A new project has been launched to boost production efficiency within the UK’s dairy-beef sector.
It will develop precision technologies for optimising the production efficiency through improvements in health and management throughout an animal’s life.
Approximately 50% of beef production in the UK originates in the dairy herd.
There is large variation in productive weight-for-age and health status of young calves entering rearing units from dairy farms.
As a result, disease incidence and antibiotic use is high. An animal’s early life health status influences it performance efficiency in later life.
Projected industry losses due to suboptimal early-life management is £120m per year, while the impacts of disease costs the industry £80m per year.
To tackle such losses, the project, Well-Calf, will develop the first system for integrating data from different stages of a dairy-beef animal's life through to slaughter, with an early-warning health detection system specifically designed for calves to detect diseases such as scour and pneumonia.
The aim is that the cloud-based system, the first of its kind, will support decision making at various levels, from on-farm to wider farming policy and practice.
Jose Chitty, Chief of Operations for project lead Smartbell, said: “Pneumonia and scours are the biggest calf killers and severely affect an animal’s lifetime productivity.
“Through the Well-Calf project we will directly address this problem and expect to increase productivity, improve welfare and reduce antibiotic usage.”
The project has won support totalling £1 million from UK Research and Innovation, through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, as part of a package to support ‘Productive and Sustainable Crop and Ruminant Agricultural Systems’. It will run for two years.
The project lead is Smartbell and the partners are Agri-EPI Centre, Co-op Group Food Ltd, Dunbia (England), Parklands Veterinary Ltd. and Scotland’s Rural College.