A new clause has been introduced in the terms of supply outlining requirements around the management of non-replacement calves to continue to improve sustainability. Consumer pressure is increasing and all dairy animals must be seen to have what could be considered to be a ‘useful’ life. This is achieved by entering one of three secondary value streams – bull beef, veal or pet food. Euthanasia on-farm can still be performed but only when there are humane reasons or there is no alternative.
Planning for this change starts next mating season – what bulls will you be using and how do they fit into the alternative value streams? Careful consideration is required around which alternative stream you will be selecting – one in particular or a combination? Will calves be sold at four days old or later? It may be tempting to go straight for a beef breed but don’t forget to consider other factors such as calving ease to prevent animal health compromises elsewhere.
Calves are still not able to be transported until they are 4 days old so for some of you shed space may be an issue. Each calf requires a minimum of 2m2 and there should ideally be no more than 10-15 per pen. All calves should have 3-4L of good quality colostrum within the first 12 hours of life which may require tube feeding.
Consider the viability of heifer synchrony for your system to reduce non-replacement calves. If your heifers are well grown at mating then using synchrony with AI results in the highest genetic value replacements available from your herd. Beef breeds can then potentially be used over the majority of the herd.
Sexed semen can be a useful tool to reduce the number of bull calves being born and increase replacement heifers. Keep in mind that sexed semen does have a slightly lower conception rate as a result of the sorting process so this may not be a useful option if your herd is struggling with reproductive performance.
There are several tools in the toolbox to manage non-replacement calves, several of which are likely already in place on your farm. Get in touch with your veterinarian to discuss potential programs that may be beneficial for your herd.
Dr Leah Wakeford BVSc (Dist) Farm Vet at Franklin Vets Kopu