Over the past four years of running dairy beef systems on the Thrive demonstration farm in Cashel, Co Tipperary, the continental or late-maturing type stock have always been less profitable than early maturing or traditional breeds.

The farm has taken a number of Limousin, Charolais, Simmental, Belgian Blue and Aubrac cattle through to slaughter over the last number of years.

In terms of performance, they are on par if not better than their early maturing comrades. However, the additional cost as a calf combined with the lack of a breed bonus payment at slaughter leaves them with too much work to do to be as profitable.

Calf price

The average cost of a Hereford and Angus heifer in 2021 was €185/head, while bull calves came in at €218.

Continental calves were costing €256/head and €250/head for heifers and bulls respectively. That is €71/head and €32/head more than early maturing calves.

If we convert this to carcase weight, it translates to needing a 14kg heavier carcase for steers and a 7kg heavier heifer carcase just to cover the difference in calf price.

Remember that the farm is buying all AI-sired animals directly off farm relatively early in the season so calf price is already quite high. The continental calves tend to be some of the youngest each year which is simply a factor of when they are used in the breeding season on dairy farms.

Carcase performance

When all the cattle were drafted it resulted in a heifer carcase weight of 270kg for early maturing breeds and 288kg for the continental breeds while the bullocks had a 300kg and 314kg carcase weight respectively.

In terms of conformation, the early maturing animals graded between O= and O+, while the continental cattle graded one score higher on average at between O+ and R-.

The continental cattle also tended to be leaner, grading between a 3- and 3= while the early maturing animals were 3+ on average.

The base price quoted did not differ between the breed types but when breed bonuses and grid price adjustments were made, the average beef price paid was €4.86/kg for continentals and €4.96/kg for early maturing breed types.

It means that despite being a grade lower for conformation which results in a 6c/kg beef price deduction, the breed bonus payment for the early maturing types more than makes up for the lower grid price paid.

Cost of getting to slaughter

The continental cattle were also on farm for longer and so had eaten more concentrate during the finishing period which increased feed costs.

It resulted in the average gross margin for the continental cattle coming in at €190 while the early maturing breeds left €215/head.

The continental cattle can hold their own in terms of performance in this 20-month production system. However, they may be better suited to a 28-month system to allow them to express their total carcase weight potential, as long as feed costs were kept under control.

The additional calf price increases the risk of the system as you have more money tied up from day one and mortality costs would be higher if there were any losses.

The reliance on the breed bonus for the early maturing breed types is always a concern as while there is strong demand for these animals, there is always the chance that this bonus payment could disappear if the supply of these animals outstripped demand.

With an extra 300,000 dairy beef animals expected to come on stream each year by 2027, it is something that needs to be monitored.

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Thrive: O- cattle leave €250/head lower margin than R- grading animals