Grain-fed veal fact sheets
Deciding to raise calves for the grain-fed veal market requires thorough and thoughtful planning. This series of fact sheets will help answer common questions and guide you in the right direction.
Becoming a grain-fed veal farmer in Ontario
Find the answers to common questions about purchasing and marketing veal cattle, and learn more about starting a grain-fed veal farm in Ontario in this fact sheet.
Grain-fed veal cattle are fed a balanced ration based of grain (usually clean, whole-shelled corn) and pellets made of protein, vitamins, and minerals. A small amount of roughage should be offered daily to maintain rumen health. Cattle should also have continuous access to their feed, to encourage slower eating and stimulate chewing. Ensure there is adequate bunk space for each animal. Learn more about feeding for finish in this fact sheet.
Ruminal acidosis is a common metabolic disorder that has significant economic implications in the grain-fed veal industry. Feeding excessive amounts of rapidly fermentable carbohydrates to ruminants, in conjunction with inadequate fibre, can cause acidosis. Learn more about acidosis in this fact sheet.
There are important management practices to remember when handling protein supplement (concentrate) pellets. Pellets are processed to have a hard surface, so they do not break down and create fines. Fines could include important minerals that the animals need and can cause acidosis. Even with a hardener added to the pellet, the ends are soft and fragile; excessive handling (auguring, mixing, and distribution) and surrounding moisture can contribute to pellet damage. Learn more about pellet quality in this fact sheet.
When calves are first introduced to solid feed it is referred to as “starter”. The form of the starter is personal preference, some have molasses added which calves love, but attracts a lot of flies. It can also clump in the summer with hot, humid weather, and freeze in the winter. Pellets are easier to feed but can be a challenge for young calves to get used to eating. The pellets can also crumble, making them unpalatable to the calf, so it is even more important to offer fresh calf starter daily. Learn more about starter in this fact sheet.
Water is one of the most important inputs into any livestock production system. Water is one the areas that crosses not only food safety, but welfare. The two main guidelines available for veal producers across Canada to follow are the Verified Veal Program (VVP), Canada’s veal on-farm food safety program and the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Veal Cattle (the Code). Water quality must be tested annually however it is recommended to be tested at least in the spring and fall. Learn more about water in this fact sheet.
All too often when a young calf dies everyone is left wondering what happened? Upon post-mortem it is discovered the calf died from enterotoxaemia, referring to a systemic disease caused by the absorption of a toxin from the intestine. The term gastroenteritis is also used as a diagnosis. Regardless of the term used, the cause is most always Clostridium perfringens. Learn more in this fact sheet.
The quality and health of calves upon arrival at the veal facility is a major factor in their subsequent health, need for treatment, growth performance and carcass quality. Purchasing calves is one of the most important parts of being a veal farmer. Learn more about the points to consider when purchasing calves in this fact sheet.
The first two weeks after arrival is a critical period for the health and welfare of calves. To reduce the risk of mortality and even sickness, it is important that protocols are established prior to calves arriving and everyone on the team follow them. For the protocols to be encompassing they should be established with the help of the herd veterinarian. Learn more in this fact sheet.
Keeping detailed records is an essential component of strong farm management, they form the basis for good decision-making. Records allow you to stay on top of production, feeding, and profitability. They also ensure you are meeting food safety and traceability requirements. When we think of farm business record-keeping, we often think of tracking and recording expenses, revenues, and other financial information. However, there is more data that Ontario grain-fed veal producers can be collecting, recording, and using to benefit their operations and help grow their businesses. Learn more in this fact sheet.
Proper mixing of the feed is important. The correct balance of ingredients entering the gut initiates good digestion and use of nutrients. A well-mixed uniform ration is optimum to enhance performance and improve animal health. Learn more in this fact sheet.
Raising calves for veal production is all about balance. Balancing the good and the bad bacteria, keeping the bad in check and encouraging growth of the good. Balancing the immune system of the calf and the disease challenge, keeping calves healthy with optimal performance. This concept of balancing bacteria may seem simple but why is it so difficult? Learn more in this fact sheet.
Cost of Production (COP) is a tool that can help in farm-level decision making. Farms with multiple enterprises can use COP to assess which ones are making money and which are not. You can also use it to concentrate on individual or groups of costs that have the biggest impact. Pricing targets for inputs, like male dairy calf and feed purchases, and outputs can be set at different cost break-even levels. For veal farmers, knowing your other costs can help show you what you can afford to pay for male dairy calves. Learn more in this fact sheet.
A lot of interaction occurs around the feed bunk or trough. Dominant cattle control the feed space and timid ones hang back, darting in for a quick gulp of feed when they can. One of the keys to proper digestion is calm eating. Ideally, cattle need quiet time to feed, chew, and swallow. Overcrowding causes the cattle to eat protectively, which means sneaking to the bunk and eating fast. These cattle eat less regularly and don’t chew. Limited bunk space invites pushing and shoving. Running out of feed encourages gorging when the bunk has been filled. If cattle are forced to gulp down the feed, they will not chew it properly and produce the necessary saliva, which can lead to bloating. Learn more in this fact sheet.
A variety of factors can contribute to bloating in cattle, including feed ingredients, feed temperature, changes in feed, dirty feeding equipment, the amount fed (gorging), feeding frequency, water availability, weather, fines, stress, and possibly pneumonia, although it is worth noting that any of these in themselves do not cause bloating. Susceptibility to bloat is variable and genetics may play a role. Some cattle may be predisposed to the condition, with some of them becoming chronic bloaters. As the gut develops in the pre-weaned calf, bloat can affect either the abomasum (the last of the four stomach compartments) or rumen (the first of the four stomach compartments). Learn more in this fact sheet.
Feeding fibre can improve feed efficiency and rumen function and reduce the occurrence of abnormal oral behaviours (oral stereotypies) like tongue rolling and sucking on inanimate objects like pen bars. It can also reduce the risk of ruminal acidosis and bloat. Fibre decreases the rate of fermentation and increases rumen motility, chewing duration, and saliva production, which acts as a buffer to acidity in the rumen. Learn more in this fact sheet.
Diarrhea is the single greatest cause of death in unweaned calves in Ontario, resulting from loss of fluids and complications from dehydration. Learn more in this fact sheet.
Straw is absorbent, so it is important to add fresh bedding regularly with caution around adding large amounts of straw at once. Smaller, frequent amounts help with dryness and keeping the top layer from being compacted. Straw bedding provides warmth for young calves and should be used in both indoor and outdoor housing. Learn more in this fact sheet.
It is difficult to meet the protein requirements of cattle between 90.7 and 136 kg (200 and 300 lbs.) because it is a challenge to balance consumption and nutrient requirements. That is why cattle often seem to stall during this period. As the calf grows, the protein to energy ratio lowers. Protein helps the calf grow and energy builds muscle, so maintaining the correct ration is vital. If the protein level is too high, the calf’s body will use up energy to convert it to nitrate and eventually excrete it out, causing growth to stall. General recommendations state that the calves should be moved up through the ratios based on their age: a 3:1 mix fed at three months of age; 4:1 at four months; 5:1 at five months to finish. Learn more in this fact sheet.
Understanding trade markets, especially imports, represents an opportunity for veal producers. Every pound of imported veal consumed by Canadians means one less pound that needs to be produced here in Canada. In 2021, Canadian veal exports were just over 3.8 million kg (8.4 million pounds) valued at $32.5 million CDN while Canada imported approximately 3 million kg (6.6 million pounds) of veal worth $18.7 million. Since veal is such a small market any changes can cause large impacts across the industry. Learn more in this fact sheet.
Have you taken the time to assess welfare on your farm and ensure you are following the requirements of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Veal Cattle? While most farms are already following the requirements, a welfare assessment can help you benchmark the level of welfare on your farm and identify your farm’s strengths and areas that need work to provide the best welfare for your herd. Learn more in this fact sheet.
As farmers, it is our responsibility to produce safe food, and this starts with managing your veal cattle and barns in a way that minimizes manure tags. Learn more in this fact sheet.
More information from Meat & Poultry Ontario about reducing the risk of E. coli can be found here. OMAFRA has more information available here.
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