Pro­ject high­lights value of dairy calves

South Waikato News - - Farming - GER­ALD PIDDOCK

High merit beef bulls are show­ing their value for the dairy in­dus­try in early re­sults from a study.

The first crop of calves born from sires used as part of a four year pro­ject had shorter ges­ta­tion lengths and wean­ing age com­pared with un­recorded beef bulls.

The pro­ject at Lime­stone Downs Sta­tion near Port Waikato showed there was merit in dairy farm­ers buy­ing high ranked beef bulls in­stead of un­recorded bulls by com­par­ing their prog­eny when mated with the farm’s dairy herd.

Re­searchers looked at the dairy herd and how the cows re­sponded in get­ting in-calf, their milk yield and gen­eral well be­ing. The pro­ject is in its sec­ond year and has last year’s calves on the farm and cows preg­nant again with the sec­ond lot.

Massey Univer­sity’s Dr Re­becca Hick­son pre­sented the find­ings from the first crop of calves at the sta­tion’s an­nual field day on Fe­bru­ary 14.

‘‘We’re pretty con­fi­dent that dairy-beef is adding value on the dairy farm,’’ she said.

Tra­di­tion­ally, the num­ber one bull of choice in the dairy in­dus­try was a jersey be­cause in a high milk price en­vi­ron­ment, the smaller jersey calf was eas­ily calved and was a by-prod­uct, Hick­son said.

Beef+lamb were ex­pect­ing about 2.5 mil­lion cat­tle slaugh­tered this sea­son ex­clud­ing bobby calves, of which 40 per cent will be com­ing from dairy farms ei­ther as cull cows, heifers or breed­ing bulls.

‘‘Of the 60 per cent com­ing off sheep and beef farms, about half of them are dairy beef steers, heifers and bulls.’’

Dairy cat­tle were a big part of New Zealand’s beef in­dus­try and there was a lot of scope to pro­duce qual­ity beef from dairy beef cat­tle, Hick­son said.

The pro­ject had an­gus and here­ford bulls mated to 517 mixed age cows us­ing traits that em­pha­sised birth weight, calv­ing ease, ges­ta­tion length and growth rates. The bulls in­cluded a mix of those ranked in the top 10 per cent and 50 per cent for their breed and un­recorded bulls acted as a com­par­i­son.

Last year 502 calves were born from the cows that weighed at birth an av­er­age of 37 kilo­grams, had an av­er­age ges­ta­tion length of 281 days, and were weaned at 90kg.

The calves are reared in the rear­ing shed on the dairy farm and are then weaned and fin­ished on the sheep and beef farm. They are run in six mobs - three each of steers and heifers that are split into big, mid­dle and lighter calves based on their wean­ing weights.

Hick­son said the prog­eny from the high merit bulls were gen­er­ally lighter, but had shorter ges­ta­tion lengths and a shorter wean­ing age than those from un­recorded bulls.

GER­ALD PIDDOCK

Dairy beef steer calves at Lime­stone Down Sta­tion near Port Waikato, which are part of a study look­ing at the value of these calves in the dairy and beef in­dus­tries.

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