New calf assurance standards from autumn 2021

New Red Tractor calf standards which focus on a written breeding and management policy are set to come into force in autumn 2021.

The move follows the launch of the AHDB and NFU led GB dairy calf strategy last year, which aims to eliminate calf euthanasia by 2023 by increasing the number of male calves entering the beef supply chain alongside other aspirations.

Speaking in an AHDB organised online update, dairy technical manager at Red Tractor Jemma Holden said: “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 by 2023.

“The breeding and management policy should detail how the euthanasia of calves will not be routine management practise on-farm.

“This can be demonstrated by detailing breeding management decisions, including semen usage, calving pattern and the heifer replacement rate. There should be an identified market for breed of calf produced and a plan in-place for a TB breakdown.”

The new standard also stipulates that a management plan for housing must outline provision of rearing facilities to cover the number of expected youngstock, providing calving pattern provision for 100 per cent of expected births over a 10-day period.

Allocated

However, the expectation is that the space can be allocated, not that it is always set up.

Ms Holden said: “We are not asking for additional buildings to be built, but rather making sure that there is space already at the farm for the known number of pens or hutches that would be needed, not that they are always set up.

“There is not a requirement in the standard that calves must be retained for a set period.”

Ms Holden was also clear that quality of life should always take president over life-span.

She said: “A standard derogation may be possible, but this must be requested before any management decision action is undertaken.”

Jenny Gibbons, AHDB animal health and welfare senior scientist, said ‘substantial progress’ had been made in ensuring more dairy bred calves are reared for beef.

But with the industry coming under scrutiny from activists and the British public, it was ‘as important now as ever’ to continue to improve calf welfare.

Adaptations

As the GB dairy calf strategy identifies new outlets to ensure calves are utilised in the food chain, the live auction system is one example of where adaptations are being made to re-shape marketing opportunities.

The Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA) has instigated a new signed declaration system, in conjunction with Arla, confirming that calves purchased will not be euthanised within the first eight weeks of life.

LAA executive secretary Chris Dodds said: “The live sales system provides an outlet for all breeds, sizes and ages, and we have worked with processors to help vendors meet their requirements. Buyers are there, as the prices achieved continue to demonstrate.”

Sexed semen has become a well-recognised standard to maximise genetic gain and calf income from the dairy herd.

According to AHDB, sales of sexed dairy semen accounted for more than half of dairy semen sales in the year to March 2020, jumping from a 32 per cent share the previous year. There had also been an increase in proportion of beef semen sales, now up to nearly 48 per cent.

Cogent is among organisations that have signed up to the GB dairy calf strategy.

Its managing director Stuart Boothman said: “There is no doubt the issue of bull calves has also been a driving force behind the uptake of sexed semen.

“As new standards and expectations are introduced to dairy herd management, it is expected this will continue to increase – at Cogent, we now sell four straws of sexed semen product to every one straw of conventional semen.”

Farmers Guardian Online 25th February - Hannah Park

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