Breed more beef, dairy farmers urged

Teagasc advising sector to maximise use of beef crossing to boost value of calves 

Teagasc dairy specialist George Ramsbottom
Teagasc dairy specialist George Ramsbottom
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Teagasc is now advising dairy farmers to reassess their breeding policy for the 2019 season, on the back of animal welfare concerns and poor prices.

In a significant shift in its breeding advice to dairy farmers, Teagasc said it was "acutely conscious" of the importance of maintaining the high reputation that Irish farmers enjoy in the management of animal welfare.

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In a dairy breeding advice document, released for the 2019 breeding season and prepared by dairy specialist George Ramsbottom, it advises dairy farmers to match the number of dairy-breed female calves born to specific farm requirements and maximise the use of beef crossing to increase the potential value of the resulting calves.

"This spring, farmers experienced at first-hand a challenging market for dairy calves, which will influence their breeding decisions during the upcoming breeding season," the document states.

"Being able to sell calves quickly and easily is an important consideration, particularly in compactly calved and in larger dairy herds.

"Reducing the number of low-value dairy calves born will help."

It goes on to say that dairy farmers should seriously consider using sexed semen where bulls of very poor beef merit are being used.

Research herds

It has also emerged that in Teagasc's research herds, the breeding policy in 2019 will see the number of low-value dairy calves reduced in the 2020 calving season by using a greater proportion of beef semen.

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It says that only sexed Jersey semen will be used in the upcoming breeding season, as well as conventional Holstein-Friesian and beef semen.

Speaking to the Farming Independent, Mr Ramsbottom said Teagasc is not advising farmers to reduce the number of dairy-bred calves, if they know they will require them as cows in the herd or for expansion purposes or they may not need to use beef bulls if they have a good market for dairy stock. However, he said many farmers had struggled to sell dairy-bred calves this year, particularly bull calves.

Mr Ramsbottom highlighted that this is the first breeding season since the introduction of the Dairy Beef Index it has developed with the ICBF, so it is the first time Teagasc can advise on prudent beef AI usage.

"We can now clearly identify bulls that are more suitable for beef breeding on the dairy herd," he said.

However, ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham recently claimed that the economics of dairy bull beef simply didn't stack up.

"Even if you get the calves for free, they are still too expensive at today's prices and that's the reality," he said.

"This enterprise is a complete waste of time; it's bad enough losing money, but to have the stress of not knowing when or if you can get your bulls killed is completely unacceptable," he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill subsequently called on the ICSA to retract the comments made during the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture.

"Calves coming out of a dairy herd are not a waste product. The idea that animals coming out of a dairy herd is a waste product... you would want to get rid of that idea. Pitting farmers against farmers is not the way to solve the beef crisis," said Mr Cahill.

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