jury is still out on rearing bull calves from dairy herd
Main conclusion of ongoing Johnstown project is expensive concentrates will suck away profits
Is there money in rearing bull calves from the dairy herd? Judging by the number of youthful heads that turned out to last week's Teagasc/Dawn Meats open day on dairy beef at Johnstown Castle, this question is exercising a lot of minds.
The Johnstown project involves buying more than 300 calves a year which are channelled into 11 separate sub-trials. Did the crowds come away with a definitive answer?
No, but there were pointers. The biggest being "expensive concentrates suck the profit out of young dairy bull beef systems".
To be fair, the trials are still work in progress. Many of the economics shown in Table 1 will be speculative until more groups of bulls have been progressed through to slaughter. But the earlier optimism for 12 and 16-month dairy bull beef has taken a hit, based almost totally on the high cost of meals and the ability of these animals to gobble up tonnes of the stuff. The all-meal 11 to 12-month bulls consume almost 2t per head.
The first bulls through the eight, 12 and 16-month systems have been slaughtered. The results in the table show negative net margins for the 12 and 16-month bulls. Interestingly the rose-veal animals slaughtered at eight months did give positive net margins of €139/hd for Holstein/Friesian and €200/hd for the Jersey cross, but this was based on a premium price of €5.50 a kg carcassweight. The Teagasc speakers seemed to dismiss this system as niche, with insufficient market demand.
Compared to the previous open day at this centre, the emphasis had moved towards 19 and 22-month bulls in the effort to gain a bottom-line profit. Even the tried and tested two-year steer beef has come back into the equation as a profitable option for dairy-bred bulls. Indeed, the recent beef-price lift has lifted all beef systems. Long may it last.
On paper, the 19 and 22-month options also look profitable in the absence of a price discount (see table). The dilemma is that the market has put an upper limit of 16 months on dairy bull beef, but the Irish farmer wants to hold them longer to get more weight gain from grass.
The grass versus meals issue is starkly illustrated by the fact that €205 is spent on meals for the eight-month bulls whilst a mere €89/hd covers all grass eaten by the 24-month-old steers. However, the trials indicated that including 1-2kg meals head/day to the bull calves at grass in the first season may still be justified.