High beef prices are encouraging dairy farmers to hold on to their bobby calves and fatten them up.
Young male dairy cows are usually slaughtered within a week of being born, but some are now being grown out and sold for more money at a later date.
Rod Caldwell, an independent stock agent in northern Victoria, said it made economic sense to do it at the moment.
“Maybe potentially for a normal Friesian bull calf you’d get between $40–50,” he said.
“But if they get them to 12 weeks of weaning age, in a store market at the moment they’re still making potentially between $400–500.
“So there is the time factor to rear them, but they’re getting a lot more for them rather than just selling them for a week-old calf.”
Slump in dairy industry one reason for holding
Mr Caldwell said that his trade had dropped by 60 per cent over the past year for a number of reasons.
“The high prices are one reason … but obviously milk prices have had an effect as well. Maybe people can justify sending a few more calves than supplying milk as there are better returns there,” he said.
“There are beef weaners around too, but you’re paying $4 a kilo for a week old pure beef calf, whereas a dairy calf is more like $1 a kilo, so it’s a price where people can get in and buy in at a low cost.”
It may take a number of years for prices to drop, according to Mr Caldwell.
“There are fewer dairy calves coming in, because people culled so many numbers last year in response to the milk price crash. It’ll take a while to build back up, but because of the strength of the beef market I reckon there’ll be demand for the next few years.”
Agriculture Victoria says calves must have NLIS tags
In line with the growth in numbers of bobby calves being kept on farm for a longer time or traded between farmers, Agriculture Victoria said a reminder was needed that all sales must have a National Livestock Identification Service ear tag.
Russell Hunter from Agriculture Victoria said producers could be fined if they did not ensure a tag was placed on every animal.
“We noticed that with a good season and prices being high, there’s more demand for bobby calves going into beef rather than to slaughter.
“Even if a bobby calf goes straight to an abattoir it needs to have a tag. Any cattle that leaves the property of birth has to be tagged, and that is regardless of whether it’s going to another property, a saleyard, or a knackery.”
Mr Hunter said with a large number of animals moving through saleyards, producers needed to be reminded that a tag was needed.
“If a sale goes through the yards, more often than not a saleyard operator will manage the transfer of the data — they’ll scan the tags, they’ll upload the information to the database and then the job is done,” he said.
“If it’s a private sale, then the transfer has to be done by the person who is introducing the animal to their property.”
Source: ABC Rural