The ground is shifting on what society will accept from milk producers in terms of where their bobby calves go.
Promises are coming from all dairy nations.
Ireland's calf welfare charter guarantees no healthy calf euthanasia; in Denmark there will be no euthanasia by 2022, in the United Kingdom the same from 2023 and in New Zealand the promise is all calves will enter the market from June 2023.
For that reason, a shared future with beef is now a big part of a sustainable dairy business, according to David Nation, the managing director of the sector's big service provider Dairy Australia.
Speaking at the Australian Wagyu Association's annual conference in Melbourne, Mr Nation said the forces at play driving the two livestock sectors together were real.
"We have a challenge with our calf pathways and there is firm commitment by the whole industry, worldwide, to make change," he said.
As many as 60 per cent of future calves on dairies will be dairy beef and it will be expected they have a viable path forward, profitable for every farmer along the supply chain, Mr Nation said.
While it was expected Australia's dairy herd would be entirely bred from sexed semen within the next two years, that wasn't the answer. Surplus calves will still need a viable pathway.
Mr Nation presented a breakdown of where Australia's surplus dairy calves go now which showed 9pc were unviable and a very large portion were slaughtered as calves.
"We have to shrink that 9pc wedge and there is big opportunity in shifting that slaughtered wedge. We are continually working on genetic improvement for calf vitality and survival and improved management on-farm but the key is to grow that dairy-beef sector."
Data shows that bobby calf slaughter goes down as the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator goes up but Mr Nation said that was a 'mirage'.
"When you're making a decision of whether or not to keep a dairy calf based on the current EYCI price, you're out of sync by two years. It's not working so we have to move away from that," he said.
The answer was in relationships and partnerships with beef operations and building long-term, profitable pathways for dairy beef calves year-on-year.
The futures of dairy and Wagyu will only get closer with time, Mr Nation said.
Look over the fence
There's plenty the beef industry can learn from looking over the fence at dairy's 'decade of cow improvement', Mr Nation said.
"We have invested across soils, forages, animals, climate and more but if I had to nail down one part of our production system where the most change has been made it's clearly cow improvement," he said.
"The reality is for quite a long period of time up until 2010 there was investment but the benefits hadn't really taken off. In fact, in 2010, there was a case for saying that's enough investment in genetics. For all the gains made, there were losses too."
However, a plethora of technologies matured in the one decade 'in a way that was unheard of in our hundred years of breeding', Mr Nation said.
Today, a hair sample turned around in four weeks can give a dairy farmer an estimated breeding value with 80pc accuracy.
"We've reached the tipping point where people use these with confidence," Mr Nation said.
The breeding values work has seen world-firsts for Australia too - in heat tolerance and feed saved (net feed index).
Australia was the first dairy country in world to introduce feed saved as a trait for the whole of industry to use and it is now plugged into global networks.
"When a dairy farmer gets a genetic evaluation on feed saved today, that information carries a lot of historic beef information too," Mr Nation said.
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