Beef and dairy suppliers on the benefits of Co-operative Group calf scheme

The Co-operative Group has launched a calf scheme to integrate its beef and dairy supply chain.

The scheme connects Co-operative Dairy Group (CDG) farmers with beef producers to ensure calves from dairy farms are retained within the Co-operative supply chain.

It is part of a combined project between the retailer’s milk processor Muller Wiseman and its two beef suppliers ABP and Dunbia.

Dairy farmer Ian Speed, Two Mills Farm, Woodbank, Cheshire

Ian SpeedCheshire dairy farmer and CDG chairman Ian Speed says since becoming a supplier of bull calves to the Co-operative calf scheme he has seen big improvements in heifer growth rates.

Mr Speed, who milks 200 dairy cows with his son James, previously sold all bull calves direct to market, but started supplying Dunbia as part of the scheme last year.

“We just took whatever price we could get, whereas now we have to make sure calves are a certain standard to take,” he explains.

See also: Dairy farmer creates unique Roundhouse for calf rearing

Dairy producers are paid a price a kilo for calves, with valuations based on Ahdb’s weekly rearing-calf prices.

Breed and quality is also taken into consideration.

Black and whites fetch about £1/kg, native breeds £1.50-£1.80/kg and continentals £2.20-£2.40/kg.

Farm facts

  • Milking 200 pedigree Holsteins, averaging 10,300kg a cow a year
  • Farms 129ha

The move has coincided with the Speeds’ desire to lower age at first-calving from 24-months to 22-months and, following advice from the Co-operative’s first calf meeting, they are well on track to achieve this.

“Consequently we are rearing heifers much better than we used to.

“We never used to attempt to get six litres of colostrum in a calf – I never thought they would drink that much but they do – and now it is part of our protocol.

“We don’t use waste milk anymore and manage our fresh colostrum much better.”

After four days calves are transitioned on to powdered milk and are fed two litres twice a day, mixed at a ratio of 330g of powder to one litre of water.

Previously calves were not drinking milk alone until day 10, but now the aim is to have calves transitioned on to milk after one week.

Calves are given access to quality pellets and ad-lib straw and clean water from day one, adds Mr Speed.

As a result heifer calves are a lot bigger at weaning at 10 weeks.

“We now weigh calves at birth or use a weigh band and we’re aiming to double the birth weight by the time we wean them.”

Dairy farmers Rob and Jill Beavan, Winsbury Farm, Chirbury, Montgomery

Rob and Jill Bevan

Dairy farmer Rob Beavan and his wife Jill started supplying the scheme when it first launched in October last year and credit it with boosting staff morale.

Previously, the Beavans had their bobby calves collected direct off farm, but now there is a guaranteed outlet for their male calves they say it has given staff at the 324ha business a “feel-good factor”.

The 240-pedigree Holstein Friesian herd calves year-round and is averaging 9,750kg a cow a year at 3.18% protein and 3.95% butterfat.

See also: Top Holstein bulls wrongly neglected because of inbreeding fears

Heifers are served for six-weeks with sexed semen and after this they are run with the Limousin stock bull.

Meanwhile cows get inseminated with black and white bulls.

Farm facts

  • Milks 240 pedigree Holstein Friesians
  • Average 9,750kg a cow a year
  • Supplies Blade
  • 324ha in total

If they have not conceived after three services they get mated to Belgian Blue bulls.

Replacement rates are 23%. All bull calves born at Winsbury farm are supplied to Blade.

Calves are given 10% of their bodyweight in colostrum within the first six hours of birth and within 24 hours they are moved to a newborn calf unit and put in individual pens where they receive two litres of milk twice a day.

After five days they are put into groups of five-to-seven and fed ad-lib milk to reach target weights of 50kg.

Calves must be aged 10-28 days old before they are collected.

Once calves have hit target weights Mr Beavan rings up Blade on a Friday and provides the number and breed of calves he is booking in and arranges collection.

“A benefit is they come and collect from farm and I have a guaranteed outlet for my calves.”

Calf rearer Marc Jones, Trefnant Hall Farm, Powys

Marc Jones

© Richard Stanton

When Welshpool sheep farmer Marc Jones switched to outdoor lambing following a trip to New Zealand more than six years ago, it meant farm sheds were left empty.

Determined to use every square foot of the farm, Marc decided to try his hand at calf rearing and is now supplying the Co-operative integrated beef scheme through Dunbia.

Farm facts

  • 420 dairy heifers
  • 700 Lleyn breeding ewes and 200 ewe lambs
  • 202ha rented on a tenancy through Powys Estate

About £4,000 has been spent converting the old lambing shed into a suitable calf-rearing unit.

The roof has been raised to ensure adequate ventilation and calf pens measuring 15ft by 15ft have been installed.

Mr Jones is partway through his first crop of 91 calves.

Nineteen dairy farms supply the unit and, to reduce disease challenges, the aim is to populate the sheds within a week, with calves housed eight to a pen.

See also: Farmers Weekly Young Farmer of the Year 2014: Marc Jones

Gary Fitzpatrick

Gary Fitzpatrick. © Steffan Hill

“Calves are [bovine viral diarrhoea-tested] before they leave the farm.

“If any calves test positive they will be put down but we haven’t had any yet,” says Gary Fitzpatrick, Dunbia’s calf rearing consultant.

“We want to fill a unit within a week to reduce the bugs in the unit so all the calves are exposed at the same time.

“If you drip feed them all the calves are being introduced to bugs at different times,” explains Mr Law.

Calves arrive on the farm weighing about 50kg and the aim is to get them up to 120kg by the time they move to the finishing unit where the target is to fatten them up to 280-320kg deadweight.

On arrival they are given a vaccine for pneumonia and receive a second dose 28 days later.

To date, less than 10% of the group has been treated for pneumonia and only one for scours, says Mr Jones.


Nutrition is integral to calf health and performance, says Mr Fitzpatrick.

“Pneumonia doesn’t kill a calf, nutrition kills a calf.

“Pneumonia is the after effect,” says Mr Fitzpatrick, who believes in the future better feedback between dairy farmers and rearers could help improve calf intakes.

Calves continue to be fed two litres of milk mixed with 300g of powder twice a day before moving on to once a day feeding at day 29, when the mixture is changed to 450g of powder to three litres of water.

Calves have free access to fresh, clean water at all times.

See also: Outwintering dairy heifers on kale helps cut costs

They are offered a 16% protein concentrate costing £500/t from arrival until 28 days of age.

The concentrate is extremely palatable and is designed to increase intakes, says Mr Fitzpatrick.

“It sticks to the calves’ muzzles and they get the taste for it early on.”

Although the first blend is expensive, Mr Fitzpatrick says if milk intake is reduced from 37.5kgs a head to 17.5kgs a head, £27 can be saved on milk powder an animal (see table below).

At 28 days they transition onto a 15% protein concentrate costing £275/t.

Then, at about five weeks they are weaned off milk, but they must have hit 70kg liveweight and be eating 2kg of concentrate a day.

To ensure they are on target to achieve this calves are weighed every two weeks, says Mr Jones.

System savings

Conventional system

Amount fed (kg)

Cost (£)*

Milk intake



Concentrate intake



Dunbia system  

Milk intake



Concentrate intake





*Costs a head over an 84-day rearing period


To date the scheme is proving to be popular among young farmers such as Mr Jones because it requires low capital outlay.

Calves are owned by Dunbia and they pay rearers £150 a head. Once feed costs, straw, utilities, vet and medicine and labour costs are deducted Mr Jones says this leaves him with a profit of £45 a calf.

If the farm rears 800 calves a year then this will equate to an additional revenue stream of £36,000/year.

“It complements our additional farm business well. I still work off farm as an Adas consultant three days a week and it is a way of utilising the buildings and maximising resources on the farm.”