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13 Nov 2021

Real Dairy-Beef data makes selection easy

Dairy beef programs in Australia have been an after-thought for many years.  Dairy farmers either used a live bull, or low-cost semen purely to get the cows pregnant.

 Now that so many farmers are embracing sexed semen to make their replacements and the value of beef is strong, the dairy beef program represents an opportunity to create a significant income stream to the Dairy business. 

As such, we need to give more thought to the sires and breeds we use, and the effect they will have not only on the beef enterprise but also the impact on the dairy enterprise.

These are the minimum requirements of our Dairy-Beef bulls:

  1. The calf must be born easy to minimise the impact on the cow.
  2. The calf needs to be vigorous, keen to drink and be healthy to maximise survival.
  3. The calf should be able to grow and finish (mature) to fit market specifications.
  4. The pregnancy must not increase pressure on the cow to re-breed and remain in the herd’s breeding window.

 

The effects of prolonged calving patterns

Prolonged calving patterns make it difficult to manage milking cattle.  While in some dairies we have individual ID, multiple feed heads into the dairy and feeding ration flexibility according to the number of days in milk for each individual, the reality is in most dairies we do not have this.

We need to change feeding rations based on the average number of days in milk across the herd.  If the calving window is long, feeding accuracy and efficiency are compromised.  Other preventative veterinary treatments can also be compromised. 

Tight calving will also significantly improve the efficiency of the breeding program with more cows inseminated each day.  Many farmers do not realise that gestation length is a variable we can manage.

Beef on dairy calves

Gestation length varies between breeds

There is plenty of data about Gestation length (GL) but rarely is it easy to make direct comparisons between studies. So, for the purpose of this conversation, I will draw upon the best data and highlight the generalisations.

The USDA MARC project developed data to compare beef breeds in beef-to-beef crossbreeding, but this is now 20 years old.  It does highlight that continuous negative selection pressure on birth weight and positive pressure on growth rate in beef cattle leads us to short GL and can have a cumulative effect on the average GL over time. 

It makes sense that to get easy calving from high growth calves you need to get them out early before they grow too big inside the cow.  This means GL is an ever-evolving number for most progressive beef breeds.

Most breeders work on a GL of 283 days when predicting calving dates. 

DataGene’s March 2020 Technote 20 states the average for Holstein in Australia is 280 days.  From other data, we see Jersey is usually 3-4 days longer.

Data from VikingGenetics shows the breeding programs has an average of 280 for VikingHolstein, 282 for VikingJersey and 281 for VikingRed.

Data from the ICBF in Ireland shows Montbeliarde to be 287 days and Brown Swiss 291 days for average GL. 

Angus is reported here at 283 days, Speckled Park at 285 days, Hereford at 297 days, Limousin at 291 days and Blond d’Aquitane at 294 days.  This is supported by recent MLA data about across breeding EBV conversions stating in Australia Limousin is on average 9.2 days longer than Angus.

VikingGenetics Danish Blue Sires

VikingGenetics Australia has imported semen from VB Nito, our first Danish Blue.  The Blues are well known for their effect on carcase yield, and their early maturity.  To this we can add the breeding cooperatives across the Nordic countries are recording calving ease data from dairy cattle, and VB Nito has outstanding calving reports.

We know the calves will get up and grow from day one, but the feature many will be unaware of is the high accuracy data collected for GL. VB Nito currently sits as 278.7 days for GL.

Short GL means that cows being bred to beef do not need to calve late

When some of the cows being bred to beef got into this group because they were already born late, joining/calving late and have struggled for fertility a short GL bull removes some of the pressure.

With the data supporting the use of the VikingGenetics Danish Blue bulls, we then select pure white individuals that will colour mark their dairy-beef calves.  This gives you the opportunity to offer an identifiable line of value-added calves as feeder or finished cattle. 

 

Do you have a high accuracy GL prediction for your dairy beef sire?

 

Text by Jim Bruce, Country Manager, VikingGenetics Australia

Contact us and get further advice
Beef on Dairy