4 tips for getting the best return from dairy beef

Dairy beef presents a growing opportunity for dairy farmers to diversify their income and create a profitable new enterprise, as supermarkets and retailers look to secure supplies.

Veterinarian Rob Drysdale shares his advice on what to consider to achieve the best returns.

See also: How finishing beef adds value to dairy business

1. Make strategic genetic decisions

Before you get “peas in the pod”, you have to have the right raw material, and this begins with genetics and semen companies.

Using genetics can help target premium markets, with consumers showing taste preference for breeds including Angus, Wagyu and Longhorn.

Some schemes demand specific sires. In this scenario, key questions to ask include:

  • What is the conception rate like?
  • What is the variability in the semen like?
  • How much does the semen cost?

If you are selling into a premium market, these costs may be justified, but it is important to be aware of this upfront.

2. Understand buyer specifications

Buyers are looking for the right type of cows. There is no point diversifying into selling Wagyu if your cows are 450kg cross-bred Jerseys because there will probably be a very limited return on calves. Remember, the dam’s genetics will be 50% of the calf.

There are also logistical considerations, and it is important to ask what happens if you, or the unit you buy calves from, is shut down with TB, or whether the sales price is fixed or moving, for example.

Good relationships with buyers are essential to make these systems work.

3. Monitor weight for age closely

Weight for age is largely what buyers will be basing decisions on, so this should be monitored carefully.

A calf that is two weeks old and 50kg is probably much healthier than a calf that is six weeks old and the same weight.

How weight is affected by the sex of the calf is also being more closely observed, meaning a lot more sexed Angus semen is being used, for example.

4. Focus on early calf health

Avoiding losses – of both cow and calf – is vital and is aided by good disease management and hygiene in the early stages of the calf’s life.

Ensure the calving area is clean, warm and protected from any drafts to minimise the risk of health challenges such as pneumonia and scouring.

As with all calves, early administration of colostrum is vital for producing healthy, strong youngstock that will go on to be productive beef animals.

Colostrum is not just about immunity, it can also influence hormone levels, which affect factors such as prime muscle mass and, in heifers, future fertility.

A lot of beef animals in dairy systems tend to get forgotten about, but it is important to treat them as you would a calf destined for the dairy herd.


Rob concludes: “If you’re going to diversify and go into dairy beef, make sure you do with your eyes open and understand all the other bits that go with it. But there is a big opportunity here for dairy producers.”

Rob Drysdale was speaking at the recent Dairy-Tech event.