Tuesday, 27 September 2016 12:55

Farmers could treble their calf cheques

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Calves involved in the AgResearch-led project. Calves involved in the AgResearch-led project.

Dairy farmers are being urged to review their breeding strategies for the upcoming mating season to get benefits gained by the breeding of low BW cows to proven beef sires.

The advice results from the findings of a five year AgResearch-led project funded by Beef + Lamb NZ Mid-Northern Farmer Council and supported by LIC and Ezicalve (proven Hereford sires).

The manager of the dairy beef integration programme, Doug Lineham, says the dairy industry has traditionally used beef genetics taken mainly from bulls of unknown genetic merit.

“The study compared the performance of progeny sired by proven and unrecorded Herefords confirming what the market is telling us: quality four day-old dairy/beef calves are in demand and fetching prices two, three and four times the average rate for bobby calves.

“Simply by changing the breeding strategy to high BW sires for dairy replacements and proven beef sires for the remainder of the herd will boost the bottom line of a farming business.

“The question farmers need to ask themselves is, do they want to generate four day-old calves which will sell at bobby calf price, or quality dairy/beef calves which will be in demand by rearers and finishers.

“We are now hearing reports of four day-old dairy/beef calves fetching $250 at saleyards in contrast to an average $40 for bobby calves.”

Lineham says there is potential for farmers to get much bigger calf cheques next year and save a lot on breeding costs this year.

“Proven beef semen is cheaper than high BW dairy semen and there aren’t any concerns about bull performance. Proven short gestation beef sires also mean your cows will go into production sooner, increasing the overall productivity and profitability of the farm.

“Increasing the supply of quality dairy/beef calves is a win-win for the dairy and beef industries and for the consumer with an increased supply of quality table beef.”

“On average $100 more per calf”

Turua dairy farmer Phil Hale changed his breeding strategy last year, opting to go all AI in the entire herd – high BW Holstein Friesian over the high BW cows, and proven short gestation Hereford over the low BW cows.

Phil manages 90ha at Turua, Hauraki Plains, and says he discussed the change of strategy with the farm owner Les McWatters.

“For three years we’d tailed off with Jersey bulls and they did the job but the profitability of the calves wasn’t great. When the payout started to drop we looked at other ways to make a dollar and this is one of the ways we adopted.

“Last year we put around 60% of the herd to LIC Holstein Friesian with the balance Hereford and this year 140 will go to Friesian and 110 to Hereford.

“I know the cows well; as they come forward high BW go to Friesian and low BW to Hereford.

“We have had more calving problems than usual with big, beefy bull calves, partly due to their breeding but also a result of a good autumn. We just had to be more stringent during calving: checking the cows more often.”

All dairy/beef calves are sold to calf rearer Mark Bocock and Hale says they are pleased with the quality of the calves they are getting.

“We’re getting on average $100 more per calf than we’d get if they were straight dairy so it makes sense to breed to proven beef.”

Moving to an all-AB breeding strategy

Steve and Sheree Field own two adjoining dairy farms at Ohaupo. They run the 130ha/450 cow home farm, and a contract milker runs the neighbouring 90ha/250 cow property.

Both farms milk all year round, taking empties through to spring when they either get in calf or are culled.

“Our breeding strategy on both farms, until now, has been six weeks high BW LIC AB Holstein Friesian followed by run bulls, but that’s going to change for the upcoming mating season,” Field says.

“We have staff from overseas and the bull side of things started to become a problem. We don’t run the bulls through the shed, so that means cutting them out and reintroducing them after milking. We’ve never had an accident but it’s always in my mind that it could happen and we want to avoid that.

“Bulls are unpredictable at the best of times and the more you’re handling them -- especially when seperating them from cows on heat -- the more you risk something going wrong.

“Health and safety was a prime motivator for us moving to an all-AB breeding strategy, but the reduced payout also meant we looked at every way we could improve the bottom line of the business.

“Until now our run bulls have been Jersey, generating bobby calves. But tailing with short gestation proven beef genetics will give us calves worth up to three times more than we’d get on the truck. We will either sell the dairy/beef calves to rearers or take them on to 100kg ourselves; we’ll decide that at the time.”

The new all AB breeding strategy will see both the Field herds go to high BW LIC Holstein Friesian for the first six weeks of mating followed by short gestation easy calving LIC Hereford.

“Short gestation will enable us to tighten our calving pattern and mean that late cows come into production sooner.

“We’ve got a 50 bail rotary with Protrack so drafting cows out for AB will be simple and take much less time than cutting-out bulls.”

Replacement heifers are out at grazing and for logistical reasons will continue to be mated to Jersey run bulls.


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