This good practice is related to the animal health and welfare thematic area of the BovINE project and falls under the topic “On farm health check of youngstock prior to sale/purchase including vaccination status”.

This good practice is an extensive program by a feed company to ensure optimal health and vitality of dairy calves destined for fattening farms. This includes calves from dairy cows crossbred with beef cattle. The calves are fed on the dairy farm for two weeks and then sold and transported to a collection stable. There they are weighed and sorted by weight and breed to be transported to the fattening farms. Furthermore the company states that the time required for picking up the calves on the dairy farms, collecting and sorting them in the collecting stable and arriving at the fattening farm does not exceed 24 hours. However, this program is not only suitable for dairy farms. It is also a very reliable method of checking the status of immunoglobulins of beef calves in their first week. Only if the supply with colostrum is sufficient the calf will grow to a healthy and strong heifer to sell or to breed with.

Description of the Good Practice

Blood samples are taken from each calf 7 to 10 days after birth and analysed for total protein, an indicator  for colostral supply. Scores are given for vitality and information on death or illness are recorded. Every three months the farmer gets a report of those parameters as well as the weight of the calves at the arrival at the collection stable. During feedback-talks with the farmer possible improvements in vitality parameters and the health status of the calves that are sold to the finisher farms are evaluated. This is in the interest of the dairy farmers, as they get payed by these parameters (weight and vitality). This also allows  the farmer improving the health status of the offspring  that are kept on their farm. This good practice can be implemented on any suckler farm of beef cattle as well. The determination of the immunoglobulin status and feedback-talks with the veterinarian are especially helpful. 

After arriving at the finishing farms the incidences of animals falling ill with pneumonia or diarrhoea are often high mainly due to crowding, different farm origins, stress during transportation, re-grouping and an unfamiliar environment. This can result in mortalities or an increased use of antibiotics and a decrease in weight gain in the first days. Attending this program, the famers get payed a fair price if they provide healthy and well fed calves.   

Impact on farm performance

Farmers get payed fairly and transparently by weight and health status of their calves. They can use the analysed data for improvement of the offspring kept on their farms. The calves sold to the finisher farms are healthier and need less treatment, which decreases costs and labour time per animal and improves growth rates.

Farmer comment

Our calves are much healthier since the program started. This way they start growing nicely right away and we were able to save a lot of money. The next step would be the implementation of a first vaccination before they arrive here.