Beef Roundup: Rearing dairy calves for beef


Cormac Duffy is back with our popular feature and this week he's taking a look at a topical issue raising dairy calves for beef. Can it be done?

Beef Roundup: Rearing dairy calves for beef

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  • 3 years ago

Cormac Duffy is back with our popular feature and this week he's taking a look at a topical issue raising dairy calves for beef. Can it be done?

As our dairy colleagues will tell you calving on dairy farms has begun in earnest, and if some are to be believed only bull calves have arrived.

So in this week’s edition of thatsfarming.com beef round up, we are going to take a look at rearing dairy bull calves and see what it is all about.

First things first is to go and buy a bunch of calves, but I wouldn’t just rush out and buy the first black and white calves you see.

Think about the different breeds, as the calves on the market will be cross bred calves, while ultimately the dam will be a dairy cow like a Friesian, the sire is where any beef genetics will come from.

Breeds that are popular with the dairy farmer at present are the Aberdeen Angus, and the Hereford, two breeds popular with the factories and ultimately the supermarkets and restaurants. To a lesser degree Limousin bulls are used but their use is decreasing. Some of you may know already to avoid the poor Jersey and Holstein bred calves. It is a pity to say but they do not preform well for a beef farm.

Now the calves will require a shed to be kept in especially in this very changeable weather, with variations in temperature, wind and rain leaveing calves susceptible to various breathing difficulties. So a nice airy shed with straw bedding is the ideal housing for these calves.

At this time seeking veterinary advice to implement a health plan, which, if done correctly, will help avoid a lot of health issues for these young calves is highly recommended.

Usually calves like this are fed twice per day, two litres at a time so milk replacer costs must not be forgotten, and factored into the overall costings. The plan would be to wean the calves at 3 months of age, skimping on milk replacer is not a good idea, as adequate feeding now will pay dividends later on. It is labour intensive unless you are willing to invest in an automatic feeder for calves but small numbers would not justify such an investment. Introducing some creep feed at this time will also help at weaning, it will only be a small cost as the quantities required will not be big and it can be increased as calves get closer to weaning.

Bull Beef vs Steer beef

As many did bear witness to the sharp nose dive of the bull beef sector in the past few years it is worth knowing now as to whether or not to persue bull beef or keep the calves as steers. One way is to contact your chosen factory and enquire as to the potential for bulls and even inform them as to your number and when they will reach the 16 month age limit imposed on young bulls in the factories. This information will really set out what path to take with these calves as this early stage and their management can be altered to suit whatever system you intend to take them through.

While there are some advantages and disadvantages to dairy calves, at a young age they certainly need a lot of care, especially with their housing and feeding as well as health management as living in such close quarters certain diseases can spread rapidly through the heard.

Expected performance

Average daily weight gains (ADG) are comparable with continental cattle in so far as expected ADG at summer grazing can be as high as 0.9kg/day which maybe low compared to the usual continental breeds but for an animal not bred for beef it actually quite good and this may surprise some readers.

However this rate of ADG can be only be achieved with concentrate feeding, good quality grass and a good parasite and worm control programme.

Just something to consider and be aware of, if considering purchasing some dairy bull calves this year.

Mart watch

Reports are that grass buyers are starting to become active for quality cattle across the country especially in parts where turn out has already begun, with high clearance rates reported, with continental cattle in some instances making over e550 with their weight.

Weanlings are reported as a good trade especially for heavier continental types.

Factory watch

Prices seem to have stagnated at present with reports that output is close enough to demand to stop any increase in the base prices.

Steers 380c/kg

Heifers 390c/kg

Cull Cows 290- 350c/kg

Young bulls 365-390c/kg

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