Increased use of beef bulls in dairy herds this year as milk prices plummet

There has been an increase in the number of dairy farmers using beef sires in 2016, according to marketing manager of Progressive Genetics, Laurence Feeney.

Feeney says that farmers are doing their best to cut costs and make as much money from what they have as possible.

“Without a doubt, more beef is being used this year with 2-3% fewer dairy bulls being used and this is undoubtedly influenced by the low milk price,” he said.

The move comes following a period of unabated expansion on Irish dairy farms with the number of dairy cows in Ireland increasing by 100,000 in 2015.

Feeney believes the motivation behind the shift towards beef bulls is that beef-sired calves will sell for better prices compared to their dairy breed counterparts.

Feeney said that beef breeds such as Aberdeen Angus, Limousin, Hereford and Belgian blue bulls will deliver more offspring. However, he warns what you gain in the calf (higher worth), you’ll lose in the cow (longer gestation).

“It’s all about getting the balance right.

“A consequence of the increased beef bull usage is a shorter replacement breeding season.

“A lot of farmers today can deal with this as the modern day submission rate is high and fertility has improved in cows in recent years- a larger proportion of the herd is holding to first service

“Farmers will get away with a 20% replacement rate for the year that’s in it but this shouldn’t be the case for 2 years running,” Feeney said.

Breeds

The most popular beef breeds are the Hereford and the Aberdeen Angus with key focus on easy calving and early maturing animals, according to Feeney.

“These account for 80% of the beef bulls used on dairy farms. Belgian Blues and Limousins make up the other 20% used,” he said.

In terms of the use of high maternal beef bulls this year, Feeney said that there was a ‘small bit of focus’ but stressed that many dairy farmers are not willing to increase gestation length for high maternal bulls.