Dairies, calves and beef

New born calf for beef

Hereford Calf. © Copyright Richard Webb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I’ve been ruminating a bit on the relations between dairy and beef, following my last post on India as a big milk producer now also being a big beef exporter.  It’s not an area on which I am expert but it’s an interesting issue.

The little chap above, being a Hereford, is destined to end up as steaks, stew and roast in a British supermarket. If he were a black and white Friesian, his future would be a little more uncertain. As a reader (thanks, Kay) commented on my last post:

I find the linking of milk and beef interesting. Though it is logical, it is at total odds with what I knew growing up in rural USA. There was no link at all between dairy and beef production. The species used for one or the other purpose were kept separate. Hereford was the most frequent choice for beef and Jersey, Holstein or Guernsey were used for milk production. The only cross-over would be if a “milk bull” were used with beef cows to improve the very scanty milk production and assure better survival of calves on the open range. The Indian model is clearly much more utilitarian, focusing on quantity rather than quality.

In fact, when I was growing up in England, bull calves from dairy cows were used for beef.  They were raised on a “bit of rough ground,” that is permanent pasture usually on hillsides too far from the dairy to be part of the arable/pasture rotation that was the common way of farming at the time.  Then at the age of two or three, off they went to market.

The question of what happens to dairy bull calves revolves round two questions, it seems.  1.  What does it cost to raise them?  In our case, that bit of rough ground could not be used for much except raising animals.  It was not cost free to raise them.  They had to be fed daily when the grass was not growing (many months of the year).  And they had to be watered, moved from one bit of rough ground to another, and so on.  But it was clearly worth it.

It would be much more expensive, presumably, to raise calves associated with an entirely stall-fed dairy.  In these circumstances they would presumably be killed or sold young to an operation that took over the raising.

2. What can you sell them for?

One obvious answer is to sell them young as veal.  Veal, though, has a rotten morally-reprehensible reputation in the UK and the States, so large veal sales appear to be out.

According to the Michigan State University extension service, a fair number of bull calves from dairy calves are raised to be sold as beef and make up a non-trivial part of the total sales of beef.

Fed dairy steers make up about 15-20 percent of all fed cattle sent to market for beef production. Dairy steer or bull calf sales only account for about 1-2 percent of gross sales from typical dairy farm operations. Given current beef and milk prices, if dairy steers are fed to finish on the farm, they would account for about 15 percent of dairy farm revenues. Dairy steers are a significant contributor to the U.S. beef supply and can be a revenue generating center for dairy farms or other farming operations.

via Raising dairy steer calves for profitable beef production | MSU Extension.

And it seems in England, there has been a shift from my day, first to killing on the farm or exporting to Europe (presumably for veal) and now back to the beef chain again.

In fact, David Bowes from the Calf Forum in the UK said that initial data from the first two months in 2012 suggests that more dairy bull calves are going into the beef chain, with less been killed on farm or exported to Europe.Last week, visiting dairy farms in Wisconsin, US, one producer said he was getting up to $200 £128 a piece for day old calves. The average price for bull calves in the US over the past month has been around $2 per pound liveweight.In the UK, over the past 18 months, bull calf prices have increased from £30 $47 to £90 $140. This difference suggests that demand for bull calves is increasing, and that more farmers are rearing dairy beef.

via Why Aren’t we Finishing More Dairy Bull Calves for Beef?.

Meanwhile dairy industries are growing spectacularly in China and India.  Chinese milk consumption per capita per annum has now passed 12 liters, up 1700% since 1970 when consumption was almost nothing.  Indian consumption is around 40 liters, a 240% increase.  Although still small compared to the US’s 95 liters per capita per annum, it has had the side effect of vastly increasing the number of dairy bull calves.

One last thought.  It’s not just beef but leather that is affected by the increase in dairying. Last week at a party, I chatted to a sociologist who had done his Ph.D. on the Indian leather industry which is now one of the largest in the world, third, if I remember correctly.

 

For global trends in milk consumption, look at Andrea Wiley‘s work.  For example, “Milk for ‘growth': global and local meanings of milk consumption in China, India, and the United States.” Food and Foodways, 2011.  This and many of her other articles are gated unfortunately.

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One thought on “Dairies, calves and beef

  1. Adam Balic

    In Australia the norm would have been to cross dairy cows with a Beef bull and sell on the resulting calves or raise them for beef. Hereford’s were popular as a bull and basically you get a black calk with a white face. This is where a lot of beef comes from, from dairy crosses. Basically the male calves were waste and so were most of the females, even if pure dairy.

    In the US for beef to qualify as “Angus” the animal it comes from has to have 50% Angus genetics and be 51% black.
    http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3016998
    http://www.pgabeef.com/Natural_Beef_Protocol.pdf

    If you consider that if you cross a Angus Bull to a black and white Holstein-Friesian cow, the basically nearly all the calves will be a able to produce “Angus” beef. So from a waste product (dairy calves) you get a cash product. A lot of “Angus” beef people are eating is 50% dairy.

    This have changed now as there is sexed sperm sorting technology, so you can choose the sex of the offspring. If you want beef then choose males, if you want to build up the dairy herd then choose females.
    http://www.cogentuk.com/other-services/sexed-semen/e

    Reply

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