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Contract Pink veal production: Issues and potential returns.

Purpose of Information Package

The purpose of this information package is to provide background information to those considering
starting a pink veal enterprise. The package will examine the requirements to establish a profitable
pink veal business, the economics and other factors to be considered.

NOTE: Prior to establishing a pink veal enterprise you will need to develop a comprehensive
business plan and operational plan making sure all planning and legal requirements are covered.
You will have to satisfy yourself that all financial analysises have been completed and are realistic.

What is pink veal production?

Pink veal comes to calves grown indoors on milk, concentrates and straw to between five to six
months of age, or calves weaned off milk at approximately six to eight weeks of age then raised on
pellets and straw.

The basis is the calf should not have access to green feed (pasture, hay or silage), dirt or high iron
content feeds. It is the iron in the diet that gives the meat its dark colour.

Pink veal is not the same as white veal. In white veal production the animal is fed an iron deficient
diet which may induce anaemia. White veal diets are not only more expensive due to their high
reliance on milk to the older age, but also raise animal welfare considerations.
The Market

The aim is to produce a carcass exhibiting a pale pink meat which is tender and lean. The carcass
weight should be around 50 - 70 kg (85 – 120 kg liveweight) for the domestic market while the
export market prefers a heavier carcass of 100 kg (175 kg liveweight) or more.

The product is similar in eating quality to “white veal” in terms of juiciness, tenderness and taste,
but is slightly darker with a characteristic pale pink colour.

Being very lean, it appeals to the many health conscious consumers.

The product also has gourmet appeal for both the home consumption and restaurant trade.

The pink veal market is different to the export “splitter calf” market for vealer age dairy calves.

This is specialised market and requires good relationships along the marketing chain from producer
to butcher or restaurateur.

In the past it is the breakdown of these market relationships that have caused the failure of many
pink veal producers. The producer must understand the need for their customer to have access to
constant quality product every week of the year.

If an individual producer finds it hard to supply a constant product throughout the year they need to
work with their wholesaler or other producers to help satisfy the markets requirements.

Production System

Selecting calves: The first step is to source quality healthy calves. Bobby dairy calves and dairy
cross calves are excellent calves for the pink veal system. “Bobby veal” carcass weigh less than
30kg and are generally too light for the trade.

“Pink veal” production is an excellent way to value add to these calves.

Calves should ideally be sourced direct from the farm to minimise disease risk and stress to the calf.
Disease and stress on the calf will cost money due to increased costs and lower weight gain.

Look for calves that:
• Are about one week old and weigh 40 – 50 kg
• Have a dry umbilical cord
• Have a shinny coat, bright eye, clear and damp nose and no signs of dehydration
• Are lively (not sulking in corners of pens)

Raise calves in batches: The simplest production system is to be able to collect a number of calves
from the one farm at a time. This allows the calves from the one pickup to be kept together
throughout the period of their stay.

It is inadvisable to mix calves from different farms.

By raising calves in batches you will:
• Have calves of similar size together making uniform growth across the group easier to obtain
• Lessen the spread of disease organisms from calves of one farm to other calves that do not have
   passive immunity to the infections common on the original calves’ home farm.

Housing: Calves are young susceptible animals. They require a dry, stress free environment that is
airy and is free from drafts.
The biggest risk to calves is pneumonia. If you can smell ammonium in their housing facility the
calves will get pneumonia.

Calves should be kept in separate pens for the first week or so while they become acclimatised.
Keeping calves separately penned makes it easier to monitor individual calves. An area on 1.0
metre square should be allowed for each calf.

After the calves are acclimatised they can be raised in batches. Calves in the same batch should be
of even size to lessen the problem of shy feeders.

Pens housing batches of calves should allow 1.5 metres square per calf. A pen using 3.6 metre gates
for sides is big enough to hold 8 calves till about six weeks of age.

Deep litter bedding is excellent for calves provided it is kept fresh, dry and clean.

Sand, sawdust or straw can all be used successfully.

Raised wooden slatted pens are also excellent. If using raised pens, they should be well above
ground level and enclosed on the windward side to minimise drafts. Consider drafts travelling under
the floor level of the pens and creating a draft as in the flue of a chimney.

If calves are housed in raised pens the floor should not be housed out while calves are in the pen as
this creates bacteria infected aerosols that are inhaled by the calves.

Feed and watering areas should be away from the bedding area to help keep a clean disease free

Older calves (greater than six weeks of age) need approximately 2.0 square metres per calf. After
six weeks of age the disease risk of mixing pens of similar size and age animals decreases.

Dietary Practices

There are as many calf raising systems as there are calf raisers. However when raising calves using
milk replacer it is more economical to have the calf develop a functioning rumen and be weaned off
milk as early as possible.

No matter what system is used calves require access to fresh clean water.

Following is an outline of a basic feeding system to 20 weeks of age to achieve a liveweight of 175

On arrival              2 litres electrolyte if dehydrated
Day 1 to 4              2 litres milk replacer twice day
Day 6 – day 14          2.5 litres milk replacer once per day plus ad lib access to calf
                        pellets (21% protein) and soft cereal straw (eg barley)
2 weeks to 6 weeks      3 litres milk replacer plus ad lib pellets and straw
6 weeks plus            Wean abruptly, maintain access to pellets (16 – 18% protein,
                        11-12 Mj energy) and straw.

A calf has a fully developed rumen and can be weaned off milk when they are eating one kilogram
of pellets per day.

When making up milk replacer powder should be added to warm water (36°C) and mixed.
Generally milk powder concentration is increased from 200 grams per litre on day 1 to 500 grams
per litre from two weeks onwards.

Feeding more than 2.5 litres of milk replacer at a time will cause overfilling of the fourth stomach.
This is one of the main causes of scouring in calves. It is said that during the first two weeks a
hungry calf is a healthy calf.

The table below (Table 1) shows growth rates and feed intake monitored the by Victorian
Department of Natural Resources and Environment at Kyabram.

Table 1 Pellet intakes and growth rates of dairy bull calves in well managed veal units.
       Age                Liveweight           Pellet intake          Growth rate
     (weeks)                 (kgs)                (kg/day)             (kg/day)
         4                    58                    0.5                   0.3
         8                    79                    2.5                   0.7
        12                    108                   3.2                   1.0
        16                    141                   4.2                   1.2
        20                    175                   5.5                   1.2
(From: Producing pink veal from dairy bull calves, NRE Victoria,

Dairy bull calves and dairy beef calves (bull and heifer) are equally acceptable and suited for the
pink veal market. Bull calves will have slightly higher growth rates. The animals are slaughtered
well before any “bull taints” will be detected in the meat.

Calves can be fed milk all the way to slaughter to reduce the age of slaughter. Pellet intake will be
reduced to about 1kg per day. However the high cost of milk replacer powder makes this a costly

The pellets, which form almost the entire diet, must be specially formulated to have lower than
normal iron levels than standard pre and post weaning calf pellets. These can be purchased
commercially or home mixed.

Home mixing can reduce input costs but this is often offset by increase capital costs for mixing and
storage equipment and increase labour requirements for mixing and sourcing feeds.

Home mixers are often more exposed to movements in grain and protein meal markets. Another
negative is the accuracy of measuring inputs in a mix.

If home mixing, all inputs should be tested for at least energy, protein and iron levels to make sure
the ration is correctly formulated.

Calf health

A calf raising venture will often fail due to the inability of the calf rearer to maintain healthy calves.

Observation, reacting promptly and not “over mothering” are required.

Often rearers will spend too much time attempting to nurse a very sick animal back to health,
neglecting the healthy majority only to lose the original calf.

Major calf complaints are:
• Scouring - dietary and infectious
• Pneumonia
• Navel infection
• Joint-ill (swollen joints)
Consult with your animal health adviser on how to minimise, treat and control these complaints.


Pink veal production is a high cost specialised enterprise that requires a high commitment to the
market and by the market.

It is important that the market is fully investigated and preferably contracts with processors,
butchers or hospitality industry are put in place.

A few practice runs with a small number of calves to investigate the production system and the
quality of the end product is also important. These should be carried out in conjunction with your
potential marketing partner (wholesaler, butcher, etc).

The advantages of pink veal production include:
• Good cash flow across the year.
• Limited capital investment in infrastructure and working capital.

Disadvantages are:
• Specialised and demanding market
• Reliant on client for continuing supply of animals
• Little room to cut costs and
• Exposure to changes to feed input costs.

The attached economic model shows that after allowing for labour and the cost of capital (at 10%
interest) a 100 calf facility, with 2.4 batches a year and a 3% mortality rate needs to be paid $313
per calf raised to break even. Assuming a 100kg carcass weight (175kg liveweight) the break-even
price is$3.13 per kilogram carcass weight ($1.80 kg liveweight).

At $3.75 per kilogram carcass weight ($2.18 liveweight) the profit of $8.775 is achieved per year
(233 live animals sold per year).

The profit is most sensitive to the cost of milk powder (50 cents per kg rise or fall
changes the margin by $2,400 per annum).

The cost of calf pellets has less an effect on the profitability of the venture. A $20 per tonne change
in the cost of calf pellets changes profitability by $480 per annum.

Calf mortality has a large affect on profitability. Going from a mortality rate of 3% to 9% (15 extra
deaths over 240 calves) decreases profit by $4,960 per annum.

This highlights the need to have a healthy calf, off milk replacer and eating solid food as soon as

Contacts & References:

Scott Barnett
Scott Barnett & Associates
Tel: (02) 6545 1196
Fax    (02) 6545 3838

Andrew Badgery
AGroup Consulting
Tel: (02) 6571 1855
Fax: (02) 6571 1877

Hugh Sheridan
Meat Livestock Australia

Producing pink veal from dairy bull calves, Dept. Natural Resources and the Environment,
Agricultural Notes (2002),

Calf Rearing: A Guide to rearing calves in Australia, Moran J., (1993) Agmedia, Melbourne

Growing Heifers, NSW Agriculture’s Dairy Link series

Successful Calf Rearing, Ian Simpson (1995) Meat Research Corporation, Sydney

Market contacts

FC Nichols Pty Limited, Woy Woy                   02 4341 1855

Green Mountian Trading Company, Dave Payne        0409 920 561

Kurri Meats, Kurri Kurri                          02 4937 1644

Primo Ausralia Scone Abattior:                    02 6545 2288

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