Dairy bull calf system may put meat on profits

18 August 2000

Dairy bull calf system may put meat on profits

Sorting out fact from fiction

over rearing unwanted

Holstein Friesian bull calves

led one East Yorks producer

to develop his own system

which generates a healthy

margin. Simon Wragg reports

REMOVAL of the calf processing aid scheme last July left the market flooded with valueless Holstein Friesian bull calves of which many were shot at birth.

But beef processors argued that some should have been reared for the manufacturing trade to offset imports which last year totalled 193,000t (carcass weight equivalent).

The argument was sound enough except that initial costings by industry bodies found that the potential for profit was based largely on being able to claim beef special premium worth £105 a head.

Mike Bayston and his father, John, who farm at Thornton House, Gilberdyke, East Yorks, were interested in the idea of rearing dairy-bred bulls having been geared up for finishing Hereford-cross bulls for the export market before BSE erupted in 1996.

"I wanted an enterprise that would not be too demanding on our time, as we are predominately an arable unit, but have always been geared up for running a beef unit alongside it," says Mike.

After entering into talks with processor ABP, which launched the first Holstein bull contract, Mr Bayston planned to run a trial batch of calves at Thornton House to monitor their performance.

To try to obtain a degree of uniformity in the bulls, he wanted calves to be about the same age and from one unit to limit the risk of disease. The first delivery of 42 calves was arranged with Norman Weir, manager at J R Williams Daisy Hill Farm, Burstwick, near Hull, where the dairy herd is managed under a block calving regime.

"The calves were to be reared at Daisy Hill until 10 weeks old. We supplied a small amount of the first grower ration for weaning purposes to avoid a growth check when the calves were transferred up here," says Mr Bayston.

The first 20 bulls were delivered at a cost of £75, the remaining 22 at £72.50 allowing for a bulk discount. Once in yards a ration incorporating home-grown barley was fed alongside fodder beet at about 7kg a head a day to counteract dryness in the diet (table 1). "In future we will look at using Propcorn – barley treated with acid – to moisten feed and cut down dust." The target was to finish bulls when 13 to 14 months old to 500-550kg liveweight. Stock were weighed once a month and recorded to monitor daily liveweight gain. "Their initial performance was quite steady, but at about seven-months-old they were putting on 2.35kg a day. It sounds a lot, but Friesians had a good reputation for putting on weight and that trait has shown itself," adds Mr Bayston.

Rations were reformulated by Harbro, which supplied various straights, according to availability of on-farm feed. Few dietary or health problems were recorded. "At about eight months the Holsteins appeared to almost stop putting on weight and almost revert into a store period. We increased density of the finishing ration to encourage carcass fill while trying to avoid the bulls building more frame," he says.

At this point Emma Andrews-Moynan, ABPs York-based livestock manager, believes some finishers could be unwittingly chasing extra weight, but for no actual gain. The ABP contract pays a flat £1.40/kg deadweight for those bulls grading out O- and P. Anything below these grades and not on a supply contract could suffer price penalties.

Mr Bayston was surprised to find some bulls were fit for slaughter at 12 months and between 515-535kg liveweight. "It is about six weeks earlier than we expected, but results from ABP were encouraging."

Many killed out at 53-55%, not far behind Continental bulls. Notably the carcasses were lighter in the hindquarters (see picture) where the higher-value cuts are taken. But Mrs Andrews-Moynan suggests that some primal cuts may be removed for the catering market, but most will be diced or minced.

"These Holstein bulls have the benefit of traceability and farm assurance which can be used to develop new markets, unlike some commodity beef," she adds.

A net margin of between £75-£80 can be made on Holstein bulls before the BSP claim (table 2). "We have been encouraged by the results and would now like to find a local dairy herd which is block calving in autumn to get two runs of bulls through the yards each year," says Mr Bayston.

ABP is appealing for block calving dairy herds to get in contact if they can supply finishers signed up to the Holstein bull contract with youngstock (01964-488333/488896). &#42

Mike Bayston, with father John and Emma Andrews-Moynan of ABP. Right: Holstein Friesian bulls at Thornton House were fit for slaughter at 515-535kg, earlier than expected.

Holstein carcass (left) lacks meat yield in hindquarter against typical Continental-bred R4L beast (right)

Table 1:Rations for Holsteins at Thornton House

Ingredient Ration 1 (kg/t) Ration 2 (kg/t) Ration 3 (kg/t)

Weight range (kg lwt) 125-260 262-430 431-535

Crude protein 14% 16% 14%

Barley 750 775 800

Hi-pro soya 50 150 –

Invercrombies 150* 25 100

Beef Feeder 25 – 25

Alkacarb** 25 – –

Full fat soya – – 25

Beans – 50 50

*Distillers waste **Anti-bloat

Table 2: Margins

for Holstein bulls at

Thornton House

Calf cost at weaning £75

Vet & med £8.50

Feed costs (inc sugar beet) £175

Sundries (straw, elec, depreciation etc) £60

Transport (in and out) £12

290kg carcass @ £1.40/kg dwt

less deductions £395.49

BSP subsidy £105

Slaughter premium £17

Net margin a beast £187

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