Developing an evidence-base for optimal lifetime performance of beef calves from the dairy herd


Beef & Lamb
Project code:
01 March 2018 - 31 May 2019
AHDB Beef And Lamb
Project leader:
Royal Agricultural University

About this project

The Problem:

With calves from the dairy herd contributing in the region of 50% of the English beef output and strong evidence that early life management effects total life productivity, an understanding of current commercial practice on beef calf rearing units is important. The calf rearing sector could be described as “falling between the gaps” of the dairy and beef industry. Whilst much research has been done in relation to artificial milk rearing systems for dairy heifer calves less on rearing systems for beef calves has been completed.  Therefore, this project aims to develop industry consensus on the priorities and aspirations for achieving optimal lifetime performance for calves from the dairy herd reared for beef.


Aims and Objectives:


The aim is to collate existing evidence-based knowledge to inform dissemination of best practice recommendations for industry, focused on managing beef calves from the dairy herd for optimal lifetime performance. Gaps in current knowledge will also be identified.

Key Objectives

  1. Collation of existing knowledge
  2. Engagement
  3. Knowledge Exchange



1. Collation of existing knowledge:

1.1 A critical review of scientific literature relating to artificial beef calf rearing and transferable knowledge from heifer replacement rearing will be undertaken. It will aim to identify management strategies and risk factors for the rearing of dairy beef calves. These management strategies will be discussed with the AHDB, the project advisory group and regional focus groups to identify those of value to include in KE messages.

1.2 Review of evidence-based best practice and recommendations. A review of ‘grey’ literature will also take place to ensure inclusion of both scientific and more practical evidence in the identification of management strategies. Further best practice evidence will be gained from industry engagement e.g questionnaires and focus groups.

1.3 Data – information regarding current practices will be summarised from questionnaires, survey and focus group activities (objective 2). Analysis of BCMS data will also take place to look at the range of movements that male calves from the dairy herd experience in order to identify risks for disease transmission, stress and exhaustion. The project advisory group will also look to develop a safe environment for secure, anonymised data sharing that can provide information that could be analysed by the project. Summaries of KPIs and associated variables will be undertaken using any available data to benefit the industry. Results from on-going trials at the RAU calf unit will be made available for this project.

1.4 Delivery of quarterly report – feedback status of the project

1.5 Collation – final report will include recommendations, research priorities and summaries of changes in management practices and calf performance outcomes resulting from project activities.


2. Engagement

2.1 Establish project advisory group (PAG). The PAG, comprising key industry representatives, will support and guide project activities, including KE to ensure project aims and objectives are met.

2.2 Obtain current industry practices in artificial rearing of dairy beef calves through questionnaires, survey visits to collections centres and markets, focus groups and industry intelligence


3. Knowledge Exchange

A complete package of knowledge exchange activities will take place to disseminate best practice findings



The project is keen to hear from producers who supply and rear calves for the dairy-beef industry and has developed questionnaires aimed at dairy farmers and dairy-beef calf rearers. If you would like to help shape guidance for the dairy-beef sector, click on the links below:

Dairy farmer questionnaire

Dairy beef calf rearer questionnaire