Niche market has potential

By Dairy News

COULD DAIRY beef become the next market? Agriculture Victoria dairy development specialist Sarah Chaplin thinks so.

Dr Chaplin joined a tour to the United States, organised by Dairy Australia and Meat & Livestock Australia, to investigate the well-established dairy beef supply chain from farm to market.

The trip included a visit to three dairy farms, four calf rearing ranches, two beef feedlots, one milk-fed veal producer and three meat processing works.

“We went away with a view to see what we could bring home to Australia with us and the possibilities for pathways for dairy beef here in Australia. It is definitely a niche market but we have come home with a much better understanding,” Dr Chaplin said.

Dairy beef has the potential to produce a high quality meat grade due to increased marbling, although the carcases themselves do produce a smaller steak.

“We came away with the impression dairy beef produce a quality product,” Dr Chaplin said.

She said the development of a market would take a whole supply chain approach, including developing a market, seeing how it would work regionally and the challenges and opportunities it would present.

“Australian dairy beef producers will need to overcome some misconceptions of dairy beef quality held by meat processing companies — special design of processing chains may be required for dairy beef.”

Some of the key findings of the US trip included:

  • The majority of American dairy beef is derived from Holstein or Holstein beef cross calves — there was little enthusiasm for a straight Jersey calf although Jersey beef cross calves were seen as viable.
  • Dairy beef is considered an important aspect of overall farm business, and reproduction management has changed over time to support this.
  • Calves can be between one and seven days old when they leave the farm and can be transported for up to 28 hours.
  • The four principles of colostrum management include quickly, quantity, quality and cleanliness — some farms use immunoglobulin supplements to achieve even higher quality.
  • Calves can be sold via video sales.
  • Veal production occurs on a much bigger scale in the US and most veal calves enter small but well-structured facilities, although the housing conditions observed would not be considered acceptable under Australian animal welfare standards.
  • Calf scours are common in the first 14 days and are treated with oral or intravenous fluids.
  • Respiratory disease is seen around three to five weeks and no prophylactic antibiotics are fed, while antibiotics are relied upon to treat BRD.
  • No castration or dehorning is undertaken and there has been a voluntary phase out of tethering, which is nearing 100 per cent compliance.
  • Low labour and production costs contribute to profitability.
  • Staff training in animal handling was a high priority and many operations employed veterinarians with qualifications not recognised in the US as herd managers, enabling high levels of herd management.

Dr Chaplin said change in the industry would happen slowly but it did provide an alternative use for keeping steers and bulls.

“I foresee incremental changes as a move in the right direction. I think this will be a continuous improvement story about good calf rearing, good resources and doing things better,” she said.