Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Putting the bull before rewards

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Better beef genetics are the missing piece when it comes to getting higher value calves.
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Using better beef genetics for mating cows for non-replacement calves is critical for the dairy industry to get further value from these animals and keep rearing financially viable.

Using better beef bulls makes a huge difference, Focus Genetics’ Professor Rebecca Hickson told an open day at Pāmu’s Exeter farm north of Taupō.

Focus Genetics is working with Pāmu to create better genetics for its non-replacement calves as the government-owned farmer aims to rear all of its calves off its dairy farms for meat production by 2030.

A beef bull’s biggest job for a dairy farmer is not to cause them a problem. It has to get the cow in calf – with calves that are born on time without causing any issues.

This leaves a lot of scope to add selection pressure for beef traits, Hickson said.

The difference between a Friesian and a Jersey/crossbred cow size-wise is around 32kg. When those cows are mated to the same bull, half of those genetics are being passed on to the calf, meaning there will be a 16kg liveweight difference between a calf with Friesian and crossbred genetics.

On a carcase weight basis, it equates to a 9kg difference.

“We think there is about a $60 value difference in going from a Friesian to a crossbred dam in terms of what you are going to hang on the hooks with those two different cows,” Hickson said.

But if beef finishers offer to pay dairy farmers more for Friesian calves, it equates to around $40 a cow.

“That’s the difference in terms of calf value that we can pay them for having Friesian instead of crossbred cows.”

Hickson questioned whether this is enough to persuade farmers to switch to more Friesian cows.

“From a beef farmer perspective, we can’t pay those farmers enough to switch from crossbred to Friesian cows.”

Research shows there is a 26-day variation in the weaning age for the calf to reach 85kg when that calf is sired from a bull that dairy farmers are happy to use and produces dairy beef calves that a rearer is happy to buy.

Those extra days on milk cost more than that $60 difference in value.

There is a big variation among bulls in terms of their progeny’s rearing performance. There is not much difference when extrapolated to a 600-day weight.

“We still get a huge amount of variation in the growth potential of those calves to satisfy the dairy farmer.”

It means if dairy farmers want to produce good non-replacement calves, the bulls that they need are the ones that include genetics that allow for fast growth.

“That’s how we make a big difference,” she said.

 The best way to get good beef genetics in a dairy herd is through a straw. It allows the dairy farmer to be selective and avoid the costs involved with leasing or purchasing a bull.

Massey University’s Dr Nick Sneddon told farmers that the reason whiteface calves are so popular with rearers is because they know the genetics of what they are buying by sight.

“You’re choosing what the packet looks like instead of what the bull looks like – and that’s what we have to convince the dairy farmer to go and do – not just use Herefords, or Angus or Charolais. Use the best ones you can.”

The price difference on a beef straw basis between a top beef bull and an average bull is not that significant at $3-$4, he said.

This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

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