Investigating New Marketing Options to Increase Beef Production in Ontario
The Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) has investigated potential feeding strategies with Holstein calves as a way to increase cattle numbers in the province and provide another marketing opportunity for beef farmers. On two separate occasions, BFO has sent representatives abroad to gather information on a successful value chain in the United Kingdom, and has since spent time investigating the cost and profitability prospects in the Ontario context.
There is a great opportunity to increase beef production in the province by collaborating with the dairy industry. Today, new technologies allow dairy producers to select specific matings for female selection. Only the top third of the dairy cow herd is required to supply replacement females, but typically all cows are bred dairy to ensure that there are enough females to select from to begin milk production. Using an alternative marketing option, dairy farmers could breed the bottom two thirds of their herd to beef bulls and produce bull calves by using sexed semen.
The major processing plants in Ontario recognize an opportunity to expand the beef industry by looking at alternative marketing options. Dairy-beef is a major niche market in the United States. With increased production in Ontario, this product could fit into a regular beef stream, and in time, it has the potential to develop into a branded beef program.
Currently, there are many purebred dairy animals that supply beef to the marketplace, either as veal or dairy-beef. With better use of beef genetics, we can improve both the quality and quantity of beef produced. Under this model, calves are sold privately through drovers or at live auction, typically at the first week of age. The general production system flows from a pre-weaning calf program to backgrounding to finishing stages. A calf that is fed right through to finish is preferred over the yearling sourced option, as yield and grade are adversely affected when the nutritional curve is interrupted.
Getting calves off to a good start is critical to long-term success. Research shows that meat quality is affected greatly by health challenges of the neonatal calf. Respiratory challenges are very real, and well-ventilated barns for rearing calves, accompanied by strong vaccination strategies and effective colostrum intake will help the calves remain healthy. Vaccinating the cow herd prior to calving for respiratory complications, as well as the calves at birth, and at other appropriate times throughout the calf’s life is highly encouraged. Throughout the growth stages, it is also strongly recommended to consult with a veterinarian to establish strong health protocols.
Nursing Stage: Ensure the calf receives adequate colostrum within the first two hours of birth, and at least six litres in the first day. Feed high quality milk replacer for the first six weeks of life and provide fresh water and calf starter at all times. Gradually wean the calf and increase the intake of calf starter.
Growing Stage: Dairy animals require about 8-12% more energy in their ration compared to beef animals. Therefore, a high energy diet with adequate protein is required. High quality forages or silages can be used.
Finishing Stage: In order to provide adequate fat and growth, offer a high energy ration at this stage. Optimize use of beta-antagonists as per nutritionist recommendations. Target a live weight in the 1,400 - 1,500 lbs range at under 18 months for an economical carcass.
Pre-weaning: While calves can be raised in individual pens, research shows that group housing is best for animal welfare and growth after the first week of life. Again, proper ventilation is critical.
Dairy cattle have thinner hides than beef cattle, and therefore need more shelter from mud and wind. A minimum three-sided dry housing unit is critical for optimum animal performance.
There are several ways to manage risk:
- Utilizing Ontario’s Risk Management Program (RMP)
- Contracting with processors to provide guaranteed returns
- Participating in a value chain to maximize returns
Dairy-Beef Production Fact Sheet
Click the image below to download the Dairy-Beef Production Fact Sheet!
The sample budgets have been created as a general guide for examining the potential development of dairy-beef cattle. This tool provides both estimated values, as well as a location for operation-specific values supplied by a producer. The information contained within the budgets is derived from a collaboration between experts, existing literature, and a variety of sources. The sample budgets are intended to be a general guide, and individual situations are subject to variability.
The information included in this fact sheet was compiled in conjunction with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.