Options for pure dairy-bred male calves


The report outlines the main system options for pure dairy-bred male calves, including veal production, bull systems and steer systems. It has challenged the traditional systems of production by suggesting that alternative feeds other than cereals can be used in finishing rations for these beef cattle and that grazing can play an important part in systems to reduce feed costs where managed carefully to maintain forage quality and therefore animal performance. It also recognises the potential for high quality home grown conserved forage to control costs. Slaughter age is a key determinant of feed conversion efficiency and the carbon footprint of a production system hence in all systems attention to detail to improve performance has the potential improve revenues for the producer. The pure dairy-bred male calf does not have the same carcase conformation as a suckler bred animal but when produced to meet the market requirements for this type of animal they can offer economically sound opportunities for beef producers. As with any system the returns are very sensitive to calf or store prices, sale or deadweight prices and feed prices.

Beef & Lamb
Project code:
30 July 2011 - 30 November 2011
AHDB Beef & Lamb
Project leader:
Promar International



About this project

The Problem:

The profitability of any beef finishing system is acutely dependent on feed prices.  This sensitivity is even more apparent for pure dairy-bred male finishing systems where the feed conversion efficiency is worse than that of continental bred cattle.

In view of this and the fact the cereal prices fluctuate, sometimes to price points that make intensive finishing of pure dairy bred males unprofitable, there is a need to raise awareness within the industry of the alternative options for finishing these cattle.


Project Aims:

To draw on information from around the world and from farmers in the UK to compile a critical review of the options for these calves to help English producers assess the choices.



To deliver a technical report and case studies covering the deliverables outlined below.



A technical report drawing on evidence and experience from around the world and commercial opportunities in the UK is required covering the following areas from an English perspective:

  • Current and potential veal production systems and market opportunities in the UK (to include specifications for the main markets open to English producers).
  • Alternative feeds for intensive finishing systems, covering availability and nutritional composition and implications for cost of production, performance and infrastructure/system changes.
  • Bull finishing systems including maize silage and grass silage and other forages such as red clover.
  • The potential to graze bulls for part of their lifetime: grazing systems, performance, and costs/returns.
  • Evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of castration of male calves with regard to their subsequent physical and financial performance.

Systems for finishing pure dairy steers: system blue prints, performance, and costs/returns (including intensive systems and forage based systems.