Robert Drysdale  -  The future of beef production from the dairy herd - is integration a model that would work?

Trehane Trust

Having been brought up with farming, vetting and management consultancy in my family it was probably preordained that I would become a farm vet running my own business! I am married to Bonnie, and with her support I applied for a Nuffield Farming Scholarship to further my own interests in calf health and efficient beef production. I enjoy watching rugby, shooting and working my gun dogs along with the occasional nice cigar and dram.

After vet school in Edinburgh, where I managed to play a lot of rugby and still graduate, I worked in practice across the UK (Yorkshire, Ayrshire and Derbyshire) before settling in the Sussex in 1999. An opportunity to start a farm only vet practice in 2000 saw the founding of Westpoint Veterinary Group where I am still Managing Director. Westpoint now has 60 vets and a total of 160 employees within the group covering farms from Dumfries to Cornwall to Kent. The business is the largest farm animal group in Europe along with largest online farm animal pharmacy.

My own role is split between management, working as a vet and consultant to farms in the South East as well as across the UK and beyond. A large part of my work is as Veterinary Manager for Blade Farming, the largest beef producer in the UK, where I work within a team managing in the rearing and finishing of over 25,000 dairy bred animals each year. It is the experiences I have had with batch rearing of dairy bred beef calves that prompts my Nuffield project.

With over 55% of beef consumed now coming from the dairy herd and a contracting suckler cow herd where will the meat of the future come from? Dairy beef is sustainable in terms of carbon footprint – every cow should have a calf each year for most efficient milk production – and has been shown to be an excellent source of protein. Welfare friendly calf rearing and the production of bull beef that is both efficient and profitable has been a challenge to UK farmers but what about the rest of the world?

I plan to travel to different world beef markets (USA, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Australia and New Zealand) to look at how these countries produce efficient beef plus how much they utilise dairy bred animals. Also looking at the UK and EU, where some integration on beef, dairy and other agricultural produce sees end users linked to the farmers, whilst can other industries help with integration such as pig and poultry?