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Beefing up for the future

BEEF cow numbers across the country have continued to fall, with widespread culls due to the ongoing drought.

In 2019 across Australia numbers peaked at 58 per cent of all beef cattle slaughtered being female, according to Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).

This is a 10 per cent jump, seeing the national beef herd sitting at roughly 25 million head.

This is a low not seen since the 1990s.

Around 8.4 million adult breeders were sent to slaughter last year, a figure up seven per cent year on year.

No doubt over the coming months as bushfires take their toll, we will see further impact on the national beef herd.

When the national herd will start to recover is in the hands of mother nature.

With record numbers of beef cows still being lot fed, and fodder and grain prices set to sky rocket for another season, without a significant break in the drought there is not yet a recovery in sight. 

BEEF calves out of dairy stock may help maintain the national breeding herd. Photo: MICHELLE MUIR.

Dairy sees an opportunity 

THE use of beef semen in dairy cattle is on the rise.

According to ABS Australia (one of the country’s largest retailers of cattle semen) Australian dairy farmers are looking to the beef market to diversify their income, with expectations dairy-beef animals could help fill feedlots as the drought continues to bite.

In the past two years there’s been a 600 per cent increase in the volume of the new ABS Beef InFocus semen sold into the dairy market, something ABS beef key account manager for southern Australia, Fletch Kelly said is boosting on-farm profitability.

“Traditionally all dairy farmers wanted to do was get cows in calf, now there’s a focus on breeding replacement heifers from the better cows and heifers thanks to sexed semen,” he said.

“Then they look to use beef over the rest of the herd to get more pregnancies as well as lift and diversify their income by breeding a dairy-beef calf which could be sold at a premium at the farmgate or reared for the beef market.”

Mr Kelly has fielded a lot of enquiry about the product from meat processors as well as industry bodies, such as Dairy Australia, all investigating the economics of dairy-beef.

“Australia is one of the largest beef exporters in the world and there’s a large domestic demand for beef,” he said.

“A lot of people are starting to talk about Beef InFocus in discussions.

“Feedlots in Queensland and NSW are talking about it as a legitimate option to fill the impending beef void caused by the drought.

“There’s going to be a need to get numbers into feedlots and with the proven rapid growth of InFocus animals, they can fill the gap in the market.”

Mr Kelly said there are many benefits.

“Morally it’s good, it takes emphasis away from producing a bobby calf,” he said.

“Ethically, that’s not great and financially it is certainly not a viable thing to keep doing. 

“Beef InFocus gives dairy farmers increased market access through ABS’ supply chain partners or however they wish to market their F1 animals as part of their diversified income-base.”

One farmer who has taken the plunge and included beef as part of his regular breeding program is Simon Rea.

Milking 520 Holsteins at Panmure, calving mostly in the autumn, herd fertility is crucial for Mr Rea.

“We’d reached a point where we realised, we were going to have enough Friesian heifer calves for replacements,” he said.

“That’s when we started using the ABS Beef straws.”

Mr Rea reared 65 Beef InFocus calves born in April and May 2019, with plans to sell them into the backgrounder market in the coming year.

He likes the benefits of using beef across his dairy herd, both financially and morally.

“Breeding with ABS Beef InFocus looks after either sex, and gives them an opportunity in life, that’s a good outcome for a dairy farm,” he said. 

“It’s also a way of minimising bull calves that would otherwise go onto the calf truck.”

Mr Rea doesn’t want to sell any more heifers to the export market and in recent years has been building dairy herd numbers.

He views the beef market as sustainable – especially with current prices.

“There’s always someone looking for a beef calf to buy,” Mr Rea said.

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