Dairy bred calves should be viewed as sustainable future

Better use of dairy bull beef will be key to a sustainable beef industry. It may not be a surprising concept considering the talk surrounding live calf exports currently, but SAC consultant Kev Bevan said there were opportunities to be taken.

Dr Bevan said the dairy bred calf has a number of strengths. “Firstly, it is a by product, so with no parent – unlike the suckler calf – it carries no initial overhead and for the same reason has a lower carbon footprint.

“Dairy beef production is also better suited to integrated supply chains, with the all year round calving pattern of many dairy herds suited to a production line system compared to highly seasonal calving pattern of the national suckler herd. Surprisingly it also compares well on eating quality,” he added.

Trial work

And as Harper Adams senior lecturer Simon Marsh pointed out, dairy beef can pay providing beef producers don’t go down the costly cereal route. “When possible look at by-products, maize silage and the costs will soon go down, even yielding gross margins of £130/head as recent Harper trial work suggests.”

Furthermore, as Dr Bevan described, there are many integrated supply chain contracts already out there for dairy beef production systems showing the marketplace is making better use of surplus dairy calves, but there still remains considerable technological barriers.

“Namely calf quality presents problems, with the Holstein influence taking most of the blame. But campaigns such as Better Shaped Holstein bull, a MDC and EBLEX funded project aiming to gauge the cost benefit of using “beefier” bulls, will help farmers.”

Sexed semen also presents huge opportunities. “In theory at least 60% of the UK dairy herd could be bred to beef bulls if semen containing only dairy heifers were available.”

Dr Bevan concluded the outlook for the British beef industry maybe some what challenging, but dairy bred beef remains a strong option for maintaining supply levels, but industry must work hard to develop current practices and technologies to increase quality.