Project highlights value of dairy calves
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.
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.