More and more attention is being paid to dairy beef as an alternative in these times, but is it all a lot of hot air?
If done right dairy beef farming is as efficient and valuable as other types of beef farming, so says Nuffield scholar Joe Burke.
In his recent report at the Nuffield Conference, he says that although dairy-bred animals produce lighter carcasses with less developed conformation than their suckler counterparts, well-managed dairy-beef systems have the potential to sustainably produce consistent quality beef and positive margins at farm level.
One of the biggest advantages can be found in cross breeding, in particular if we’re talking about crossing dairy beef with Wagyu cattle. This is because the result will be a higher quality dairy beef calf, as Wagyu already has a stellar reputation. Considering farmers currently get little back in return for dairy beef cattle, the crossbreeding with Wagyu would give consumers a greater reason to dip their toe into the area.
The advantages don’t end there however. There has been a lot of study done on the topic in recent years, with the findings on the whole quite positive. As might be expected much of the research comes from Down Under, and a lot of it is worth looking at.
A recently released report from a New Zealand group called Beef + Lamb New Zealand Dairy-Beef Integration Programme found that not only would the calves be healthier and of high value, but also that calving is noticeably improved. The report took place over a five year period.
There is also the added benefit that with the amount of cattle increasing, prices would be kept in check thanks to the added supply. It should also be pointed out that when it comes to availability and traceability, dairy beef leads the pack.
As is the process for spring born male dairy calves is a 24-month steer production system which means they are two years old when they are killed. Animals are finished during the second winter and the target carcass weight is 320kg. This target is achievable and repeatable but means that there is a higher cost due to the nutritional diet required.
The feed used to finish these animals in this system is 52% grazed grass, 26% grass silage and 22% concentrates. The profit for any dairy calf to beef system is based on selling price, purchase price and finishing price. Different types of production systems that reduce the costs of production are of very high interest as well.
Burke explains in his speech that he thinks the beef industry could benefit from the adoption of certain aspects of both intensive and extensive systems, including regular performance monitoring, professional feeding management and greater awareness of production costs per kilogramme of output.
He thinks that Teagasc should establish a dedicated research centre focusing on all aspects of dairy-calf to beef production.
What do you think? Could dairy beef production be a way forward for Irish agriculture? Let us know what you think on our Facebook and Twitter.