Report Synopsis

Beefing up the response to bobby calves: Creating value and preserving trust

Sarah Bolton

Common dairy industry practices, such as early-life processing or euthanasia of low value nonreplacement dairy calves as well as the separation of calves from their dams, are falling out of step with public values. In order to maintain its social licence to operate, the dairy sector must move towards re-aligning production practices with public values. This re-alignment depends on addressing the issue of the inherent low value of non-replacement calves which, in turn, has the potential to improve farm profit margins.

Opportunities to realise the value potential of non-replacement dairy calves lie in improved rearing systems and market pull-through for dairy beef as well as the combined use of sexed semen and targeted beef over dairy crossbreeding. Despite being commonly discounted as unprofitable for beef production, even Jersey beef has significant market potential if sold on the quality of the product as opposed to being sold as a commodity.

When it comes to cow-calf separation, systems where dairy cows and their calves are kept together are becoming increasingly recognised. While they do present significant challenges, these systems can offer several advantages over conventional production systems. Benefits include higher calf growth rates, increased total milk production from cows that suckle calves and increased performance of dam-reared heifers as well as the appeal of the system to public values.

Potential exists to improve the marketing of dairy beef. Aspects that appeal to consumer values include taste and nutrition, animal wellbeing and the significantly reduced carbon footprint of dairy beef in comparison to traditional beef production systems. Progress on the issue of low value non-replacement calves relies on stakeholder-wide engagement with the issue in consultation with the public and their values. It is also necessary to increase producer awareness of the value of social licence and to combine future dairy science research with social science.

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