The four-year project, led by Massey University’s Dr Rebecca Hickson and carried out at Limestone Downs, near Port Waikato, also aims to identify individual bulls that perform strongly in a dairy-beef system.
The first crop of calves have now moved into a sheep and beef finishing system and initial results will be presented at the Limestone Downs annual field day on 14 February 2017.
This work follows on from the recently-completed B+LNZ Dairy-Beef Integration Programme, which concluded that dairy farmers who used proven bulls with high estimated breeding values (EBVs) for calving ease and liveweight produced dairy/beef calves worth up to $150 more than a bobby calf.
The B+LNZ Genetics Dairy-Beef Progeny Test saw 517 cows and 224 heifers calve in spring 2016, artificially inseminated with semen from 48 Angus and Hereford bulls over nine weeks, before bulls went out for a final two weeks. All except 75 Jersey-sired calves born from the heifers were reared and are now being finished on Limestone Downs’ adjacent sheep and beef farm.
Rebecca says calving went well, with 1% calving difficulties in the cows and 8% in the heifers. “Overall, the beef sires produced valuable calves with short gestation and few calving difficulties. There was variation among sires, indicating that sire selection is key to success in a dairy-beef system.”
Limestone Downs dairy manager Aaron Frazer says his biggest concern was around the heifers calving beef-cross calves. “You don’t want extra work on top of what’s already happening. I was quite nervous about the heifers, but now we’ve done it, I’m more than happy to do it again.”
He was surprised to see how well the beef-cross calves grew in the calf-rearing system – putting on weight easily, compared to his experience growing out Friesian calves.
Aaron says the use of beef semen makes a lot of sense to him as a dairy farmer. “You turn $30 calves into $500 calves. Depending on the milk payout, that’s a good option.”
He is also pleased to see any attempts to reduce the number of bobby calves produced.