Farm Ireland

Saturday 16 December 2017

Dairy calf to beef systems prove their profit value

Early maturing dairy crossbreds can return €800

Various finishing systems can be a success
Various finishing systems can be a success

Martin Ryan

Early maturing crossbreds from the dairy herd have the potential to return more than €800/ha when finished at 21 months in a pasture based beef system, according to new Teagasc data.

However, five years of pain-staking research at Grange and Johnstown Castle has found that the early maturing crossbred calves only have a marginal lead over dairy breeds in calf to beef production, with the latter returning a net margin of €774/ha at 21 months.

The findings were outlined by Robert Prendiville to the Irish Grassland Association as the latest figures from ICBF show that calvings from the dairy herd were up by 116,000 this year. The 11pc increase comes on the back of six consecutive years of increased calf numbers from the dairy herd, up a massive 335,000, or 40pc on 2010 levels.

Mr Prendiville said that in 2012 approximately two-thirds of dairy cows were mated to dairy sires, with 22pc bred to early-maturing breeds and the remainder to late-maturing continental breeds.

"With the plentiful supply of replacement heifers on dairy farms and the adoption of sexed semen by some farmers, there will still be a large supply of mainly Holstein-Friesian bull calves coming from the dairy herd, at relatively low values," he said. Four systems for dairy calf-to-beef returned margins ranging from €67/hd for bull beef to €258/hd for steers finished at 21 months. But the results come with the warning that systems are sensitive to changes in calf prices, concentrates, and the finishing date in relation to securing the highest price per kilo.

Finishing bulls at 19 months produced a carcass weight of 320kg, which was similar to steers finished at 24 months. However, the lower beef price of 336c/kg for bulls compared to 387c/kg for the steers reduced the margin for bulls to €124/hd, with steers at €201/hd, or €434/ha and €503/ha, respectively. Grading generally O=2=.


Separate trials at Johnstown Castle also looked at early maturing crossbred progeny from the dairy herd, with Hereford and Angus heifers and steers finished between 19 months and 26 months, and grading O=/O+ and 3-/4-.

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Pasture-based production for both February- and April-born calves, finished at either 21 months or 26 months, was the most profitable at €273/hd and €320/hd, respectively. Net margin per hectare was highest at €819 for February-born calves slaughtered at 21 months. The least profitable system was 21 month indoor finishing of April-born calves at net margins of €98/hd and €294/ha.

The research team concluded that various finishing systems can be a success on dairy calf-to-beef enterprises provided a high proportion of total lifetime gains come from grazed grass, but with the caveat that profitability is vulnerable to variations in calf prices, concentrate costs, and the all-in selling price of beef.

Indo Farming