Potential to Rear Dairy Calves for Beef

Diminishing beef production, tightening supply and concerns over animal welfare have prompted industry investment into the possibility of raising dairy bull calves for beef.

Northern Ireland's red meat industry is considering setting up a contract calf rearing scheme to boost NI beef production. Under the proposed scheme, a NI calf rearing company would contract farmers to rear 720 calves over a 12-month period, in batches of 120.

The calves would be owned by the calf-rearing company, which would also supply the milk powder, concentrates and veterinary medicines. The farmer would be expected to provide labour, buildings and services, but they would be paid a management fee to cover these costs and leave a profit.

The Northern Ireland Red Meat Task Force and the Livestock & Meat Commission (LMC) hope that the creation of an integrated supply chain for contract calf-rearing would help secure continuity of supply for the Northern Ireland beef industry.

Dr Mike Tempest of the LMC said: "A Task Force Report showed that rearing dairy calves for beef has greater potential to be profitable than any other system. We have been losing valuable raw material in the form of dairy bull calves that have been destroyed or have been exported to veal units, which could be used in our own beef production industry."

The NI proposal came as Asda announced the launch of its CalfLink scheme, which aims to help beef and dairy farmers raise calves using cost-effective, high-welfare methods.

Farmers in the scheme are eligible for an exclusive 10% discount on all milk powder and supplements, plus a free production review and management plan by specialist partner The Calf Company. Bespoke training courses will be available to Asda calf producers and their staff at Asda's new CalfLink rearing Centre of Excellence in Cheshire.

CalfLink is part of a wider programme of Asda activity focusing on calves. Under the retailer's 360-degree Sustainable Dairy Calf Scheme, famers are offered a 20% discount on sexed semen to reduce the number of dairy bull calves being born. In addition, dairy bull calves under the age of 12 months between the weights of 180-260kg have been incorporated into the standard Asda beef range, creating a new market for the product.