New agri-tech project will seek to boost dairy-beef production

A new project has been launched to boost production efficiency within the UK’s dairy-beef sector.

Well-Calf will develop precision technologies for optimising the production efficiency through improvements in health and management throughout an animal’s life.

Approximately 50% of beef production in the UK originates in the dairy herd. There is large variation in productive weight-for-age and health status of young calves entering rearing units from dairy farms.

As a result, disease incidence and antibiotic use is high. An animal’s early life health status influences it performance efficiency in later life. Projected industry losses due to suboptimal early-life management is £120M per year, while the impacts of disease costs the industry £80M per year.

To tackle such losses, Well-Calf will develop the first system for integrating data from different stages of a dairy-beef animal’s life through to slaughter, with an early-warning health detection system specifically designed for calves to detect diseases such as scour and pneumonia. The aim is that the cloud-based system, the first of its kind, will support decision making at various levels, from on-farm to wider farming policy and practice.

Jose Chitty, Chief of Operations for project lead Smartbell, said:

“We are very excited to work on calf health. Pneumonia and scours are the biggest calf killers and severely affect an animal’s lifetime productivity. Through the Well-Calf project we will directly address this problem and expect to increase productivity, improve welfare and reduce antibiotic usage.”

The project has won support totalling £1 million from UK Research and Innovation, through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, as part of a package to support ‘Productive and Sustainable Crop and Ruminant Agricultural Systems’. It will run for two years. The project lead is Smartbell and the partners are Agri-EPI Centre, Co-op Food Group Ltd, Dunbia (England), Parklands Veterinary Ltd. and Scotland’s Rural College.