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.
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!