Quality bull choice improves returns from dairy cross calves

* Dairy cross calves produced from a good quality beef sire can make over £100 a head more than a purebred dairy bull calf from the same cow, according to EBLEX Beef BRP western region manager Clive Brown. That could be the equivalent to an extra 1.4p/litre during the dam’s lactation.

Using sexed semen when breeding their own replacements can enable dairy farmers to put a greater proportion of the herd to a beef bull with good estimated breeding values. “They can produce more beef cross calves, worth more money, while using their best cows for breeding replacements and thus improving the genetic merit of their dairy herd at a faster rate.”

Choosing a bull or AI semen with good ease of calving EBVs is also important. This can reduce the risk of calving difficulties, cutting associated vet costs and the likelihood of depressed fertility, he adds.

“Good management during a calf’s first few weeks can make a significant difference to its future health and performance.” Calves should be left on their dam for at least 24 hours after birth in a clean environment to encourage colostrum intake and minimise risk of contracting early infectious diseases. They should then be provided with their dam’s milk for another four days at least, he adds.

“Calves should receive at least two litres of colostrum in the first six hours of life, two litres more in the next six hours and a further two litres in the following 12 hours.” When the calf has not sucked, a stomach tube should be used.

Eblex logoColostrum is vital to provide the calf with essential antibodies to fight disease. “It has been shown that calves that do not receive sufficient colostrum within the first few hours of life have lower survival rates and are more susceptible to disease in later life.” The calf’s ability to absorb these essential antibodies through the lining of the stomach decreases dramatically after the first six hours, hence the need to get them suckling as soon as possible. Calves must also have their navels treated with iodine immediately after birth.


Case study

Philip and Debbie Kirkham – SOLIHULL

Producing better quality calves can significantly improve returns on most dairy farms and the Kirkblythe herd, Solihull, is no exception to that rule.

It was costing Philip and Debbie Kirkham, who trade as M & R Kirkham and Sons, £10 a head to dispose of their black-and-white dairy bull calves until they decided four years ago to use Belgian Blue sires with superior EBVs on 20% of the herd.

Since then the Kirkhams have been able to make about £100 a calf more over the black-and-whites.

As well as the premium paid by their main customer for using a superior sire from their recommended list, the Kirkhams have no trouble selling the calves to other buyers due to the better quality. Blue cross calves are sold at 4-5 weeks old.

“We started using Belgian Blue bulls before we joined the Meadow Quality Livestock scheme,” says Debbie Kirkham. “So it was fortunate they happened to be on the recommended list as well. Calves are of better quality, so we have a stronger market to supply.

“Calves are reared on 6-8 litres of whole milk a day – which is more than recommended, but we get better growth rates and suffer fewer problems with scour and pneumonia. Well-fed calves have better immunity.”

Many marketing groups agree that calves from beef sires with superior EBVs perform well and, when followed through to finishing, generally outperform those sired by an average bull usually by about £40 an animal.