Recent shift back to dairy beef systems will see unwanted bulls reared to boost cattle kill
Go to any meeting on dairy AI and you will be guaranteed to hear complaints about too many dairy bull calves. These unwanted, unloved creatures are party poopers in a female world, a by-product of milk production that is a nuisance around the farm.
And the more extreme the dairy breeding becomes, the more the male calves will face beef rejection.
And yet the trend is towards more and more dairy bull calves in the system. Between 2007 and last year, dairy bull calf numbers grew from 260,000 to 320,000hd a year. With the emphasis on dairy expansion, this figure looks set to top 400,000 dairy bull calves by 2020. The only factor that can slow down this trend would be greater usage of sexed semen in AI or even semen that is processed to increase the ratio of heifer to bull calves.
The Irish beef industry is taking note of the trends in calf births, the decline of the suckler herd and the big plans for expansion in dairy cow numbers. Dawn Meats is very active in researching the opportunities for dairy beef. The company is collaborating with Teagasc in a major dairy beef research project based at Johnstown Castle in Wexford. Also, Dawn has contracted with farmers in a pioneering dairy beef project. Other beef processors, too, are working with selected farms in the production of young dairy bulls. Of these, the Rose Veal project involving Buitelaar Farms and Slaney Foods is already well established.
This growth in dairy bulls at the expense of suckler beef will do nothing for quality and yields of our carcass beef, but faced with a drop of 100,000hd in the Irish cattle kill this year, and the same again next year, Irish meat plants have a challenge on their hands. A poor carcass is better than none. Actually, in terms of eating quality, dairy beef is quite good. It's just the meat yield and feed efficiency that is wrong.
There was a time in Ireland when the Friesian was a respectable beef animal. At that time, implants were available and the Holstein influence was less. Fields were full of Friesian bullocks. Calf to beef systems, based on the black and white dairy calves, were very popular, and an R-grade carcass was quite common. So the current interest in dairy beef systems is a return to the past but with more emphasis on beef from bulls.
During the 1990s, dear calves and the suckler cow subsidy led to a switch from calf to beef into suckling, but now I detect a drift in the opposite direction.
Galway farmer Tim Keady is one of the few who continued with calf to two-year-old steer beef from dairy calves over the years despite the dear calves. He buys about 70 calves a year, aims to get 320kg carcasses and about 750kg of meal/hd in total.