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

Approximately 50% of beef production in the UK originates in the dairy herd – but 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 £120million per year, while the impacts of disease costs the industry £80M per year.

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