Dale Farm and ABP Horizon Dairy Beef Partnership: Everything you need to know

Two of Northern Ireland’s major agri-food businesses, Dale Farm and ABP, have announced the Horizon Dairy Beef Partnership.

‘Horizon’ is the first collaborative scheme of its kind in Northern Ireland, which will provide a market for selectively-bred, Aberdeen Angus, dairy-origin calves from Dale Farm dairy suppliers through the ABP supply chain.

We saw a somewhat similar programme rolled out in April 2019, where Kepak and Glanbia joined forces to introduce the Twenty20 Beef Club.

The partnership aims to provide full traceability from calf-to-carcass, and will provide inputs and technical advice – from United Feeds, Genus ABS NI and AI Services (Northern Ireland) Ltd. – to support animal welfare and production efficiency.

According to Dale farm and ABP, the scheme was developed to create:
  • Incremental income to farms;
  • Higher-quality animals for the beef industry that are fit for purpose;
  • An outlet for dairy-beef calves;
  • A reduction in the carbon footprint across farms;
  • Better production efficiencies;
  • Better growth rates;
  • Improved feed conversion;
  • Enhanced animal welfare;
  • Better feeding and grassland management.

In the programme’s first year, the aim will be to source approximately 2,000 Aberdeen Angus calves – to be finished as steers and heifers, with a review scheduled thereafter.

Underpinned by genetic research from ABP’s R&D farms across the UK and Ireland, animals will be bred following strict protocols enabling them to be marketed at 18-20 months – some four months below the UK average.

One of ABP’s R&D farms in Clonegal, Co. Carlow

This will ensure a significant reduction of emissions per animal, resulting in a more carbon-efficient model, in which a support structure will be provided to all participants.

Various options are available to participants in the Horizon scheme.

Option 1

Dale Farm suppliers have the option to breed part of their herd to selected Aberdeen Angus genetics recommended by AI Services and Genus ABS NI.

It is understood that farmers with a Jersey or Jersey-cross herd will not be eligible for the scheme.

Bull selection has been based on key parameters, such as: easy calving; gestation length; and key beef performance traits – namely 200/400/600-day carcass weight, eye-muscle area, fat depth, retail yield, and the terminal index.

One of ABP’s R&D farms in Clonegal, Co. Carlow

These calves will be purchased by ABP at three-to-four weeks-of-age, based on the market value at the time and include the price of the AI straw.

Additionally, the calves will be collected within three-to-five days of purchase and paid for on the day of collection.

An additional bonus will be paid for all calves bred from the recommended bull list (these bulls will be detailed later in the article).

A strict health protocol must be adhered to and calves will be DNA profiled to ensure the stated breeding programme reflects the calves produced and purchased.

Option 2

Option 2 will focus on the rearing period between four and 16 weeks-of-age and will be open to both Dale Farm and ABP members.

ABP will supply calf rearing inputs and provide support to maximise calf performance during the rearing period, in terms of health and nutrition – following ABP’s Blade Farming model.

Any farm participating in Option 2 must meet the following requirements:
  • Farms must rear a minimum of 500 calves annually (initial requirement of four rearing farms). The exception will be any farm who joins the programme from birth through to slaughter;
  • All farms must adhere to strict management guidelines to maximise the performance of each animal;
  • Health and welfare protocols must be met as set by ABP’s veterinary team;
  • Measure performance targets through full data collection throughout the rearing period.

In return, each rearing farm will receive a fixed management fee on a ‘per calf’ basis; there is also a bonus available if key performance and data entry targets are met; a target weight of 120kg has been set for the rearing stage.

During this stage, ABP will cover the following input costs:
  • Concentrates (supplied by United Feeds);
  • Milk powder;
  • Vaccines;
  • Veterinary inputs.

All of the above will be measured to ensure adequate usage, with both ABP and United Feeds technical staff providing support to all farms to maximise calf performance throughout the rearing period.

Option 3

Option 3 focuses on the finishing period between four and 20 months and will be based on a pricing model, designed to cover input costs and leave a margin if key performance targets are achieved.

Weanlings will be purchased from ABP at 16 weeks.

These calves will follow a defined feed programme, which will include:
  • Transition feeding guidance (rearing to growing ration);
  • Introduction of forage into the diet;
  • Reliance of high-quality grass and silage – need to maximise performance from forage;
  • Adoption of management techniques such as paddock grazing, cattle weighing, silage analysis and grass measuring.

It is understood the final price paid to the finisher will be based on the market value for steers and heifers at that time, with the cost of all relevant inputs covered.

While there is an opportunity for a Dale Farm supplier to opt for all three options mentioned above in the future, it is understood that this system is not desired in the scheme’s first year.

Am I eligible for the scheme?

The following criteria must be met for those farmers wishing to be part of the scheme:
  • All dairy farms must be clear from TB;
  • All calves must receive adequate colostrum at birth (ZST testing to monitor);
  • All cattle in the scheme are to be fed concentrates supplied by United Feeds for full traceability. However, members have the option of feeding cattle outside the scheme with feed from their supplier of choice.
  • All farms must follow the health, welfare, and management protocols set by ABP;
  • All finishing farms must be members of the NI FQAS Assurance Scheme;
  • If not already in place, all participating farms must embark on physical and financial benchmarking.

If for any reason a farmer wants to opt-out of the scheme, rearers will have to give a two-batch notice and finishers will have to slaughter their current batch of cattle.

As already stated, Dale Farm suppliers must purchase Aberdeen Angus genetics from Genus ABS NI or AI Services (Northern Ireland) Ltd.

The Genus ABS NI Aberdeen Angus sires that are recommended for use in ‘Horizon’ are detailed below.

The two Aberdeen Angus sires that are recommended by AI Services (Northern Ireland) are listed below.