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Every calf has a useful life

From 1 June 2023, Fonterra is introducing a new clause within their Terms of Supply which means calves can only be euthanised on-farm when there are humane reasons for doing so.

Consumer guarantees about the on-farm treatment of calves and our increasing interest in how our food is produced, is driving this change.

Over the last five years, consumer awareness on how calves are treated when on-farm and how calves are transported have featured on social and conventional media, driving significant improvements.

In the update of its terms of supply, the co-operative is driving the idea of a useful life for all calves born that are more than those required as breeding replacements. These animals should be raised for beef, slaughtered for calf-veal, or enter the pet food market.

Wider industry commentary indicates this new requirement could be the catalyst to start several animal welfare, emission reductions, and niche market benefits the industry had long investigated.

There is a growing expectation that the beef and dairy industries will work collaboratively to utilise excess calves better. Dairy cattle raised for beef had significantly lower emissions per kilogram of product produced.

In the longer term the beef sector will benefit from genetic research to find low emissions traits, and the use of methane reducing technologies in the dairy industry, that reduced the emissions profile of dairy beef calves in the beef supply chain.

Last season margins were certainly tight for calf rearing; the combination of the increasing cost of inputs and not receiving prices to cope with this when sold, particularly as weaners.

What are some of the strategies to consider to increase a higher market value?

  • Sexed semen (female bias) to market extra replacement heifers.
  • Use of beef semen for beef rearing, and/or to increase the carcass weight of bobbies.
  • Sexed semen with a male bias to market breeding/teaser bulls, and/or for beef rearing.
  • Use of specialty sires for contract sales.
  • Can calves be held on-farm a bit longer to increase carcass size or are there local dairy-beef partnership opportunities?

In recent seasons we are increasingly implementing dairy heifer synchrony programmes in which we are using easy calving beef sires. If these are of interest, we are happy to discuss and provide more details.

While the updated Terms of Supply emphasise a useful life for all calves, the wellbeing of calves is the most important consideration and the Terms of Supply do allow for on-farm euthanasia on humane grounds. This may include an emergency situation to relieve suffering or on the advice of our vets, or to relieve suffering from a significant birth defect or to protect the wellbeing of a calf when it is unfit for transport.

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