Maximising Calf Value
Traditionally many herds bred to dairy AI in the first part of the breeding season and then switched to all beef once enough replacements were expected, however with the use of high EBI genetics over the years, the 6-week calving rate has risen year-on-year. This changes the dynamic and allows for a change of strategy.
Kenneth Bray, Kentucky Kid HE2043 calf.
Using beef from the start of breeding
When the 6-week calving rate is high you can use beef AI early in the season and still have all your dairy replacements born in the first 6 weeks of calving, allowing for increased calf value. This means you can selectively breed problem cows, lower EBI cows etc. in the herd to beef.
Lodge Hamlet LM4058 calves.
Using higher value beef bulls
When using beef AI from the start of the season the need for short gestation sires is reduced. During the first two weeks of breeding (or even before the normal start date) longer gestation sires can be used without impacting the herds calving pattern. This opens up the possibility of using breeds like Limousin, Simmental, Blue and Aubrac.
Kenneth Bray, Fifty Cent SI2469 calf.
Using sexed semen to increase the percentage heifers born will allow for more high value beef bulls to be used. If considering using sexed semen you will need to manage the risk of lower conception rates. Using mainly on maiden heifers and restricting use to the first two or three weeks of the season are good strategies. Best practice in AI procedure, herd health, nutrition and heat detection are essential when using sexed semen.
Selecting Beef bulls
The DairyBeef Index (DBI) was released in 2019 by ICBF and Teagasc. It aims to put economic values on the main traits of a beef bull for use in the dairy herd: calving ease and beef merit.
The beef traits are determining the profitability of the resulting progeny in a calf to beef system. The cow will also have an influence on the merit of the beef calf but otherwise there is nothing that can change the quality of the calf.
Noble BB2082 calf off of a HOxJE cow.
The calving traits (calving ease and gestation), on the other hand can be influenced more by the farmer. While the genetic merit of a bull will not change, by using harder calved bulls on cows with better calving ability (mature cows) the negative effects can be greatly reduced. Similarly, gestation length is a very important trait later in the breeding season but is not such an issue at the start.
BB2082Robert Mallet has 140 cows calved by Newpole Kojack BB4953, "no calving problems, very few assisted, average gestation 279 days."
Therefore the recommendation is to select bulls with a high DBI but look at the beef and the calving sub-indexes. For mature cows, early in the season you can select a bull a bit harder calved and a bit longer gestation. These bulls may have a lower DBI overall but the beef sub-index should be excellent. For younger cows and later in season the calving sub-index will be more important and we can sacrifice a little in the beef sub-index.
Elton AA2123 calf, particular farmer is finding Elton's arrive 6 to 7 days early.
Increasingly calf buyers will look for the genetic beef value of calf and dairy farmers should be ready for this. There is always a balance to be struck between bulls that are acceptable for calving and good enough to be profitable in a calf to beef system. Our beef breeding program has been selecting bulls for the last several years with this in mind. There has been a strong focus on gestation, calving ease and beef merit. This is reflected in the DBI rankings where the best available bulls from each breed are dominated by our bulls.
Xanthe SP4463 Rob Colton Saturn Farms.
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