There is an opportunity for dairy farmers to collaborate with beef finishers to create a new market that will increase the value of Scotland’s calf crop – at the same time as diversifying their income and improving margins.

With sexed semen improving dairy herds year-on-year and effectively removing the lower-value black and white bull calf, Robert Ramsay, a senior beef consultant with SAC consulting, said: “Farmers are selectively using sexed semen to breed replacement heifers from their best cows, with the rest being put to beef bulls with very high genetic merit to produce beef calves that when finished, meet processor specification, helping to diversify farm income.

“Many large retailers are phasing out butcher counters and the reality is that they’re looking for smaller 350kg carcase beasts, which produce a cut that is consistent for standard packaging. A dairy-bred cross bullock that finishes at 320kg to 350kg deadweight fits perfectly into that regime.”

In Scotland, losing a lot of beef dairy calves at their lowest value to big finishers in England results in farmers missing out on Scotch Beef PGI premium.

“While milk sales will always make up the majority of dairy farm incomes, the sale of beef calves is of increasing importance on most dairy farms and represents a 13th, or 14th milk cheque,” said Robert.

With retailers, such as Morrisons, supporting dairy farmers to sell Belgian and British Blue cross calves into Buitelaar production systems, the supermarket’s beef-rearing partner, there is a market opportunity for dairy farmers, who specialise in milk production, to collaborate with beef finishers to create a new market.

“The elephant in the room is that more than half of the cattle slaughtered in Britain are dairy-bred. There will always be a place for the suckler cow in Scotland, however, as an industry, we need to acknowledge the importance of the dairy sector in providing affordable beef to the market,” he said.

“While the number of dairy herds has fallen, and beef suckler numbers are also in decline, there is an opportunity to develop a more joined up approach to dairy beef production in Scotland. We currently send a large proportion of the beef bred animals from Scotland to Yorkshire and Lincolnshire for rearing and finishing.

“The cattle kill in Scotland is in decline and we need to ensure that we retain a critical mass of cattle in order to allow our beef processing industry to thrive. There are some really good examples of integrated supply chains for dairy beef in Scotland but there is a real opportunity to grow this business significantly in the future,” he concluded.