GB Dairy Calf Strategy: FAQs 

Read our FAQs below to find out more about the GB Dairy Calf Strategy. 

What is the GB Dairy Calf Strategy?

The GB Dairy Calf Strategy brings together a range of industry stakeholders, government and academia, who have committed to achieving the success of the strategy, rearing all calves with care and eliminating the practice of euthanasia of calves by 2023. The strategy involves; rearing all calves with care, encouraging responsible breeding strategies, better communication of market requirements, supporting Britain’s beef sector, opening new supply chains, supporting research and development, and increasing bio secure routes for TB infected herds.

Find out more on the GB dairy calf strategy

Through these various workstreams and sub-groups, the strategy will continue to identify the range of challenges that face us in achieving these goals, including where there may be insufficient infrastructure on farm and in the supply chain. By supporting this strategy and the producers in it, we are making sure that we are upholding our high standards throughout industry.  

What are the key areas of focus?

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. 

A key area of focus that industry have been working on is developing a strategy for calves on farm which do not currently move into either the dairy or beef supply chains and finding practicable solutions to reduce the number of calves which are routinely euthanised on farm.  

The industry has made huge progress in the last few years in bringing down this number, through advances in sexed semen effectiveness and increased uptake, as well as exploring and developing wider market opportunities. Nonetheless, we are committed to make further progress in this area and with NFU and AHDB taking the lead, industry stakeholders across the board have collaborated to produce the GB Calf Strategy.  

We have produced these FAQs to support farmers in moving towards the industry commitment of eliminating the routine euthanasia, by 2021. We aim to update this page as the strategy develops, or further questions are raised. 

Calf health

The key to producing a calf fit for the beef industry will be using appropriate genetics that focus on daily live weight gain and carcase weights. To achieve the aims of the dairy calf strategy and produce marketable calves, some breeding programmes may need to evolve, to select appropriate genetics to produce viable calves for the dairy and the beef supply chains.  

Calf health must be taken seriously to help give them the best start to life. The principle of rearing calves with the upmost care includes giving them access to good quality colostrum at birth and using vaccinations as a precaution to protect them against respiratory diseases and other issues.  For more information, use our Calf Management Guide which is relevant for all calves, dairy or beef.   

The industry-wide #ColostrumIsGold campaign is also a useful resource to learn more about giving your calves the best start in life and it’s also important to consider wider calf health issues to mitigate against, including pneumonia and BVD. Learn more about BVDFree England and the efforts in Wales to combat BVD. Maintaining a close dialogue with your vet to support calf health and management will be a positive step in ensuring that the calves you produce and rear on farm, are healthy, viable and profitable for other elements of the supply chain. 

Tuberculosis (TB)

The barriers to having more TB-secure routes for calves are being considered through the workstream in the strategy and updates will be provided as our TB policy work continues.

Some key focus areas include:

  • Farmer awareness / industry communication
  • Farmer confidence that regulations aren’t going to change
  • Financial barriers, due to the cost of setting up these units/complying with the regulation

Welsh Government have produced some guidance to support farmers in answering key questions relating to TB and calves.

The TBHub provides support and guidance around TB. Visit the hub for information on AFU’s, Isolation Units and for help in overcoming the potential challenges and barriers in setting up an AFU.

Approved Finishing Units (AFUs) provide a route for rearing or finishing cattle from TB-restricted and unrestricted farms. They must be approved and licensed by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and can only be approved in the High Risk Area (HRA) and Edge Area of England, and the High TB Areas of Wales. AFUs can’t be approved in Scotland, the Low Risk Area (LRA) of England or the Low and Intermediate TB Areas of Wales. However, TB-restricted cattle from premises in these areas can be moved onto AFUs elsewhere in England and in Wales. Find out more through these links:

TB Isolation Units (IUs) provide an outlet for calves or store cattle from TB-restricted holdings lacking the facilities for rearing. TBIUs can only source cattle from a single TB-restricted holding over a limited period of time for filling and there are certain conditions around where applications for these units can be approved. Find out more:

TB IUs (in England) Information sheet

Further information on IUs in E&W

Approved dedicated sales for TB-restricted cattle are approved and licensed by the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA). They include orange markets, calf collection centres and herd dispersal sales.  They operate in England and in high TB areas in Wales, but currently cannot be approved in Scotland. 

Orange Markets provide farmers with a trading option for clear tested cattle from TB-restricted herds. Calf collection centres operate in the same way as orange markets and provide farmers with a trading option for these calves. Calves moving to collection centres and orange markets must not be reactors, unresolved inconclusive reactors (IRs) or direct contacts (DCs). Calves from unrestricted farms and species of livestock other than cattle are not permitted in the sale.

Find out more about these outlets on the TBHub, where you can also find a list of Orange Markets by location.

Take a look at the ibTB map to locate AFU’s and breakdowns in your region.

The workstream will be considering all the current concerns around marketing calves from TB-affected herds with the support of an industry-led forum and will look for solutions to such challenges.

Red Tractor standards

Red Tractor Dairy scheme standards already cover the care of youngstock on the farm regardless of gender, and Red Tractor is committed to animal welfare as a key priority.

As part of the GB Dairy Calf Strategy, Red Tractor Dairy consulted in summer 2020 on proposed standards to ensure the industry deliver on this commitment to rear all calves with care and to eliminate the euthanasia of calves by 2023.

Find out more by joining a webinar to understand what the calf standards mean for your farm, on the 17 February

The new standards focus on a written breeding and management policy. The standards provide clear audit points that all members will need to demonstrate compliance with. This means that members need to be taking steps towards eliminating routine euthanasia of calves on farm, by November 2021. It does not mean that routine euthanasia must be eliminated by November 2021, when the new set of Red Tractor standards come into play. As this will take some time to take breeding and management decisions, including potential changes to infrastructure or identification of markets, Red Tractor have shared the confirmed standards now (from Autumn 2020) to allow farmers time to adapt their businesses.

Read the calf standards in full (.pdf)

Ensure that calculations are undertaken and reflect what occurs on site. You must be able to demonstrate, via invoices and the suchlike, that semen purchases reflect the breeding plan and that markets have been identified, to sell calves into.

The policy can be held within the herd health plan but must include the required elements and reflect the current breeding and management policy of the farm.

Farms can draw on the services of others in the sector to help and/or deliver a policy for the farm. The key is to ensure it is specific to the management practices of your own farm and reflective of numbers of livestock and calves expected.

The Red Tractor standard is based on a breeding policy that is implemented. Within the standard, there is the requirement for all calves to be treated the same, regardless of breed or sex, but the standard does not dictate that calves must be retained on farm, for any specific length of time. Some milk purchasers have developed their own policies around eliminating routine euthanasia of calves on farm and farmers should look to communicate with the milk buyers to ensure compliance.

Red Tractor are currently developing a list that will assist farmers in understanding when they may receive a derogation against this standard. However, a TB breakdown will not be an automatic derogation and farmers should follow advice as outlined in the TB area of this document (through the TBHub, Welsh Government FAQs, etc.) to ensure they are prepared for such scenarios, as part of their planning.

Breeding and genetics

Some supply chains might suggest or request the use of sexed semen as a positive way of focusing breeding, otherwise it is a commercial choice. It can be used to increase the chances of achieving a calf of the desired sex from a particular mating to take advantage of differences in value of males and females for specific marketing purposes. When first introduced, there were some initial conception rate challenges in using sexed semen. However, as technology has improved, relative conception rates for sexed semen, compared to conventional conception rates have improved to up to around 98-100% in some cases. This depends upon herd fertility and the type of system used. This means sexed semen performance is almost exactly comparable to conventional. Sexed semen increases the likelihood of having a heifer calf to over 90%, compared to 50% in conventional mating.

Dairy farmers have been genetically selecting their cattle for generations to produce suitable animals for calving ease and milk yield. This keen eye for genetic selection now needs to be applied to the sire to encourage positive traits for breeding beef cattle, such as daily live weight gain, days to slaughter and muscle depth. Retailers and processors will play an important role to help inform producers about what the market needs, and what consumers demand. In the beef industry, there is not one specific breed that outperforms the other; it is about finding what is best for your production systems and end market. Look at Dairy beef production systems for more information.

Producers will find that using a higher genetic calibre of semen and giving calves a good start to life by providing access to colostrum and vaccinations, will cost a little more. However, by taking these measures and providing data on the calves produced, farmers will find there is greater potential to add value to the calf, in many cases. Monitoring data and keeping a record of performance, (especially around health and genetics) is a crucial element of successful calf production and marketing, which must be passed along the supply chain. This includes recording and sharing bull data, including the named sire on passports. It is also crucial to have a clear understanding of your markets before selecting bulls and making breeding decisions to ensure the genetic traits are tailored toward your market requirement.

Protecting the reputation of the industry is vital, and euthanasia of calves on farm is not acceptable by either the industry or the consumer. Regardless of financial impact, all calves will need to be reared with care by 2023.

Yes. Developments in genetics across the dairy and beef supply chains are widening the options for farmers to be able to make positive decisions towards having marketable animals that offer benefits at all stages, including that at a farm-level (such as fertility, calving ease, Feed Conversion Ratio).

We will soon update this page with case studies that will illustrate the successful use of genetics to produce calves that are fit for the dairy and beef requirements. These can offer insights into the genetic options or breeds available and how real farmers have implemented these in their businesses.

Supply chain, markets and processing

Any supply chain changes in contract should be communicated with you from your retailer or processor, most will have local groups where this information can be discussed and passed down. The NFU and other industry organisations continue to lobby and represent their farmers in improving fairness and transparency in contracts (as seen via the recent contractual relationships Defra consultation) and this work aims to improve relationships between farmers and their processor.

Industry is involved and engaged with the dairy calf strategy since early ideas emerged and we have over 80 partners signed up to the commitment. Throughout the course of 2021, we will look to host various farmer and stakeholder webinars and meetings to ensure communications and a joined-up approach, across the supply chain.

Integrated supply chains are a good way of producers accessing specific genetics that have been tried and tested. The producer will likely be involved with performance recording to help improve future genetics, provided advice on nutrition and conditions required to reach certain targets and access to support to help identify and correct any issues. All of this helps both the producer and finisher raise strong and resilient animals for the food chain, with valuable data and monitoring which will increase value for all parties.

No. Choice is key in every business, to make sure the producer maintains control and ownership of what they are doing. Some contracts might stipulate participation in an integrated supply chain, but this is a commercial decision by the farmer. Some integrated supply chains offer producers access to high genetics and knowledge exchange, however, there will still be a market for dairy farmers to sell to those beef producers who want to procure calves from livestock markets, through dealers or direct from other farms to rear.

The UK doesn’t have a strong market for veal, but a key priority of the strategy is to develop robust supply chains for high welfare beef and veal. The strategy will address how to grow the UK veal market, working alongside retailers who are committed in promoting high welfare rose-veal/dairy bull beef, to increase customer demand.

The strategy looks to explore all potential markets and identify available opportunities for calves, including optimising existing ones (which may include a market for 3-to-6-month-old calves) through collaboration between the dairy and beef supply chains. A key priority of the strategy involves ensuring all calves are reared with care, moving into pathways and markets that offer profitability at all levels of the supply chain. Through this, the strategy will identify opportunities for different markets to be maintained, grow, or emerge, ultimately all-contributing towards the industry delivering upon the commitment of eliminating the practice of euthanasia in dairy calves, by 2023.

The different elements of the GB dairy calf strategy span a variety of workstreams and different groups, organisations and stakeholders across the supply chain and through government and industry. Through these different workstreams, planning to ensure smooth transitions to new markets and overcoming challenges, such as ensuring abattoir capacity, will be considered. More information will be shared over the coming months.

In the UK, we are only 80% self-sufficient in beef. By producing more beef from the dairy system and with the support of British retailers and food service, we can use this additional production to displace imports and increase our self-sufficiency. When assessing the volumes of beef currently imported in relation to approximate volume expected from an increase in dairy beef production, the reality is that the domestic beef marketplace would be able to cope with the additional animals in the marketplace.

Some retailers are supporting the initiative by creating integrated supply chains, which provide an outlet for these calves and support producers through knowledge exchange and access to specific genetics. Product innovation, research, and development will also be key going forwards to find new and exciting products for consumers as well as opening new markets.

Through the strategy, we continue to work with retailers as well as identifying opportunities and new relationships with food service and procurement, with a key role of the strategy promoting dairy beef in their supply chains.

The strategy does not seek to limit farmer choice by any means. Instead, it looks to develop wider market opportunities for farmers to consider. There is merit in a range of systems and supply chains in offering choice for farmers, high welfare for the livestock resulting ultimately in a quality product for the consumer.

Neither the strategy, nor the Red Tractor calf standard, dictates the time required to retain calves on farm.

The strategy is committed to ensuring not only high welfare, but also profitability through all elements of the supply chain. The aims of the strategy can only be achieved through industry collaboration between dairy and beef supply chains. The ongoing work of the strategy will continue to account for, and mitigate against, any potential challenges and risks to different industries and supply chains, including the concerns of some beef producers around their markets and prices being affected. As mentioned above, when assessing the volumes of beef currently imported in relation to approximate volume expected from an increase in dairy beef production, the reality is that the domestic beef marketplace would be able to cope with the additional animals in the marketplace.

The strategy involves several aims around communication across the supply chain, through industry and government. As the strategy moves forward, we will develop farmer communications and guidance. We will also share information on the options, processes, as well as the progress required for the strategy to ultimately achieve its goals, assisting farmers in decision-making to contribute towards this.

There is ongoing work in producing a list through the strategy stakeholders, which will compile a plethora of Livestock Markets, online platforms, and collaborative opportunities with local beef farmers and more, to identify the range of options farmers can market calves into.

The best time to sell your calves will depend on the type of system you run, the markets available to you and your available facilities. Those who are block calving may want to move calves quickly as they may not have the available space but those whose calving is more spread out may want to rear the calves to an older age where there may be more markets available for them at a better price. Regardless of which route producers decide to take it is important that they are prepared to give the calf the best start to life.

Practical calf-rearing questions

Your milk buyer might include specific terms in your contract about the time for which you need to keep the calves or markets they should be sold into. To adhere to Red Tractor standards, a management plan for housing must outline provision of rearing facilities to cover the number of youngstock. However, the expectation is the space can be allocated, not that it is always set up i.e., known number of pens/hutch spaces for determined number. None is the standard that calves must be retained for a set period.

To assist you in considering changes to capacity and calf housing on farm, check out the Better calf housing guide. Information can also be found from NADIS.

Any profit made in the beef sector is dependent on market volatility, however there are opportunities for the UK to increase its self-sufficiency in beef by displacing exports. Some rearing schemes are willing to underwrite calves, avoiding large amounts of capital being tied up, which helps mitigate volatility. However, producers should be aware of the terms of the agreement.

When buying calves from multiples different sources you should consider biosecurity measures to restrict the possibility of bringing disease on farm. If you are in an area of high TB levels, you may want to think about becoming an isolation unit.

If you are going to start rearing calves, you will need to consider:

  • available facilities,
  • ventilation
  • air space
  • calf accommodation (which is key to prevent pneumonia as well as other health issues)

Calves can be housed in groups or individual pens but must have enough space to groom themselves, lie down and stretch. It is important to maintain a dialogue and relationship with your vets. For more information, read our housing guidance.  

Your milk buyer might include specific terms in your contract about the time for which you need to keep the calves or markets they should be sold into. To adhere to Red Tractor standards, a management plan for housing must outline provision of rearing facilities to cover the number of youngstock. However, the expectation is the space can be allocated, not that it is always set up i.e., known number of pens/hutch spaces for determined number. None is the standard that calves must be retained for a set period.

To assist you in considering changes to capacity and calf housing on farm, check out the Better calf housing guide. Information can also be found from NADIS.