The Outdoor Veal Calf Concept Reduces the Use of Antibiotics – Is It Cost-Effective as Well?

A study by Vetsuisse shows that the outdoor veal calf concept reduces antibiotic consumption in calf fattening by 80%. AGRIDEA has examined the economic viability of outdoor veal calf production and concludes that it cannot compete with conventional veal calf fattening.

The outdoor veal calf concept (OVC) developed by the ruminant clinic of Vetsuisse essentially includes that weaned suckler calves are purchased directly from neighbouring producers and transported to the fattening farm by the buyer himself, that they are first vaccinated and subjected to at least three weeks of quarantine in individual igloos, and that they are eventually finished in fattening groups of no more than ten animals in outdoor pens (covered enclosure with group igloo).

Between autumn 2016 and summer 2018, Vetsuisse collected data from a total of 38 calf fattening farms. Half of these farms followed the OVC concept, the other 19 farms served as controls and fattened according to traditional methods in accordance with IP-Suisse guidelines (TCF). The evaluation of this study showed that the OVC concept can reduce antibiotic consumption by 80% and calf mortality by 50% compared to TCF management.

Assessment of economic viability

After publication of these results, AGRIDEA calculated and compared the profitability of the two trial groups, using the basic data produced by the Vetsuisse study. An extended contribution margin (CM) was used as benchmark (see Table 1). A CM including machinery, installations, constructions and contributions per working hour was calculated as a further indicator.

Since the Vetsuisse survey has gaps in basic microeconomic data, various assumptions had to be made or statistical values assigned to allow the calculation of comparative figures.

Outdoor veal calf less profitable

The comparison of CMs with the survey results (Table 1) revealed that the outdoor veal calf concept is less profitable than traditional calf fattening.

Although the OVC concept shows advantages thanks to fewer animal losses and lower replacement and health costs, these are more than outweighed by reduced performance and significantly higher labour costs. Also comparing the contribution margins per labour input, the OVC concept achieves an economically less favourable result.


  • Concerning the comparable contribution margin, the outdoor veal calf concept achieves a better result than traditional calf fattening.
  • Considering the extended contribution margin, which in addition deducts the costs for machinery, installations, constructions and labour, the outdoor veal calf concept shows a clearly inferior result.
  • Comparing the extended contribution margin per labour input of the two calf fattening concepts, the outdoor veal calf performs economically less successful than traditional calf fattening.
  • The outdoor veal calf concept is therefore only likely to stand a chance in practice when it is promoted by economic incentives or enforced with the help of legal regulations.

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