These are mostly Friesian bull calves which are finished using intensive systems, for which the country has Harry Wier of Bulls to thank.
After two years of growing, those dairy converts result in an annual bull kill of 440,000 head and a major share of NZ’s 180,000 tonnes of beef exported to North America each year.
The dairy industry also provides over 80% of the cull cow slaughter numbers (700,000 head) which also goes into manufacturing beef for hamburger patty production here and overseas.
In addition some 1.7 million bobby calves are slaughtered annually, with a carcase weight average of 16.5kg, which provide export beef.
They provide 18,000 tonnes of veal, worth about $100 million, for market regions such as North America, the Middle East and North Asia
Collectively, the dairy bulls, cull cows and bobby calves add up to more than 50% of NZ’s export beef tonnage.
On the other side of the ledger pastoral farmers produce 550,000 beef steers, 420,000 beef heifers and about 150,000 cull beef cows each year for slaughter, a total of 1.12m head.
The steers and heifers go into prime beef, of which NZ exports 170,000 tonnes annually and also into beef for domestic consumption.
But the cold facts are that half of NZ’s adult cattle kill is of dairy origin, of which about 40% have been reared and finished on sheep and beef farms. A case of if you can’t beat them join them.
The Beef + Lamb NZ Economic Service survey of livestock numbers in 2012 showed that beef cattle numbers increased 1% to 3.88m on June 30, compared with a drop of 2.6% in the previous year.
In the North Island beef cows and beef weaners both increased by 3.3%, in all regions, while in the South Island numbers went down by 5.6%. The South Island has around 30% of the national herd.
Northland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty have the largest proportion of beef cows, 28% of the national total. In that region last year beef cow numbers went up by 4.5%, two-year heifer numbers by 5% and female weaners up by 3.8%
Southland has the smallest share of the national herd, at just 5%.
The total last June of 3.88m was the first substantive yearly increase since 2003 when the tally was 4.63m.
However, previous tally increases for beef cattle have been short-lived and the long-term graph in the survey report shows a peak of 5.2m beef cattle back in 1995.
Economic Service director Rob Davison said the latest bottoming out would not necessarily indicate any stock number increases in the future as the focus for farmers now is lifting productivity from the livestock they have.
Although beef cattle numbers are falling, the crossover of dairy-origin cattle into the beef herd is one large aspect of the numbers. Each year about a third of all calves born or taken onto beef farms are from the dairy industry and are counted as beef animals thereafter.
Davison pointed out that NZ has 10m cattle of all types and that total has increased about a million head each decade in recent times, thanks to dairy expansion.
Presently, however, only about a million of the 10m are beef breeding cows, about a 20% decline over the past decade.
In the spring of 2011 the number of calves born to the beef cow herd was 879,000 from 1.05m cows, which is a national calving of 84%.
Dairying now occupies 2.2m hectares or 20% of the pastoral land, compared with 1.35m ha two decades ago.
Dairying has taken about a million hectares from sheep and beef farming, much of which would have been prime beef cattle country.
The number of hill country farms has gone down by 20% (through amalgamation, to forestry or by scrub reversion) and the number of breeding and finishing farms has gone down by 45% over the past 20 years.
The main causes are dairy conversion and urban encroachment.
Beef cattle numbers have fallen 10% since the early 1990s and dairy cattle numbers are up 80%.
Davison said the drought in the North Island would impact on beef cattle numbers as the cull cow slaughter has occurred early and the poor summer feed conditions might reduce the calving percentage.