands Farm

Feed regime a success at Gatelands Farm

Gatelands Farm, near Penrith, is owned and farmed by Andrew and Angela Barraclough and their two children James and Alysha.

It is a 300-acre farm and the business is comprised of 150 milking cows and replacements. In addition to the milk business the family also rears veal calves and fattens cattle for Lake District Farmers, which supplies the best restaurants in London. Most recently its veal has featured in the final of the Great British Menu!

Dairy-Bred Beef Calves


How to improve the value of dairy-bred beef calves

As a farmer, you already know what makes your business tick. You don’t need us to tell you that optimising the value of each animal is the key to a successful business. But did you know the importance of the first three months in terms of maximising lifetime performance of your dairy-bred reared calves?

dairy-bred_beef_calf_infographic1Why are the first three months of life so important?

The value of a beef calf is inextricably linked to growth rates and weight. What farmers may not fully appreciate is that reaching target growth rates requires tip-top respiratory health. Calves with lung damage don’t grow as well as they should. And the greater the lung damage, the greater the impact on daily liveweight gain.

Pneumonia is one of the most common calfhood problems. And it’s estimated that 67% of cases affect calves younger than three months old. Calves whose growth has been stunted by lung damage during the first few months of life, may never catch up. The link is clear: respiratory illness means poor growth which means reduced value.


How to improve respiratory health in reared beef calves 

There are a few important steps in protecting your calves from respiratory illness:

  • It’s important that newborn calves receive sufficient colostrum – which is packed with important antibodies
  • Newborn calves should receive at least 10% of their bodyweight within their first twelve hours of life, half of which should ideally be given within two hours of birth
  • Receiving sufficient colostrum is as important for bought in calves as it is for home reared ones, arguably more so
  • When buying calves from known sources or direct from farm you can check this with the seller.
  • The next step is to vaccinate against the common viruses that cause pneumonia in young calves. It’s perhaps one of the most important things you can do for their respiratory wellbeing
  • Other key measures include ensuring calf housing is well ventilated, and draught-free, with plenty of dry clean bedding.
  • Keeping young calves away from older cows and making sure no more than 30 animals share the same airspace will further reduce the risks.

Taking the time to get the simple things right helps ensure you minimise disease risk, and protect the health of your calves. Best of all, it will have a tangible impact on the lifetime productivity of your animals.

Wynnstay support responsible use of veterinary medicines and stock a large variety of vaccinations in order to improve the potential performance of your calves. Speak to your local SQP in store or local Wynnstay representative for further information and advice.

Information for this blog has been provided by Zoetis. For original blog, please click here.


Measuring Performance and Intakes

The Williams family from Gwythrian, Aberdaron, have seen dramatic improvemIMG_0564ents in carcass weight gain by controlling costs, predominantly monitoring DLWG and intakes to improve performance and efficiency. Alan Williams farms with his wife Catrin and three sons, Dafydd, Will and Ieuan, at Gwythrian. Alan has seen a huge benefit in monitoring animal performance through each stage of beef production. Along with monitoring animal performance, intakes and costs are controlled after purchasing their Keenan 320 Mech Fibre.

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