At present, both the dairy-beef market and the agri-tech world are much more heavily focused on older stock, meaning that technology and data solutions that monitor and protect the wellbeing of calves are less readily available.
Across the dairy and beef industry, farmers currently face three significant issues:
1. Disease detection
In the initial stages of a cow’s life, farmers have recognised the importance of early disease detection. Calf scours (a clinical sign associated with several diseases, resulting in diarrhoea) causes more financial losses to calf producers than any other health problem in their herds.
Additionally, the prevalence of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) or calf pneumonia during the rearing period sits at a rate of approximately 20%. It is the most common reason for death and poor performance in calves and young, growing cattle.
While diseases are ultimately triggered by the spread of viruses and bacteria, stressful rearing conditions across the span of the cow’s life can significantly impact the rate of disease contraction.
2. Antibiotic dependency
To suppress and avoid the spread of diseases, calf farmers are heavily reliant on the use of antibiotics. However, the overuse of antibiotics can quickly lead to increased antibiotic resistance and prolonged usage can enhance the persistence of antibiotic resistance.
3. The need to optimise efficiency
Almost half of all beef production in the UK originates in the dairy herd. Naturally, farmers face a challenge to constantly optimise the efficiency of the rearing of their animals.
At present, there is a large discrepancy in productive weight-for-age and health status of young calves entering rearing units from dairy farms. As a result, suboptimal early-life management is projected to be around £120 million a year, while the impacts of disease cost the beef and dairy industry around £80 million every year.