Beef company wants more calves from dairy farmers

Strong global demand for premium Wagyu beef has created an opportunity for dairy farmers to share in the returns this spring.


Firstlight Wagyu supply chain manager Peter Keeling, with two-week-old Wagyu-cross calves.

Firstlight Wagyu managing director Gerard Hickey recently returned from visiting markets in United States and Europe, buoyed by positive feedback and strong sales figures his company’s grass-fed Wagyu is enjoying in both locations.

In response to positive market conditions, Firstlight Wagyu has ramped up its supply of bulls and semen for artificial breeding this spring.

The company has built a base of 70 beef farmers, who grow and finish the cattle – a breed renowned for marbled beef and a high quality eating experience.

Firstlight Wagyu supply chain manager Peter Keeling says every beef supply chain has to start with calves – “and we want to get more calves on the ground next spring to meet this growth in the market”.

“The dairy sector is an obvious and well-suited means to achieve that relatively quickly,” says Peter.

Wagyu calves typically have a lighter birth weight and offer cows easier calving than traditional beef breeds, bringing advantages for farmers seeking a low-stress, non-replacement breed to put over their cows or heifers.

Peter says this appeal also translates to the back pocket, given Firstlight Wagyu’s guaranteed premium and contract to purchase both KiwiCross-Wagyu and Friesian-Wagyu cross calves at four days old. Last year’s premium price averaged $100 a calf from AB mating. Indications suggest this year’s prices will be similar.

The premium price on calves opens up options for farmers who want to be selective about what cows they mate to dairy AB this spring, says Gerard.

“You get the chance to have your cake and eat it too with the Wagyu calves – you can focus on your dairy genetics and still have a non-replacement calf that’s of value for cows you may not want replacements from.

“This is something a KiwiCross dairy farmer may not have had available before.”

Synlait Farms has adopted the breed into its mating policy. This spring it has a herd of 800 lower-milk producing cows combined into one herd mated to Firstlight Wagyu AB genetics.

Using Wagyu bulls or AB genetics over first-mated heifers this spring is another option proving popular, with farmers wanting an option to low-value ‘bobbied’ calves; and easy calving attributes add to the appeal.

“Our experience has shown dairy breeds, including the KiwiCross, can produce high quality marbled beef – so mating them with Wagyu sires provides an excellent source of high-marbling beef,” says Gerard.

“It also gives dairy farmers a unique opportunity to be part of the Wagyu supply chain, and address calf wastage in the sector.”


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