The supply of dairy-bred calves in the UK has come under the spotlight as part of a project being led by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).
To address concerns about the fate of dairy-bred calves, the GB Dairy Calf Strategy was introduced in 2020 to ensure they are reared with care and for a purpose in either the dairy or beef supply chains.
Through the encouragement of responsible breeding strategies, there is an increasing number of beef cross calves being registered from the dairy herd, with many entering the dairy-beef supply chain.
A project was conducted by a team of SRUC researchers to explore the communication between different stakeholders in the initial ‘link’ in the dairy-beef supply chain.
They interviewed a small selection of calf producers and rearers to examine the flow of information about calves between the parties.
The researchers also looked at the outlets being used to sell and purchase dairy-bred beef calves.
More than 80 percent of those interviewed were selling or purchasing calves directly farm-to-farm.
Researchers found that while discussions about the dairy-bred beef calves to gather background information was key, feedback was not always given about the subsequent health and performance of calves on the rearing unit.
Of the calf producers who were receiving feedback, the majority had made some slight changes to their rearing practices and/or breeding strategy.
Some of the calf rearers had also started to investigate the genetics behind their better performing calves to encourage the use of specific beef sires.
All parties were aware of the concerns from the public surrounding the fate of calves and the reputation of the dairy industry.
However, the calf producers were also aware of their own business reputation when selling dairy-bred beef calves, with nobody wanting to be seen as the supplier of ill-thriven calves or calves that caused repeated issues for the calf rearers.
Many disagreed with the use and connotations of the term ‘surplus calf’ - which is often used to refer to such calves - as it implies they are worthless, while for some they are valued as an additional income stream to the business.
David Bell, a research associate at SRUC said: “Although the views highlighted represent a small proportion of the sector, they indicate the awareness of both parties of the part they can play in the whole dairy-beef supply chain.
“While there is a need for additional mechanisms to enhance this further, the overall message coming from the interviews is the need for integration to succeed.”