Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Better selection could improve dairy steer calf values

February 6, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

Dairy beef values could be increased by an estimated 50% per calf, if sires were selected for meat yield as well as milk yield, producers have been told.

Farmers trialling an easy-to-use app called Breedr said they were able to finish cattle to retail specifications with greater precision. Ian Wheal, founder of Breedr, shared his insights with visitors during the Dairy-Tech event on 6 February at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.

Consumer tastes for beef have changed in recent years towards leaner meat, and processors require greater consistency. The Holstein Friesian breed, used widely by the dairy industry, offers the potential to provide the required uniformity of quality.

Mr Wheal explains: “Dairy breeding has traditionally been done to increase milk yield, but if the cows were also selected by the quality of their bull calves, a market that has seen a massive upturn, the value could significantly increase with no additional cost.”

Supply chain

A number of major retailers, including the Co-operative and Waitrose, have introduced high welfare schemes to connect their dairy and beef producers. This has resulted in a rise of 59% in the numbers of dairy bull calves retained within the supply chain for veal or beef.

Further increasing transparency and providing feedback to farmers on the performance of their bull calves can enhance the success of these initiatives.

To assist with this Breedr has analysed six years of data from Rothamsted’s North Wyke Farm. This analysis has revealed that some cows consistently produce calves that are slow to put on weight. The difference between good and poor performers can be a much as 0.5kg a day.

Breedr alert farmers about ways to improve performance, says Mr Wheal.

“It can highlight which animals to breed from, indicate the optimum time to sell, or provide an alert that an intervention is needed. The system also helps the farmer know the cost-benefit of these alternative strategies – it is valuable decision-support.”

Higher prices

Breedr also looked at the impact of the choice of sire. Analysis of the sires reveals which bulls produce calves with the preferred body shape and condition for beef. Producing calves that consistently meet specifications will command a higher price.

“We analysed data from one beef herd and found that using data to improve productivity and meat yield could provide a benefit of up to £400 per animal,” says Mr Wheal.

Crunching the figures like this helps producers make informed decisions about breeding and cull dates. Keeping bull calves beyond the optimum weight is a waste of feed and will increase the fat content, Mr Wheal explains.

Historical data can be inputted from other systems and groups of farmers have pooled data to provide benchmarks. Where this data is available farmers have immediately seen ways to improve their beef yield.

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