Better beef genetics in dairy beef supply chain a win-win

Dairy Beef Integration Programme calves sired by Hereford Ezicalve bulls.

Early results from research are showing clear advantage with the use of better beef genetics for dairy beef.

​Two-thirds of New Zealand’s beef production originates from the dairy industry, yet despite this, few dairy farms use beef bulls of known genetics.  Dairy Beef Integration Programme calves sired by Hereford Ezicalve bulls .

The five year Beef + Lamb New Zealand Dairy Beef Integration Programme is looking at the impact of using good beef genetics in a dairy beef supply chain.

“The use of beef sires with high estimated breeding values (EBVs) for calving ease, growth and carcass characteristics on dairy farms is not commonplace, but will produce surplus calves of higher value to dairy farmers, beef finishers and beef processors,” says AgResearch scientist and project leader Dr Vicki Burggraaf.

“Our aim is to confirm the impact this strategy may have for dairy farmers and others in the supply chain.”

Funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and supported by LIC and Ezicalve the programme evaluates the use of superior beef genetics in a dairy herd and the subsequent rearing and finishing of the dairy-beef progeny.

For the last two seasons at AgResearch’s Tokanui farm in the Waikato Ezicalve Hereford semen, a lower cost alternative to dairy semen, was artificially inseminated (AI) into a portion of the dairy herd. This was followed by natural mating with a mixture of unrecorded and Ezicalve Hereford bulls. Cows of lower breeding worth were pre-selected for insemination with beef semen which ensured dairy replacements were still bred from the best cows in the herd.  Calving ease and birth weight was recorded for each calf and parentage testing was undertaken by LIC to determine sire and dam.

Calves sired by Hereford Ezicalve bulls via AI or natural mating calved with no problems, whereas assistance was required for 4% of calves sired by unrecorded Hereford bulls.

While the Ezicalve sired calves had slightly lower average birth weights, the time taken to reach 100kg liveweight was similar across sire types. As AI sired calves were born earlier, they reached 100kg earlier, presenting a more valuable prospect for beef finishers. Despite Ezicalve sired calves being produced from the lower breeding worth cows this had no impact on their performance during calf rearing. Further monitoring during the next three years will determine the performance to finishing.

“We foresee large gains that can be made across a well-managed supply chain through the use of superior beef semen or bulls,” says Dr Burggraaf.

“For dairy farmers benefits include reduced mating costs through the use of cheaper semen, less stress on staff at calving and a potentially higher value surplus calf.

“Finishers are supplied with potentially faster growing and more valuable cattle and processors can benefit from higher meat yields and better quality beef.

“The value for calf rearers is currently being examined.”

The use of beef semen can be integrated relatively easily into the mating plan of dairy farms at a reduced cost to normal mating.

“Tailor mating requires pre-planning to determine which cows and how many to nominate for beef semen, to ensure the number of dairy replacements is not compromised,” says Dr Burggraaf.

“Use of better beef bulls for natural mating can be achieved on any dairy farm, reducing calving problems and producing a better calf for the beef industry.

“In order to maximise the value of using better beef sires it is recommended that the calf purchaser is made aware of the EBVs of the sire for growth potential.”