Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Tips: Sourcing the right stock is half the battle with calf to beef systems

Photo: O'Gorman Photography
Photo: O'Gorman Photography

Gordon Peppard

Sourcing the right calf on day one will save you a lot of time and money.

The aim should be to rear a healthy animal with minimal mortality and optimal growth rates. All these factors will be affected by the calf you buy, therefore it is very important to get it right.

The following guidelines should be considered when selecting your calf.


  • Calves should be a minimum of two weeks old and ideally three to four weeks of age
  • Buy from a reputable source
  • Ideally select from as few of sources as possible
  • Select calves with known histories of colostrum intake, vaccination status, herd health status, etc
  • Keep transport distances as short as possible to reduce calf stress


  • Ensure that the eyes are clear and not sunken in the head
  • Nose should be clean with no discharge
  • Ears should be alert and not be drooping
  • Ears should be well healed at the tag with no pus
  • Breathing should be easy, relaxed and not laboured


  • The calf should be bright, playful and curious about your presence
  • Coat needs to be of good condition with no hair loss, dullness or injuries
  • There should be no evidence of dehydration
  • The navel should be clean, dry and well healed - avoid if it is swollen or seeping
  • Ensure normal temperature of 38-39°C


  • Animal should be sound on all four feet with no swollen joints or stiffness
  • They shouldn't be slow to stand
  • Ensure that calf has a relaxed posture and isn't hunched over


Also Read

  • They should be keen to drink milk and eat solid food
  • Older calves should be checked for rumen fill. They shouldn't be hollow or bloated on the left flank


  • Clean and dry tail with no evidence of scouring.
  • Not too thin with good body condition

Where will I source my dairy-bred calves?

There are a number of options when it comes to sourcing your dairy-bred calves for rearing as beef animals.

With the substantial increase in the national dairy herd in recent years, there will be large numbers of calves available once the calving season hits full swing.

Calves may be purchased from farm to farm. This can be a local arrangement where a dairy farmer is able to supply large numbers to the beef farmer at an agreed price.

This can benefit both sides as the dairy man can get rid of a large number of calves very quickly without having to spend time going to and from marts, exposing the animals to diseases risk etc, while reducing labour requirement on his own farm.

The beef man has a prior knowledge of the vaccination protocol of the dairy farm and also the knowledge of whether colostrum intake was adequate or not.

He now has a large number of his calves to rear from minimum sources, thereby reducing disease and cross contamination of stock.

Marts are another option where the beef farmer can buy only the calves he wants and at a price suitable to him.

The downside is the disease risks associated with mixing of a large number of other animals and also the time involved if there is other essential work at the home farm not being completed.

Agents provide a very convenient service to beef farmers who don`t have the time to go to marts or other farms to source their calves.

The agent can very quickly put together a bunch of calves to be reared.

Building up a good relation with an agent is essential so that he/she can source the type of calf you required and at a price that agreeable to both parties.

Again the disadvantages of this system are, there are calves coming from a number of different sources with no knowledge of herd health or colostrum management.

Calves may often spent a long time travelling and this may lead to additional stress

Gordon Peppard is programme advisor for the Teagasc Calf to Beef Programme

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