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Developing Dairy Origin Beef Systems

23 February 2012

Forty seven per cent of prime beef in Northern Ireland in 2011 came from dairy origin beef, said Dr Francis Lively at the 2012 British Cattle Breeders Conference. With this in mind there is a huge potential for dairy origin beef, writes Charlotte Johnston, TheCattleSite editor.

In 2007, the Red Meat Task Force indicated that dairy origin beef systems had the greatest potential for profitability in Northern Ireland provided efficient systems were adopted.

Dr Lively said that research at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Northern Ireland has shown that demonstrated best practice methods for producing beef from dairy origin.

Sourcing dairy origin calves and immune status

Research carried out by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Northern Ireland looked at the immune status of 240 spring born Holstein and beef cross calves. The calves were sourced over a two year period, from 19 farms in Northern Ireland.

Prior to purchasing the calves, blood samples were taken within one week of birth and blood subjected to Zinc Sulphate Turbidity (ZST) analysis.

Dr Lively said that calves with an adequate immune status were categorised as having ZST levels greater than 20 units.

Of the calves tested, 14 per cent had a low immune status, suggesting they did not receive enough colostrum in the first few hours after birth, however Dr Lively notes a significant variation between farms.

Calves that started life with a lower immune status required more antibiotic treatments and an additional 17 days to finish, meaning higher feed costs.

Dr Lively said that when sourcing dairy calves it is important to ensure that the dairy farm is getting high quality colostrum into the calves, as it does effect economics of production.

Reducing labour inputs in calf rearing

Calf rearing is labour intensive, he said. There is an increasing proportion of farmers with alternative off-farm employment.

Labour inputs are a major limitation for farmers considering dairy-origin beef rearing enterprises.

Further research at the farm looked at 224 over two years, split into two rearing systems.

Low labour system: In this system, calves are group housed and fed once a day through a mobil group feeder designed to feed up to 30 calves.

Standard system: On the standard system calves are fed individually twice a day.

Dr Lively said that using the low labour input system, the farm saved 18 hours a week in labour time, which equate to £1200. He insisted that there was no difference in performance, showing data that demonstrated a similar lifetime performance from both groups.

The low labour rearing system reduced labour requirements by 60 per cent.

Optimum rearing/ finishing regimes for dairy-origin cattle

Feed costs represent up to 80 per cent of total variable costs on rearing and finishing beef systems. Bulls grow faster, utilise feed more efficiently and produce leaner carcases than steers, said Dr Lively.

Another research programme looked at an intensive diet versus a forage/ concentrate system on bulls and steers.

For bulls the target slaughter weight was 500 kg. Under an intensive diet bulls were housed and fed 2.6 tonnes of concentrate. The forage / concentrate based diet included the first summer at grass, then 1.7 tonnes

The study found that a forage/concentrate based bull production system reduced lifetime performance by 12 per cent.

Steers had a higher target slaughter weight of 650kg. The were fed a diet of medium concentrate input (grass/grass silage and 1.5 tonnes of concentrate) or a low concentrate diet (grass/grass silage and 0.8 tonnes of concentrate).

This study showed than when concentrate prices increased above £149 per tonne, a forage/ concentrate system was more economical.

Comparing the performance of a 16 months old bull and a 26 month old steer, Dr Lively said that processors were happy with both.

However, he said that bulls were more efficient converters of feed to carcase gain and at current production costs proved more efficient.

They had a higher lifetime performance, with better liveweight gains and better conformed carcases relative to steers.

Future considerations

Beef supply throughout the year is very variable, said Dr Lively. He asked whether the industry could shift the supply of dairy-origin beef to reduce this variability and have a more consistent supply?

In Ireland the majority of dairy cows calve from Autumn through to late Spring. By using, research at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute has shown that using proven blue-prints which make maximum use of grazed grass and high quality grass silage can produce 16 month old spring born bulls slaughtered at 550kg, 24 month old spring born steers slaughtered at 650kg and 18 month old autumn born steers slaughtered at 550kg.

Key Messages

Calf rearing: Dr Lively recommends sourcing calves from farms with known good colostrum management. "If necessary assess immune status of calves prior to purchase," he said.

Options to reduce labour in calf rearing exist, although this depends on farm system.

Rearing and finishing systems: Bull production systems are more efficient than steer systems. Feed costs per kg carcase gain can be reduced by eight to 16 per cent by making best use of forage in the diet, he advised.

Marketing dairy-origin beef:

Dr Lively recommended that producers consider production systems which finish dairy-origin beef cattle at a time when they are not competing with suckler- origin beef so to have a more consistent supply of beef Monitor performance to ensure target weights for age are achieved.

Dr Lively presented this research on behalf of Dr Lynne Dawson who recently passed away.

February 2012

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