Global Perspective Drives Dairy-Beef Confidence

Specialised dairy-beef might be a new concept in Australia, but this does not faze James Whale. Purchasing ABS Beef InFocus™ dairy beef animals isn’t a risk for the grazier from Branxholme near Hamilton in Western Victoria. He even disputed the suggestion that backgrounding these steers and heifers for feedlots was innovative, despite being one of the first in the country to specifically buy these animals to target that market. “That’s where we are perhaps a little ill-informed in Australia,” he said. “Globally dairy-beef is a huge product and a lot of it goes through feedlots in the United States. There’s tens of thousands of dairy-beef cattle fed in feedlots, so I think it’s been a bit of a wasted opportunity here in Australia.”

James and his wife Fiona run a dairy heifer backgrounding business and recently began purchasing the ABS Beef InFocus animals to diversify their operation. They are now in discussions to begin the first InFocus feedlot trial. The results will supply Australia’s first individual carcass data for InFocus animals. This trial comes as more dairy farmers throughout Australia chose to breed their lower genetic merit cows and heifers as well as later calving animals to InFocus semen this year. Demand for InFocus has doubled in the past  year, with many dairy farmers using the semen as an opportunity to add value to their bobby calves and diversify their income.

Back at Branxholme, ABS Beef InFocus semen over dairy cows offers plenty of opportunities for James and Fiona. “Our business is all about weight gain and genetics is a really big part of that,” James said. “We are also looking to establish relationships with feedlots because that’s essentially what we are backgrounding for and it is all about supplying a consistent product.” “Dairy can (offer consistency) if they are using beef genetics where we know what sort of product we are going to get out the other end because it is such an established genetic line, both in the States and the UK. That’s why we can source these genetics with a lot of confidence because they have been doing it for a long time.”

At the other end of the supply chain, there’s interest in the animals because of this global reputation. The current Australian domestic beef market has also forced feedlots to think outside the square. “We are certainly coming into a time where beef supply is a bit of an issue so there are some feedlots that are looking for how they are going to fill the gap,” James said. “There’s certainly interest in trialling some other genetic lines and some of these businesses are global players and understand what the ABS Beef InFocus product is in other countries.” InFocus is proven in more than 300 herds globally. It’s the only dairy-beef product with validated dairy calving ease data and it has a lower incidence of stillbirth and calving difficulty compared to the average dairy-beef product used throughout the world.

James and Fiona want to buy more ABS Beef InFocus animals. “With InFocus genetics we are getting animals with a lot of carcass that are designed to go over a dairy animal and put a lot more carcass back into that progeny,” James said. “Generally, we are looking to buy calves direct from a rearer, calves that have been weaned for at least a couple of weeks – off milk and had a pellet ration for most of their life. They are ready to transition onto grass with some grain feeding when they arrive.” Most of these freshly weaned animals come to Branxholme at 110-150kg, but James and Fiona also purchase heavier InFocus cattle. They grow all animals out to 400-500kg before selling them to a feedlot.

It’s only early days for James and Fiona, but James said ABS Beef InFocus could “potentially deliver a better margin” than straight-bred beef cattle into feedlots. Pasture has been the primary feed for the cattle with grain fed during summer and early autumn when grass isn’t available. Weight gain has varied depending on each animal’s stage of development, but at peak – during spring and while the cattle were fed pasture – James measured daily growth rates of 2kg-plus. This daily gain’s comparable to straight beef bred animals and challenges some people’s perceptions of dairy cattle.

“The thing I find a little bit amusing is the myth that dairy cattle don’t put on a lot of weight,” James said. “With these animals, if the nutrition is right, it is amazing how fast they grow. The other exciting thing is the hybrid vigour you get out of these sorts of crosses. From what we’ve seen, the weight gain potential of these animals will be hard to beat.”