Dairy Beef Calves

At this time of year I get calls from farmers contemplating a system switch to dairy calf-to-beef. While it’s a fact that more and more of our beef is coming from the dairy herd, just because your neighbour has sold their sucklers and bought Friesian bulls doesn’t mean you have to. Margins need to be looked at closely.

It’s a case of dipping your toe in the water and maybe rearing a few alongside the sucklers for a year to see how they go. While dairy X calves are cheap to get into they can be expensive to bring to finish.

Margins are tight and efficiency levels need to be high. Do the sums before purchase and see what you can afford to pay for a calf. Current calf prices seem high for a beef farmer to make any money.

Early calf sales in the south have started very strong with reports of AAX and HEX heifer calves making in excess of €350/head at some marts with farmer buyers in abundance.

While prices in early January are always high, it is impossible to say where the price of calves will average this year.

The current indications would suggest that this will be another good year for calf exports. Before you commit, it is vital that you do a budget.

While a calf-to-beef system is relatively cheap to get into, most systems require about €900 to €1,100 in working capital per head from purchase to slaughter, so budget carefully.

Factor in a conservative beef price and don’t be dreaming, any increase above the budget price will be a bonus. Sit down and work out how much you can afford to pay for a calf and if they are too expensive, hold off buying. As more and more calves come out, prices will fall so don’t panic buy.

If you are buying calves in a dairy farmer’s yard, ask to see the Commercial Beef Index (CBV) value of the calves. This will give you an indication of what the genetics are like in the calf – the higher the index, the higher the potential profit.

Unless calf buyers start to look for better in calves and paying less for lower genetic merit calves, nothing will change in dairy beef breeding.

ICBF Genetic Evaluations updated

ICBF are updating their genetic evaluations this week. The ICBF Animal Search, Active Bull Lists and Stock Bull Finder will all be updated.

Farmers subscribed to the HerdPlus service will be able to view their animal’s new January evaluation figures through the various online profiles.

Further updates to the indexes will take place in March, May, July, September and November. The Carbon sub-index has been included in the Dairy Beef Index, and this has meant that breeds with younger slaughter ages coming up higher on the index on this round.

Cull cows

With cull cows heading for €3/kg, autumn calving cows which are not in calf at this stage could be weaned early and sold. It isn’t taking a lot to replace cows with in-calf heifers at the moment, so use the opportunity of the good trade to offload the culls a little earlier.

These weaned autumn calves are ideal stock to target for early turnout in the next month or so.