‘Joined-up thinking’ needed between dairy and beef

The value of beef output from the dairy herd will equal 60% of the total Irish beef output in years to come. Therefore, it will be the dominant sector of the Irish beef industry.

It is predicted that by 2021, the number of dairy-beef calves will increase to 630,000; up from 493,000 in 2015.

Results from a Teagasc survey found that 43% of dairy farmers valued calving ease as the most important trait for selecting a beef bull. This was followed closely by short gestation (42%) and breed (15%).

Speaking at a recent ABP Food Group farm walk in Clonegal, Co. Carlow, Finbarr McDonnell, CEO of ABP’s beef division, outlined the importance of having beef genetics incorporated into calves coming from the dairy herd.

“From an ABP point of view, we need the calves coming from the dairy herd to meet market specifications.

We need the product to be saleable to protect our business and we need to protect the raw material supply. We need more cattle in the target specification at 19 months (heifers) and at 21 months (steers).

“We are not talking about a 500kg carcass where the steaks are too big and do not fit the packs – the customers want well-presented beef.

“You’d find it hard to believe the number of animals that are slaughtered over 30 months, which lose all bonuses. These are difficult to sell and it can not keep going this way,” he stated.

Speaking to AgriLand on dairy-beef, Bord Bia’s Padraig Brennan said: “There is a market out there for that premium product – for that grass-fed image. We need the farmers to be producing the right product in the right way.”

With an increase in the number of dairy calves entering into beef systems, a combined effort is needed between the dairy and beef industries.

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Teagasc’s Padraig French also highlighted the fragmented supply chain that exists in Ireland between bull breeders and dairy and beef farmers.

“The bull breeder wants a fertile cow that will go back in-calf easily. He/she wants high-value bulls for either AI (artificial insemination) or for use as stock bulls. The farmer wants easy-calving traits; a short-gestation period; reduced labour; and a tighter calving interval. They also want a high-value calf.

The beef farmer is in the market for a calf with high carcass growth rates, that is feed efficient and will meet market specifications.

“Ultimately, we want signals going all the way back through the supply chain. We want bulls that have all the traits for the dairy and beef herds,” he explained.

Speaking at Teagasc’s National Beef Conference on Tuesday last, ABP’s Stephen Connolly outlined that the use of bulls with higher genetic merit for beef traits can have a major impact on a dairy-beef farmers’ incomes.

This is mainly through increased carcass sales; better carcass conformation; increased numbers of animals meeting the quality assurance and breed bonus specifications; shorter finishing periods; and reduced feed costs.

“It is vital that beef farmers avoid selecting calves solely on their appearance at two-to-three weeks of age,” he said.

At the moment we go to the mart and buy a ‘black’ or Hereford calf that we don’t know anything about. More often than not – after we bring them home – they fall asunder.

“We as beef farmers need to be the driver of this genetic change,” he explained.

“Instead, we should aim to purchase calves on their genetic merit. By doing this, calves of low genetic merit for beef will eventually be penalised in the market.

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“We need a new dairy-beef index. As an industry we need to push on. Beef farmers need to make their voices heard and select calves not just on how they look, but on their genetic merit,” he concluded.

The Gene Ireland dairy-beef programme, in conjunction with Teagasc and ABP, plays an important role in improving the genetic merit of the beef bulls for use on the dairy herd. This, in time, will ultimately improve the value of calves from the dairy herd and the profitability of dairy-beef production.

 

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