Some of the challenges with dairy beef production were highlighted at a Teagasc virtual dairy conference on Tuesday.
Teagasc researcher Nicky Byrne, who runs the dairy calf to beef trial at Grange said that there are 1.15m dairy beef calves born in Ireland per annum. These are all calves that are not used as dairy replacements.
There is an even split between the number of calves reared to beef on dairy farms (35% ) and the number of calves purchased by beef farmers (35%).
The remaining 30% of calves are exported, enter into early slaughtering systems or die on farm.
“This is really the group of calves that we must focus on improving their beef merits to make them more attractive for domestic demand as some of these [existing] outlets are quite volatile year on year in terms of the number of calves that they absorb,” Byrne said.
There are 10,076 farms in Ireland which have bought dairy beef calves and the average number of calves purchased per year is 37.
Byrne said there is scope to increase the number of calves these farms are purchasing, but that there is a massive challenge in terms of profitability;
“When we look at the attrition rate, in terms of the number of farmers who remain in calf to beef beef systems, over a five year period only 39% of dairy calf to beef farmers continued purchasing calves by year five of that cycle,” he said.
He said the biggest challenge for beef farmers rearing dairy calves is profitability, which stems predominately from calves with reducing carcass performance leading to later finishing of animals at 26 to 28 months of age.
“We know that there is massive scope to reduce that if we get higher calf quality, better management and better health.
"Ultimately, inefficiency at the different stages through poor calf quality and other factors is adding to increased cost of production and ultimately reducing the profitability of the system and leading to that high attrition rate that we see,” Byrne said.
He encouraged dairy farmers to breed better quality calves [with higher carcase value] which will improve demand and saleability for their calves.