Anyone have any data or anecdotal info on calories produced per acre comparing dairy to meat? For example keeping a dairy cow vs raising a beef steer. My hunch is that dairy wins, but that is just a guess.
efficiency between beef and dairy Energy efficiency of meat and dairy production
The energy efficiency of meat and dairy production is defined as the percentage of energy (caloric) inputs as feed effectively converted to animal
product. An efficiency of 25% would mean 25% of calories in animal feed inputs were effectively converted to animal product; the remaining 75%
would be lost during conversion.
John Daley Bendigo, Australia
The Enemy of progress is the hope of a perfect plan
Interesting question, Gray, and it looks like John has supplied an excellent technical answer. Is your question simply academic? Or are you looking to apply the information? In an academic sense, the data can stand on it's own. In a real world application, the answer is much more complex because so many factors affect the outcome. For example, is the animal grassfed or receiving hay and grain? What is the quality of the pasture? Milk production requires a lot of calories for both output and to keep the animal in good condition. That's why most dairy producers feed grain, and why most homesteaders do too. And, of course, producing milk requires producing young, so then there is the question of what to do with them and how they fit in to the overall answer to the question.
I raise dual-purpose goats, chosen specifically because the breed has both good milk production plus a good feed to muscle conversion ratio. For my homestead, this is important, as it gives us dual-purpose production. Young males who aren't sold become our meat candidates. In terms of production value, I consider milk, meat, young to sell, manure, hides, plus hours and hours of entertainment (better than paying for TV!)
Anyway, I didn't mean to overthink this for you, but it's the kind of question that makes one think and stimulates interesting discussion.
It's also going to depend on the time frame you are looking at. over the 10 year ish life time of a home dairy cow that you then eat it's going to be dairy as you still get the meat, but if you are only talking 3 or 4 years then I would actually think meat, as you still have to raise the dairy animal to maturity as well but won't have eaten it yet.
That's also probably assuming that the beef is slaughtered at 21-24 months. Earlier might give you a higher figure, as you're not converting as much feed into motion and manure. And if you grow a beast for 3-4 years or more, those percentages might drop below 1.
Leigh, feeding grain to dairy cattle is a minority phenomenon here in the world's highest exporter of milk. The farmers who have over-intensified beyond what their land will support in terms of pasture production have to supplement, but they tend to feed silage as their first choice. Mind you, a lot of that silage is maize and has ears in it, but it's not ripened grain. Then there are the ones who feed palm kernel expellate, which is the byproduct of the palm oil industry in the tropics. This is unpopular with a lot of the public (and the more enviromentally minded farmers) and on top of that it smells bad and probably isn't all that great for the animals. Grain definitely isn't...rumen acidosis is a thing.
Phil, I absolutely agree with you about grain. And it's great that New Zealanders don't feed it to their cattle. It is, unfortunately, standard practice for many farmers and homesteaders in the US. So to mention it is within the context of the OP's question.
I think we're all staying very relevant here, Leigh, and I'm glad you raised the issue of supplemental feed. The OP asked about efficiencies per acre, and my question amounts to this: Whose acre? If you are reliant on bought grain to make up for insufficient pasture, then the effective acreage required to support your livestock goes up. So do other inputs required to grow that grain, in most cases.
We could also consider what it might look like if you were to grow your own grain for feed...what sort of net gain (or loss) would you get with your climate, soil type, and methods if you grew grains instead of, or in rotation with, a permanent pasture? Not saying that it shouldn't ever be done, but I'm all for honest accounting as well as respecting the natural dietary requirements and health of the animal.
I'll note that every cattle beast I've raised has tried to get its snout into the chickens' grain, so I know how much they like it even though it's really not good for them. I still have a weakness for Doritos.
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