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Factors affecting Profitability of Dairy Beef

Factors affecting Profitability of Dairy Beef

The rearing of dairy beef calves is far from a simple task. It is not a matter of buying calves, feeding them milk replacer for a few weeks and then putting them out to grass. Vincent Ronayne, Drystock Advisor, Teagasc Ballinrobe outlines the major pitfalls that can affect it's profitability

There are a lot of husbandry skills required and careful management of costs involved in the rearing of dairy beef calves. Outlined below are the major pitfalls that can affect the profitability of this farming enterprise.

The Healthy Calf

The health of the calf purchased is very important. The calf should be sourced from a herd that you are sure the calf was fed an adequate amount of colostrum. The dairy farmer should see the calf as an asset not as a by-product of the dairy enterprise. If the calf does not receive sufficient colostrum in the first hours of life he is more prone to ill health in the first months of life. Where possible the dairy calf should stay on the dairy farm for as long as possible, this reduces the stress on the calf and problems with scour.  Scours cause lack of thrive and prevent the calf from reaching its full potential in the first year of its life, when feed conversion and weight gain is the cheapest. A calf that does not perform in year one will cost more to regain that weight in year two.


The price of the calf can also have a huge bearing on final net profit.  A balance needs to be struck between quality and price.  Paying high prices for continental type calves to be bucket reared is very questionable and research trials have shown, irrespective of slaughter price paying excess money for continental calves does not yield a higher net profit at slaughter. There are preferences among farmers as to what breed they purchase, that is a personal decision, but it has to be remembered that giving €400 for a calf then that animal must make more than €200 at slaughter than a calf at €200

Calf Rearing

The calf needs careful management when it arrives on the farm. Housing must be clean and airy and free from draughts. Feeding equipment must be kept clean at all times with regular deep cleaning and disinfecting. There must be sufficient bedding used at all times to ensure a dry lie.  A good way of checking this for newly arrived calves is to kneel down in the bedding and if you get wet then there isn’t enough bedding.  Fresh clean water must be available at all times and a small amount of creep which should be replaced each day until the calves have started to clean out the trough. This should be steadily increased until all calves are eating 1Kg per head per day. When calves are eating this 1Kg per head per day for over three days then the calves can be weaned.

Calves to Grass

Calves can be released to a sheltered field at this stage weather permitting. They should be supervised to ensure all come to the trough at feeding times and that they have adjusted to life outdoors. Clean grazing should be available to them at all times and should have access to a field first so that worm contamination from older stock is kept to a minimum. Avoid using the same field each year for calves as there will be a build-up of worm burden in that field. Calves should be dosed based on dung sample results, not on a routine dosing programme as worm burdens vary from year to year.

Here’s to a profitable calf rearing season for 2022!

Read more here on Management of dairy beef calves

Teagasc Advisors write regular articles of interest to farmers here on Teagasc Daily.  Teagasc provides a Local Advisory and Education service to farmers. Find your local Teagasc office here