Since the removal of export markets for dairy bull calves, the Dunbia has been working on solutions to integrate calves from the dairy herd into the beef supply chain.
We have been working with dairy farmers, genetics companies and beef rearers and finishers, to find the optimum supply chain solution for dairy beef calves. The Integrated Beef Calf Scheme (IBCS) was established in 2015 in North West England, Scotland, the Midlands and Wales, to facilitate controlled Supply Chain Integration with the aim of improving productive, economic and environmental sustainability, as well as consistency in meat quality.
Specific animal health and welfare protocols, trials on milk powder and feed, and general management, have driven efficient beef production systems for the IBCS.
Calf selection prior to arrival at the rearing units, coupled with vaccination programmes, ensure the calves are robust and healthy, and can meet performance targets.
In 2022 we began procuring over 90% native bred calves, mainly Angus and Herefords, which have a more extensive finishing period due to time being spent at grass.
The IBCS reduced age at slaughter from 25.2 months for prime cattle, to below 15 months, with lower methane emissions per unit of beef, and the system produces a consistent quality meat, which is naturally tender.
The project is delivering economic sustainability within the farms concerned, boosting confidence and alleviating uncertainty around succession, while creating and maintaining employment.
The IBCS facilitates open dialogue with stakeholders, sharing knowledge and best practice and building trust through active engagement with all elements of the supply chain.
The expanding Irish Dairy industry has led to increasing volumes of calves originating from the dairy herd. Over the last 10 years we have been working on solutions for these calves within the meat industry. The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) Dairy Beef Index (DBI) is a breeding goal for Irish dairy and beef farmers to promote high quality beef cattle, bred from the dairy herd, that are more saleable as calves and profitable at slaughter and have minimal consequences on calving difficulty or gestation length. We are working with Teagasc and ICBF on joint dairy beef projects to ensure on farm production systems are optimally efficient and delivering on environmental and economic sustainability.
As part of the Teagasc and Dawn Dairy Calf Project, we provide dairy farmers with the straws of semen from carefully selected bulls identified on the DBI as having the traits to meet the needs of both the dairy and beef farmers, allowing us to monitor the impact of these bulls on the dairy herd and follow the performance of the calves through to slaughter. Dairy farmers need shorter gestation lengths to increase the milking timespan, as well as ensuring a healthy calf for the rearer, and a suitable carcase for the processor.
Improving beef efficiency and targeting better quality calves from the dairy herd will ultimately result in improved productivity and greater circularity in the livestock sector. In 2020, 2021 and 2022 we purchased over 3,000 calves from the project. The initiative has subsequently evolved into the establishment of the Ballyvadin Calf to Beef Demonstration farm in early 2022 which is funded by Dawn Meats and supported by Teagasc and Shinagh Estates.