The Agriland Spring Calf Series is in association with Teagasc DairyBeef 500.

By Tommy Cox, DairyBeef 500 advisor

With calving in full swing on dairy farms around the country, the next few weeks will see a large volume of calves traded with calf-to-beef farmers.

For calf-to-beef farmers, buying the right calf at an appropriate price, optimising nutrition and health, along with limiting disease pressure, are critical to the overall level of performance and profitability achievable from calf-to-beef systems.

In recent years, Dairybeef 500 participant farmers have paid particular attention to their calf-sourcing policy.

At this stage, the majority of Dairybeef 500 participants are purchasing calves direct from dairy farmers whom they have built up relationships with in recent years, as they aim to try and keep the number of farms they are sourcing calves at to a minimum, to try and minimise any potential disease outbreak.

Calf source

When sourcing calves, information on the herd’s health, vaccination programme, any current or previous disease issues, as well as the feed management to ensure calves received adequate levels of colostrum, and the general hygiene on the farm, are all important areas to assess before any decision on purchasing the calf is made.

What should you look for in a calf?

Thorough examination of the calf prior to purchase is important to ensure calves are healthy.

Calves should be alert with a clean, damp nose and bright eyes. Any calves with visible signs of disease such as diarrhoea, discharge (mouth/eyes/nose), deformity, disability, injury or blindness should be avoided, as should any calves from the farm.

Younger calves under three-weeks-of-age should be avoided as they are more vulnerable to disease.

Sourcing calves in Donegal

Dairybeef 500 farmer Gareth Peoples who farms full-time in Tullyannon, Carrigans, Co.Donegal where he operates a calf-to-steer beef system, is in the process of purchasing his group of spring-born calves.

Approximately 80-90 calves will be reared this year on the farm, a mix of autumn- and spring-born Holstein Friesan male calves, all of which are slaughtered as steers at approximately 24-months-of-age, with further plans to increase these numbers to over 100 going forward.

All calves on the farm are sourced locally, direct from farmers whom he has a relationship built up with since he set up his dairy calf-to-beef system.

Gareth believes that sourcing the calves locally creates less stress for young calves therefore minimising any potential disease outbreak.

Ideally, Gareth’s preference is for a calf that is at least three-weeks-of-age, as he believes at this stage his immunity has increased and the calf is less vulnerable.

When speaking about the main physical characteristics he looks for in the calves he pointed to the fact that it is hard to tell at three-weeks-of-age how well the calf will perform at slaughter.

His preference is a good square, soft-type Friesian calf and if he thinks they might have a hint of Jersey genetics, he will avoid them.

What he likes to see is a calf pen with lots of dry, clean bedding, good hygiene, calves with lots of vigour and no signs of any health issues such as pneumonia, scour or navel infections.

How well calves are looked after in their first three weeks of life will have a huge bearing on how well they will perform in the future.

The next instalment in the DairyBeef 500 Spring Calf Series will examine another key area in calf souring – the calf genetic makeup and performance potential and how the new Commercial Beef Value (CBV) can be used as a tool to assist farmers in identifying genetically superior calves.