Raising calves provides additional income for breeders

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Tapping into the untapped growth potential of dairy bulls offers a growing number of breeding operations a much needed source of income.

Whether supplementing a dairy’s milk check or a low-investment business for a young entrant, bull calves represent an often overlooked opportunity, with good quality calves costing £ 90 per head and bulls fat for slaughtering calves averaged just under £ 700 at 11.5 months.

See Also: Veal Rose Program Boosts Dairy Benefits

But advisers warn that attention to detail and a rigorous routine are essential to tap into this rapidly growing market.

Adjusting milk replacer concentrations for temperature fluctuations and spot treatment at the first sign of illness are examples of the diligent approach required.

Maximize the monogastric stage

The pre-weaning phase represents a golden period in the life of the calf, benefiting from an unmatched growth rate after weaning.

“Before the rumen develops, well-fed calves can manage a feed-to-growth ratio of 2: 1,” says Stephen Whelan, director of research and development at AHDB. “This is unfortunately impractical when the animal is developing a rumen, but it shows the importance of feeding early on.

“We want the animal to double its weight from birth to weaning, which means at least 0.75 kg of body weight gain.”

Achieve a milk growth of 1 kg / day

Former dairy farmers Tim Walwin and his wife Sandy achieve daily weight gains of 1kg and more in all breeds from Holsteins to Angus crosses. They raise around 2,400 dairy calves per year for the calf near Frome, Somerset.

Calves arrive at two to three weeks of age and are dispatched to finish at 14-15 weeks weighing 130-160 kg, depending on the customer.

Tim walwin

To maximize labor resources, Walwin opts for milk feed, giving calves three liters once a day with 140g of powder.

“I batch them according to size, trying to have calf pens of equal size to reduce competition from the animals,” he explains. “Feeding at the trough has never been so problematic for greedy calves.

Tim Walwin’s farm calf rearing protocol

  • Capacity of 700 dairy calves. Pens rotated every 15 weeks
  • Calves are weaned when they consume at least 2 kg of feed ad libitum / day
  • Calves vaccinated against pneumonia on arrival at two weeks of age, with a booster four weeks later
  • After 21 days on the farm, the calves are treated for coccidiosis
  • The costs for a calf’s feed, vaccines and bedding range from £ 15 to £ 20

“Another concern was once a day feeding, but to be honest I think there is a risk of overeating milk and it leads to diarrhea. “

His advice is not to cut the costs of feed and milk replacer for calves. He also believed that calf coats are definitely not a gimmick.

“Ideally we would have more coats, but I think they’re great for problem calves,” he adds.

“The hardest part is knowing when to remove them before they are trucked in. Taking them off a few days before helps you acclimatize, but that does mean you can sacrifice some weight gain.

Calf health is a balance

The key to healthy calves is an appreciation of both sides of a swing, with pathogens, viruses and bacteria on one side and boosting calf immunity on the other, advises the vet. Andrew Dales, Synergy Farm Health.

Immunity can be boosted with vaccines, but breeders must be able to identify the bug causing the problem. “It’s tough, but if you know your bug, you can justify the expense,” says Dales.

Generally, the first four questions to consider when it comes to calf health are:

  • Is it viral?
  • Is it bacterial?
  • Is it a mixture of the two?
  • Is it a mycoplasma?

Key diseases to watch out for are typically BRSV, PI3, IBR, BVD, and pasteurella and mycoplasma. “These often cause the problem, causing the animal to fall over, allowing other illnesses to come behind,” Dales adds.

Market opportunity

A renewed veal purchase from the general public is capitalized by Adam Buitelaar, CEO of Buitelaar International. Thanks to a dedicated supply chain of breeders and fatteners, he breeds 45,000 young bulls for high-end markets.

“The popularity of calf farming is increasing massively,” says Buitelaar. “We didn’t kill any bulls six years ago – now we kill 600 every week. “

However, even with grain prices where they are, Mr Buitelaar stresses that “it is not a magic job”.

“If barley gets expensive, and it will at some point, you have to manage a tight ship to ensure margin and a viable business as a calf farmer.

“My advice to a breeder is to see if you can free up a shed. There are a lot of sheds that are not in use in the summer, which is capital that could be maximized.


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