Finding an outlet for bull calves from the dairy herd can be a real headache, but with £15,000 investment in calf housing and a new automatic calf feeding machine, North Yorks farmer Diane Moore says rearing calves for rose veal is already proving its worth.
Rose veal is a more welfare-friendly product than traditional white veal, where calves are usually kept in individual pens and reared almost solely on milk, explains Mrs Moore.
But her purebred Guernsey calves are housed in groups on straw with access to hay, as well as a small quantity of concentrate.
The idea of adding value and marketing farm products is nothing new to the Moores, of High Jervaulx, near Masham.
The family started making ice-cream with milk from their 120-strong pedigree Guernsey herd when quotas were introduced.
They now have an on-farm ice-cream parlour and coffee shop, as well as selling their Brymor products through cafs, hotels and farm shops in the region.
It is possible to make a profit of £100 a veal calf, but the key to making the system pay lies in being able to sell the whole animal, she says.
“We work closely with our wholesale customer, with both parties doing their best to find new markets,” says Mrs Moore.
“Ideally, we sell whole or half carcasses, but sometimes we are left with a forequarter, for example.
That is why we have surplus meat made into pies and sausages for sale in the coffee shop.”
About three calves are slaughtered weekly for the wholesaler, providing a welcome boost to cash-flow.
The rearing process takes four to five months from birth, so about 40 calves from the all-year-round calving herd are kept at any one time.
A small number of Channel Island calves are also bought-in locally to maintain an even supply.
Having started rearing the bull calves mainly because of a lack of other outlets, Mrs Moore is quick to point out that the enterprise is not an easy option.
Calves require a lot of attention to prevent pneumonia and other health problems creeping in, but animal welfare is clearly one of her passions.
Calves are bucket-fed with colostrum for 10-12 days, before being transferred into group pens with access to the new calf milk machine.
Costing about £8000, it uses an electronic transponder system.
Regulating milk intakes has brought a tangible improvement to calf health, says Mrs Moore.
By the time they are ready to leave the farm, ideally weighing 200kg, calves are drinking up to four litres of milk in every 12-hour period.
“This new machine provides a much more natural feeding pattern, with a gradual increase in intakes – calves soon catch on to the way it operates.
The powder is freshly mixed each time a calf activates the system.
When it doesn’t drink, milk is kept warm for 15 minutes, before being flushed away.”
The volume of added-value veal products sold through the ice-cream parlour is fairly small at present, but there is potential for growth, says Mrs Moore.
“Veal is not a traditional British dish, but people are getting more adventurous in their eating habits, particularly with the trend towards foreign holidays.
The meat is best eaten in some kind of sauce – we like it with cream or wine.”
However there is still along way to go to raise the profile of rose veal, particularly in making the public aware that our calves live happy lives.
People also need to see the meat as being a healthy option that can form a regular part of the family shop, she adds.
“It has been a steep learning curve.
When we started we had no idea what a saddle of veal was, but we have learned so much by talking to chefs that buy the product.
“We had been trying to find a way to utilise our bull calves for some time.
Veal production has real potential for expansion.
There has been a surge of interest from butchers lately and it is quite possible we might double our present output over the next two years,” says Mrs Moore.