Farmers affected by the drought and COVID-19 can take some heart from the latest forecast for sheep and beef exports for the 2019/20 season.
Preliminary findings by Beef + Lamb NZ on the use of quality beef sires confirm that dairy farmers can produce high value calves with minimal calving problems by breeding to proven beef genetics.
BLNZ’s dairy-beef integration programme did a five year analysis and demonstration of the benefits and risks along the supply chain, seeking to increase the supply of quality calves to the finishing industry.
The AgResearch-led project was funded by BLNZ mid-northern farmer council with support from LIC and Ezicalve (proven Hereford sires).
Releasing the preliminary findings, Dr Vicki Burggraaf, AgResearch farm systems scientist, says the use of beef genetics in the dairy industry has traditionally been mainly bulls of unknown genetic merit.
“This study researched animal performance, farm financial and labour implications for the various stages of mating, calving, rearing and finishing by comparing the performance of progeny sired by proven and unrecorded Hereford sires (natural and AI mating).
“DNA profiles were conducted for all dams, sires and progeny so that progeny performance could be linked to parentage. Dam attributes were recorded (frame size, liveweight and breed) to link progeny performance. Animal performance attributes of calving ease, liveweight gain and carcase attributes were also measured.”
Burggraaf says the study showed that the use of proven sires with high estimated breeding values (EBVs) for calving ease limited calving problems and those with high EBVs for liveweight produced cattle with higher growth rates.
“The use of proven beef sires on a dairy farm and the impact on the progenies’ performance was demonstrated. Ezicalve Hereford sires, which have high EBVs for calving ease and liveweight, were compared with unrecorded Hereford sires.
“Using some beef semen during mating reduced mating costs. Ezicalve sired cattle had minimal calving problems, and despite being smaller at birth, performance was similar to those sired by unrecorded bulls during rearing and finishing.
“The sire had little effect on meat quality, but cattle from the Ezicalve sire with the highest liveweight EBVs were quicker to reach slaughter targets and produced more revenue per animal than those from other Ezicalve AI (artificial insemination) sires. Using beef sires with high EBVs for calving ease and liveweight on dairy farms therefore has benefits for dairy and beef farmers.”
Dairy beef integration programme manager Doug Lineham says the findings “couldn’t have come at a better time for dairy farmers”.
“The report provides the research validation for what is happening in the market right now. Farmers who bred tail-end cows to proven beef semen last year are being paid two-three times more for four-day-old calves than they would for straight-bred dairy calves. The difference can be anything from $40 for a bobby calf to $200-$300 for a dairy/beef animal.
“A number of farmers changed their breeding strategies last year to take advantage of this increased income, but the BLNZ dairy beef integration programme would like to see more farmers [make more money] by mating tail-end cows to proven beef sires.
“Farmers can choose between artificially breeding some cows to proven AI bulls, or purchasing or leasing proven beef sires. Semen from proven beef bulls is around 20% cheaper per insemination than high BW dairy semen so there are savings to be made with the promise of a larger calf cheque next year.”
Lineham says increased use of quality proven beef sires will benefit dairy farmers (easy calving, high quality calves worth up to $150 more); calf rearers/finishers (faster growing, finish earlier, high carcass value); and meat processors (improved supply of quality table beef).