Massey University is investigating whether the dairy industry has the potential to drive a new class of beef product by rearing bobby calves who would ordinarily be sent to slaughter.
The dairy industry currently needs to produce calves to maintain milk production, but while a proportion of the females are retained as herd replacements, a large number are sent for slaughter at around four-days old due to a lack of viable alternatives.
The potential new product is being labelled New Generation Beef, and is produced by rearing calves sourced from the dairy industry up to one year of age.
Project lead, Dr Nicola Schreurs of the School of Agriculture and Environment says the research has the potential to spawn a brand-new beef industry which could one day phase-out the slaughter of bobby calves.
“This new product isn’t veal or bull-beef, and we are not specifically targeting the prime steer classification but, we are developing a new, full red-meat product of its own, that could require less resource and deliver a more sustainable product”, she says.
“There is currently little incentive for the dairy farmer to rear additional calves, but there is a large amount of welfare concerns associated with the transport and slaughter of bobby calves. We think that our New Generation Beef system could help the New Zealand dairy industry achieve a ‘zero-bobbies policy’ by turning a low-value product into a high-value product. However, the concept needs validation if it is to have uptake and our research seeks to hammer out how it could work on the farm and will define what type of carcass and meat product we would be getting, as well as considering the potential markets,” Dr Schreurs says.
The initial part of the project involves a group of calves (Kiwi crossed with Hereford) managed on Massey’s farms. These calves will be slaughtered at eight, 10, 12 and 18 months of age and assessed for the meat product obtained. This data will allow the team to consider the economics required to make the system viable and the required market development for the product.
This research will involve Masters students, Sam Pike and Josh Hunt. The programme will also enrol PhD students over the next two years, to assess the environmental impact of the supply chain and specificities for processing.
“Many of the environment issues with beef production arise as a consequence of a production period of two to three years to achieve market requirements”, Dr Schreurs says. “Older animals have reduced feed-use efficiency, increased greenhouse gas emissions and a larger contribution to nitrogen leaching.
“Argentinian beef cattle are slaughtered at approximately one year of age and we think a similar system could be implemented in New Zealand with positive consequences for the environment.”
The project will utilise the expertise of Massey’s Professor Steve Morris, Associate Professor Rebecca Hickson, Professor Paul Kenyon, Professor Hugh Blair and Professor Dorian Garrick, and is supported by the C Alma Baker Trust, and Beef + Lamb NZ Genetics.
Dr Schreurs says, in the future, more field studies will be required, including market research to see how this product would be received by consumers. In the larger research programme, the researchers hope to look at a range of dairy breeds and dairy-beef crossbreed.
“Our goal is to one day have farmers, meat processors and marketers taking on board the concept of New Generation Beef for application into an integrated supply chain for export traded beef with sustainable returns to the beef sector. We see this innovation as a new beef product coming from a new generation of farmers, for the new generation of consumers,” Dr Schreurs says.