Dairy beef: Where should you source your calves?

Diminishing returns from beef markets have resulted in farmers looking at other options and enterprises to generate a profit.

One of these avenues has been the rearing of dairy calves to ultimately finish as steers, heifers or young bulls. With the expansion of the Irish dairy herd, there is no shortage of calves coming on stream for such enterprises.

It’s predicted that the number of dairy-beef calves will increase to 630,000 head by 2021 – up from 493,000 in 2015.

In total, just under 1.74 million cattle were slaughtered in Department of Agriculture approved beef export plants last year. This figure encompasses young bulls, aged bulls, steers, heifers and cows.

Recent figures have revealed the extent to which O and P-grade animals – dairy-origin stock in other words – have dominated the Irish beef kill in 2017.

An analysis of figures taken from the department has shown that approximately 55% – the equivalent of 966,116 head – of these cattle were classified as being either O or P-grade at the time of slaughter.

Where to source dairy calves?

There are many different ways in which farmers can buy dairy calves. However, care must be taken when completing this task, as there are numerous factors to consider.

Ideally, farmers should purchase calves from a known source. It is important that the farmer knows the health and vaccination status of the herd.

Purchasing calves where the EuroStar Terminal Index of the stock bull or AI sire is available is an immediate advantage. In addition, buying stock from a number of different sources can be dangerous, as there is an increased risk of bringing disease into your farm.

It is vital that there are good biosecurity practices in place to prevent the introduction and spread of disease within your holding. Disease can enter farms either directly through infected cattle or indirectly through contaminated equipment.

Below is a list of the different options available to farmers looking to acquire dairy-origin calves.

Source: Teagasc

Buying healthy calves is critical to the profitability of the system. Purchased calves should be alert; have clear eyes; a dry navel; no swelling of joints; no signs of scour or pneumonia; a shiny coat; and be of correct weight for its age.

According to Teagasc, calves should be at least 14-21 days old and weigh 45-50kg. Only calves that have been fed a sufficient amount of colostrum should be purchased.