The weeks ahead are going to be busy for a number of calf-to-beef farmers planning to source calves.

Pat Collins from Castlemartyr in Co. Cork is one such farmer who is preparing to purchase over 180 calves in the coming weeks.

Being a participant of the Teagasc Green Acres Calf-to-Beef Programme, he carries the majority of his calves to beef in a system which sees his bulls slaughtered under 20-months-old. Meanwhile, he finishes his heifers before they reach 19-months-old.

His plan for this spring is to remain sourcing calves off farms, as this reduces the calves’ exposure to potentially harmful respiratory diseases – which can occur from large animal gatherings such as marts.

AgriLand spoke with Pat recently to get an insight into his preparation for sourcing calves in the coming weeks.

What to look for in a calf?

Purchasing a healthy calf is one of the main priorities for Pat when it comes to sourcing. In terms of performance, if the calf is not healthy arriving onto the farm it means they can be starting on the backfoot straight away.

Pat explained:

“The calves I will be buying this spring will be consisting predominantly of Friesian bulls, Hereford and Angus bulls and heifers and also a few continental calves.

“The first thing I will look for is a good bright and healthy calf. I will be buying them in when they are over three-weeks-old, so they have that bit of strength.

In terms of physical traits, I want a good square calf that has the ability to carry a good carcass weight and conformation.

“The benefit of buying calves off farms is that I can see what type of cows the calves are coming from. I like to see calves coming from big, scopey cows and avoid buying calves from cows with smaller frames.”

Calves arriving onto farm

Taking care of calves during their first few days of arrival onto the farm is crucial during the rearing period. This can be a stressful time for the calves; therefore, minimising this stress should be a key target.

Pat will have his calf sheds cleaned out and disinfected, and bedded before they arrive. Looking at feeding milk replacer, he stated:

“The calves will be fed 500g of milk replacer (solids) for their first few days on the farm. Following on from this, they will be fed 650g a day as part of a twice-a-day-feeding [325g in the morning and evening].

“Once they are over one month on the farm, we will ease them back to a once-a-day feeding.”

There is a vaccination programme in place on the farm, with new calves on the farm receiving their shots within the first week of arrival.

“A few days after arrival, all of the calves will get their intranasal RSV and Pi3 live vaccine to reduce the threat of respiratory diseases.

“They will also be covered with vaccination against clostridial diseases,” Pat concluded.

If farmers are planning to implement a vaccination programme for newly-purchased calves this spring, the best option is to seek advice from their local vet.