The Merging of Sustainability and Calf Management

By on July 18, 2023
0 0 0 No comments

The Merging of Sustainability and Calf Management

*Post contributed by Maureen Hanson

How can calf management systems survive, thrive, and co-exist with other industries and the environment in the future? Their sustainability was addressed by number of speakers at the recent 2023 Smart Calf Rearing Conference in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

The Merging of Sustainability and Calf Management

 It’s a changing world, and calf management systems will need to change with it, according to several speakers at the 2023 Smart Calf Rearing Conference in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

The international conference, which convened for the third time ever and the first time in four years, brought together many of the greatest minds in calf research and on-farm practice from around the world. Topics ranged from the latest developments in calf health and nutrition, to in-depth discussions on animal behavior and welfare.

Looking to the future, a number of presenters also explored the sustainability of calf management systems. Their thoughts, shared by Dr. Robert James on The Calf Blog by Foerster-Technik, included:

Holistic sustainability – Dr. Caroline Ritter from the University of Prince Edward Island and the Atlantic Veterinary College said sustainability in calf management must be addressed from a broad range of perspectives: environmental, social, and economic.

 “The challenge that we face is that society is increasingly lacking in biological and agricultural reference experience,” she stated. “If agriculture doesn’t self-regulate, then society will intervene and regulate, which can be especially difficult in many of our production systems.”

 Ritter said the most pressing issues for the calf sector are housing systems, dealing with surplus calves, and cow-calf separation.

Calf socialization – University of Wisconsin researcher Dr. Jennifer Van Os addressed calf behavior and housing systems, noting that, among other factors, pair housing may help calves deal with cold stress. She also shared research-based evidence that when paired calves are offered two hutches, they prefer to rest together in one hutch.

Van Os said consumer perceptions will drive sustainability of dairies and calf operations. Her research has shown that, when presented with a range of options, consumers prefer to see calves in group or pair housing compared to isolated housing. But their strongest preference of all is for calves to remain with their dams.

On-farm labor – The lack of capable, dependable labor is a growing challenge for dairy and calf businesses worldwide. Dr. Wolfgang Heuweiser from the Freie Universistat in Berlin, Germany has worked with farms extensively on labor training and development.

He said many operations have a long way to go in this area, sharing his research that showed most farms have job descriptions, but few follow through on training and follow-through to actually meet them. “The goal in employee training is to facilitate consistency, quality, and communication in the onboarding process for new employees,” he stated.

Environmental impact – Dairy production is part of a larger food ecosystem that helps to meet the energy and protein needs of a growing world population, according to Dr. Javier Martin-Tereso with Trouw Nutrition.

Martin-Tereso noted that 86% of the nutrient needs of dairy animals are non-edible by humans, and that dairy production achieves a 32% efficiency in nutrient conversion. While that is impressive, he said dairy systems need to continue working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their total carbon footprint to remain sustainable in the future.

Visit this site to learn more about the Smart Calf Rearing Conference. It will be held again in 2025.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *