Meat & Livestock News

Corporations Invest in Enhancing Beef Genetics in Dairy Calves for Sustainable Supply

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In a bid to secure a more sustainable and reliable cattle supply, significant investments are being made to improve the beef genetics of non-replacement dairy calves. This trend, known as “beef on dairy,” is gaining momentum not only in the United States but also in Europe.

McDonald’s and Fulton Market Group Lead the Way

McDonald’s, one of the largest global buyers of beef, is at the forefront of this initiative.

The fast-food giant is investing in local pilot projects spearheaded by its beef procurement supplier, Fulton Market Group (FMG). Andrew Ralph, FMG’s strategic sourcing manager, stated that the initiative adds value to both the dairy and beef sectors. “Beef on dairy enhances supply chain resilience and sustainability,” he said.

Over the past year, FMG has been working on blueprints to guide dairy farmers in selecting the right beef genetics for non-replacement calves. These blueprints aim to optimise the performance of these calves in beef supply chains. “We have cattle in various pathways, from grass-fed to 100% grain-fed,” Ralph added.

Positive Initial Results and Future Prospects

The initial results of these beef on dairy trials have been encouraging, with cattle meeting target market specifications for premium export programmes.

Ralph emphasised that achieving scale would require expanded infrastructure. He also highlighted the various options available for surplus dairy calves, which can either be sent to calf rearers or grown out for backgrounding or feedlots.

Collaboration Between Beef and Dairy Industries

The beef on dairy trend was a topic of discussion at the Angus Australia conference earlier this year. Angus Australia is even considering the creation of a beef-on-dairy indicator.

Ralph noted that collaboration between the beef and dairy industries offers numerous benefits, especially in building long-term resilience and strengthening supply chains.

Research and Industry Insights

Dr Sarah Bolton, who recently joined Southern Australian meat processor Greenham, pointed out that surplus animals from dairy herds have always contributed to the beef supply chain.

“There’s an opportunity to increase the value of this trade for both industries,” she said. Greenham has been running its dairy beef programme for two years in Tasmania and expanded it to mainland Australia earlier this year.

Consistency of Supply and Carbon Benefits

Processors are showing interest in beef on dairy due to the consistency it offers in supply. “The global dairy herd is more consistent in numbers, providing more forward visibility of supply,” Dr Bolton said. She also highlighted the carbon benefits, explaining that producing both milk and beef is more efficient in terms of emissions.

The Holstein Experiment

Rod Polkinghorne, a renowned meat scientist, has been running a feeding programme for surplus dairy calves, mainly using Pure Holsteins.

He stated that these animals, when well-fed, yield good carcasses and reasonable marbling. “From a market perspective, you’d still need to sell them at a premium because the cost of feeding them is quite high,” he said.

In summary, the beef on dairy trend is opening up new avenues for sustainable and reliable cattle supply, with significant investments and promising initial results. Both the dairy and beef industries stand to gain from this collaborative approach, which also offers environmental benefits.