Feed changes unable to improve conformation
The type of calf we've been trying to breed in recent years is an E or U-grade suitable for the live export trade to Italy. In essence, we are striving for the €1,000 weanling.
While a good percentage of our calves would fall into this category, the ones that don't have the potential to do so need to be identified at a very early age and managed differently.
The group targeted for export will be allowed to creep graze ahead of the cows because we need to maximise their weight at weaning time, whereas the others will be finished here on the farm at 20 months, so we tend to push them later in life when they are closer to finishing. Since we are an autumn-calving herd, the heifers that are not exported are sold off grass around 24 months.
We have found that crossing a pedigree Belgian Blue bull on a Limousin-type cow will produce the type of calf we want.
We try to stay away from sourcing replacements from crossbreds coming out of the dairy herds. While we accept that we are losing on milk, you cannot produce an export-type calf if there is Holstein in the dam's breeding.
It's quite easy to make up for the loss of milk with a little bit of creep feed but no amount of feed will compensate for inadequate conformation.
Talking to the Italian feedlot owners, they will, very quickly, point out to you the difference between a calf that's bred to be an E or U-grade and one that's fed to be E or U-grade. Ultimately, this difference is also reflected in the price.