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Stackyard News Mar 09

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Beef Calves in Short Supply as Beef-Cross Dairy Numbers Fall

Demand from feeders searching for store cattle able to graze to slaughter weight, or be finished on mainly silage based diets, will soon be focussed even more heavily on suckler bred calves.


suckler beef

This follows the 125,000 head fall in beef-cross dairy calf registrations recorded between April-December last year and further continuation of the trend for dairy farmers to concentrate on breeding more purebred heifer calves following the dramatic swing to dairy semen that began in August 2007.

“Beef-cross dairy calves can be grazed, and are useful animals for silage based feeding systems too, but if their numbers continue to contract at current rates, which is expected until Holstein cows find it easier to replace themselves, then they will be increasingly in short supply,” explained NBA director, Kim Haywood.

This means specialist feeders, many of them in the South of England and the English Midlands, South-West Scotland, and Northern Ireland, who have previously purchased beef-cross dairy calves are faced with a dilemma.

They can either move over to Holstein bull calves and switch to cereal based finishing systems or continue with their current finishing systems even though this will mean competing with other, similarly minded, feeders for increasingly tight numbers of dairy beef crosses or suckler bred calves - which are also in progressively shorter supply.

“There can be no doubt that entrenched fertility problems within the dairy herd will provoke polarisation among finishers and more of them will be forced to choose between initiating new moves to concentrate on cereal fed Holstein bulls or continuing to feed suckled calves or dairy beef crosses as they do at present ,” said Ms Haywood.

“Most will find it easier to do the latter, because it avoids making radical changes to existing systems, and so suckled calf breeders can expect there to be a progressive acceleration in demand for their stock over 2009 and beyond.”

“So far very few additional Holstein bulls have found their way into beef the beef sector. Over 2008 there was a 30 per cent increase in the number shot at birth, which rose to 125,000 head, and because those that are reared have a slaughter weight that is around 25 per cent lower than the average suckled calf total beef supply levels cannot be maintained at current levels even if direct substitution in numbers terms is ever achieved.”

“The only possible result of this dairy sector driven supply pressure is more interest from feeders in suckler bred calves and a matching lift in prices,” Ms Haywood added.

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