The accelerated use of dairy sexed semen is presenting dairy farmers with the opportunity to boost beef calf income and reduce total rearing costs.
With increased confidence in dairy sexed semen based on improved conceptions rates, the focus for many dairy producers may well now turn to the use of beef genetics.
Sexed semen has resulted in an increase in dairy heifer calf production, but farmers are being advised not to just breed more heifers simply because they can.
Samantha Wilson, beef brand manager with Genus ABS, says the focus should be on using technology to increase efficiency and income while reducing costs.
She says: “Rearing surplus heifers is an expensive business and ties up resources, so dairy farmers should be producing the optimum number of heifers from the fewest best cows.
“They should be looking at how to maximise the income from beef calves produced from the lower genetic merit cows which is a combination of quality and quantity.”
She says the objective must be to produce as many live beef calves as possible while ensuring those calves meet the demands of the market to secure the best price, preferably by working closely with a rearer.
Ms Wilson adds the challenge is in selecting service sires which meets the objectives of the dairy farmer and the rearer.
The rearer will want a calf with good genetic potential for growth and carcase conformation.
The dairy farmer is interested primarily in getting the cow back in the milking herd soon after calving, so will be more interested in calving ease and gestation length.
This will influence both breed and sire selection.
“Understandably the last thing a dairy farmer wants is a difficult calving with a delayed return to production and potentially increased veterinary costs which can soon erode the potential increased calf income,” she says.
“Once you have identified sires which will produce calves from the breed you require and which will allow cows to calve down easily, the list should be refined to identify those on the list which produce better quality calves and superior growth rates to command higher prices.”
Ms Wilson says the financial benefits of adopting a more focused breeding strategy, reducing replacements produced and reared while also maximising the value of the beef calf crop can be significant.
“By reducing heifers produced but still achieving the target number required, rearing costs can be significantly reduced while the value of the calf crop is increased,” she says.
“Cashflow is improved as an additional £8,000 worth of calves will be sold.
“The benefit of a focused breeding strategy would be equivalent to a 1ppl increase in milk price for a herd averaging 8,500 litres per cow.”