15 September 1995

ROOM FOR MORE CALVES

Profitable rearing options for calves surplus to the dairy herd will depend on individual circumstances,

the export trade. But it will always pay to secure a market outlet first.

Rebecca Austin and Jessica Buss report

MORE pure-bred dairy bull calves could be reared profitably for beef without causing UK market prices to collapse.

Dr David Allen, Dalgety beef specialist, also claims a gross margin of £10 a head a month can be achieved by many production methods at current beef prices, excluding special premium payments.

On established units this monthly gross margin would cover average overhead costs and produce a net profit.

He has calculated the sale price break-even point for different rearing systems that is needed to leave a gross margin of £10 a head a month after direct costs including forage (see table). The variation in the required sale price between barley, maize silage, grass silage and 18-month beef is minimal, he claims.

However, Rosé – lightweight – beef demands a special outlet and a higher price a kilo. The market is still being developed and with stock finished too young for beef special premium, price must be known before stock is reared, warns Dr Allen.

Another consideration was eligibility for beef special premium. Beef produced without forage acreage may not qualify for the £86 a head payment, he says.

He also stresses that a good level of management is needed to achieve the predicted gross margin budgets, especially with intensive systems.

"For successful indoor barley beef systems feed must be prepared properly, pneumonia identified at an early stage for effective treatment," he says. Stock also need clean feed and water and well-bedded yards.

"With silage systems the silage needs to be good quality for high intakes.

"Choice of system will depend on individual circumstances," he says. "When the calf price is low, dairy farmers with restricted forage could rear calves for barley beef. On mixed farms, grass or 18-month beef may be more suitable."