NBA warns of dairy beef shortage

The National Beef Association has warned that a shortage of dairy beef will result as the sector faces up to the remorseless spread of bovine TB in the South West and the Midlands,

Dairy beef specialists in the Midlands and South of England are struggling to find enough calves to rear and finish - which means the dairy beef sector, which in the past has supplied up to 55% of the UK's beef cattle, will soon be unable to maintain critical mass.

The warning was made by the National Beef Associaton who said that rearers and finishers had told it that the remorseless spread of bovine TB in the principal dairying areas of the South West and West Midlands, and not just the recent shortage of replacement dairy heifers, has become a major contributor to the continuing rearing calf supply crisis.

"We know from BCMS records that the birth of 56,000 calves, almost exclusively purebred dairy males, was not recorded in the five months between June and October because they were shot," explained NBA director Kim Haywood.

"Alarmingly this was a rise of 11,000 head, or 25% compared to the same period last year, so notice must be taken of the simultaneous rise in TB cases which are also rushing forward at a compound rate of around 20% a year."

The most recent Defra figures confirm that around 8,300 GB herds, or almost 10 per cent of the 86,000 registered on Vetnet, are under TB2 restriction which means finished stock from those farms can only be sold direct to abattoirs for slaughter - unless some are moved as calves through a handful of specialist markets to an even smaller number of government approved commercial beef units.

"TB spread is shortening the supply of beef rearing calves in two ways. More dairy cows are being slaughtered prematurely as reactors so there is even greater pressure to breed dairy heifer replacements," said Haywood.

"The strain this has helped to create shows in the recent 8.5% rise in dairy heifer births, and the corresponding ten per cent fall in the number of beef cross calves available.

"However around 60% of dairy farmers already find it impossible to rear and finish bull calves for beef and if they have been shut down by TB, and can no longer sell male calves to beef farmers, the only remaining option is to destroy their bull calves instead - which helps to explain the 25% lift in the unrecorded birth, or shootings, of mainly Holstein bull calves highlighted in the latest BCMS records."

She added: "It is estimated that around 40% of the 120,000 Holstein bull calves estimated to have been shot over the past twelve months were too extreme to be of interest to the beef sector."

"But examination of BCMS statistics also suggests that perhaps 70,000 potentially useful dairy bred bull calves, almost one months supply of beef cattle for British abattoirs, were included among those that were shot instead of reared and this number will rise when another 20% rise in dairy farms under TB movement restrictions is confirmed over 2009."

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