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 Group Food Ltd, Dunbia (England), Parklands Veterinary Ltd. and Scotland’s Rural College.

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.