GB Dairy Calf Strategy 2020-2023: guidance

Guidance for dairy and beef farmers who are exploring options to rear and market dairy bred calves.

The British dairy industry prides itself on being a pioneer in dairy cattle welfare; it is a top priority for the sector, and our farmers take the lead to develop and enforce the highest animal welfare standards on our farms. The fate of dairy bull calves is not a secret; it is a key focus area within the industry. The rearing of bull calves for the beef market on farm remains high, and several industry initiatives continue to champion improvements in calf health, welfare and survival. There is still room for improvement, and we will continue to challenge ourselves to keep progressing in these areas. 

Top priorities and actions can be found in the GB Dairy Calf Strategy 2020–2023

GB Dairy Calf Strategy FAQs

Watch our calf strategy webinar with Red Tractor and NFU

I am a dairy farmer – what are my options? 

How do I create a breeding programme to limit the number of dairy-sired bull calves born? 

1. Decide on your breeding objectives and align the traits you are choosing for your dairy sires with the requirements of your milk contract using the herd genetic report

Explore our dairy breeding and genetics resources

2. Calculate your requirements for heifer replacements straws and use beef straws using the semen usage calculatorand forecast your value of sales from dairy crosses   

3. Review our information on improving fertility and farmer case studies on using sexed semen:  

4. When choosing beef semen to use on the rest of the cows not producing replacement heifers, choose bulls with specific genetic traits relevant i.e. calving ease

Choosing bulls for better returns

What do I do if I am down with Tb and cannot sell calves?  

Where can I market my calves?

As a dairy farmer, you have a range of options for your dairy bred calves if they are not returning to the dairy herd.  

  • Rear on farm 
  • Selling to local beef farmers 
  • Selling to market  
  • Selling direct to integrated calf rearers (collection centres) 
  • For dairies with small stature cows there are specific small stature schemes available 

The impact of breed on bull calf prices

I am a beef farmer – how do I maximise profits from dairy calves?

Many farmers benefit from working with local dairy farmers but what questions should you be asking?  

Ask about: 

  • Colostrum management – buy calves which are known to receive three litres of good quality colostrum in the first six hours of life 
  • The type of dairy cows in the herd, to understand the dam’s influence on frame size and conformation  
  • The health status of the herd, e.g. BVD, Johne’s, IBR, TB, to understand the health risks associated with the calves  

Useful links:

Dairy beef production systems

Better Returns from calf rearing

Calf rearing notebook

These resources are available to order in hard copy. Fill in our order form to get your copy today and explore our other publications.

Average labour requirements for calf rearing

Average labour hours per month for an early weaning calf rearing enterprise.  

Age group  

Average labour/head 

0-3 months  


3-6 months  


6-12 months, yarded 


Source: John Nix Pocketbook for Farm Management, 2020  

Calf management resources


Dairy calf management

Mike Overton – Calf Pneumonia

Bobby Hyde – Healthy Calves, Healthy Profit

Kat Bazeley The early hours: looking at the new born calf

Calf weigh band – order yours here