Hereford, the Flagship breed for dairy beef

By Rob Kirk, former Central Districts Beef Council chairman, dairy farmer & beef farmer.

Hereford has long since been the number one choice for dairy farmers choosing beef genetics to grow their business according to former Central Districts Beef Council chairman, dairy farmer & beef farmer, Rob Kirk.

Dairy farmers up and down the country know the convenience of the dominant white face as a quick and easy management tool.

However choosing a breed is one thing, choosing a bull is quite another says Rob. “Whatever the breed, selection of the right genetics to suit your business is paramount.”

Calving ease, marketability of the progeny and gestation length are the key drivers for the dairy industry, while the ability of the animal to grow into prime beef is the need of the beef industry he says. Herefords are one breed that can deliver in both areas.

He believes recorded bulls with moderate birthweights are the way to go.

“Why farmers persist in playing Russian roulette with “bush bulls” is beyond me.”

Equally the New Zealand dairy cow is not always a sound animal to birth a calf no matter what the size.

The genetic variation within all breeds dictates that now more than ever dairy farmers need to be armed with good bull selection tools.

New Zealand Herefords have, for the convenience of NZ dairy farmers, a dairy index which is a formula to make beef bull selection easy and safe. This index uses Breedplan data to generate one index expressed in dollar terms.

We all know that dairy farms are busy and efficiency and convenience rein supreme. It is also a place where bull selection has meant ticking a box or ringing an agent, but Rob urges dairy farmers to consider the options available when choosing a bull.

LIC and CRV Ambreed have good beef options for dairy farmers and these maybe the right choice in a CIDR programme. New Zealand Herefords have short gestation, low birthweigh “beef packs” available.

“As a former dairy farmer, now bull breeder, it’s with some horror I watch commissioned agents select the two biggest bulls from a group as the best bulls for their clients - leaving beef bull selection to an agent is not always ideal.”

Rob urges farmers to consider the following at bull buying time.

When selecting a bull:

  • Take an expert with you.
  • Ask what the breeding objectives for the stud are. Then ask where the data is to back the objectives.
  • Is the bull sound and free moving?
  • Does the bull have clean shoulders?
  • Is the bull in sufficient condition to withstand the rigours of dairy mating?

Beef + Lamb NZ have bull selection hand books available free to all dairy farmers.

Too often dairy farmers skimp on the number of bulls used.

“Remember even in a good spring, under good management, bulls can break down.”

Data out of Canada and Australia suggests that any bull under enough stress to induce a cortisone spike lasting four days will lead to a drop in the bull’s semen quality for up to six weeks after the injury.

Bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) and enzootic bovine leucosis (EBL) are also diseases to consider. Never accept delivery of a bull unless you are sure the bull is EBL free and BVD free and vaccinated.

“Remember your herd bulls need an annual BVD vaccination. A transiently infected bull will create chaos in your herd unless you keep your bull vaccinated,” says Rob.

All bulls, Jersey, Friesian or beef breeds need to be EBL tested. Good work done over the last 10 years could be undone by insufficient EBL management protocols, leaving the dairy industry at the mercy of New Zealand’s trading partners.

In some regions taking the spot market price for the four day old progeny makes sense, but for most operations a long term relationship with a rearer/finisher is more sustainable - if this applies to you, keep those EBVs and bull registrations to back up your sales pitch.

To maximise the premium in your superior Hereford-cross calves explain how the genetics in your calves will finish better and prove it by showing the EBVs to the purchaser. At the very least know the stud you bought the full from.

“EBVs are a dairyman’s best friend and - not least in marketing.”

With the dairy industry developing in a big way, many farmers may chose to tail up with Friesian bulls to produce unrecorded Friesian heifers – this can only improve the value in Hereford cross calves for those who stick with beef genetics.

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