Dairy Calf Opportunities, Pāmu


6 min read

Background Key lessons Timeline Mating programme Calf rearing process Reaching 100 percent calves reared Additional resources

Dairy and beef farmers are breeding and rearing quality dairy calves to go into the beef supply chain. Nearly three-quarters of dairy farmers already use beef genetics to improve the value and performance of calves that are surplus to requirements for their dairy business, and some farmers are adapting their systems and management to further increase the value of their surplus calves. Find out more about the dairy calf strategies at Pāmu and what they have changed so far and what they are looking to do in the future.


Pāmu aims to rear 100 percent of their non-replacement calves by 2030. The rearing facility is supplied by 19 dairy farms at their Pastoral Complex in Taupō.

There are 19 Pāmu dairy farms and 44 across the entire portfolio. Previously separate entities, they now have 100 percent integration of dairy and beef. Currently, the herds from these farms are Kiwicross, and calve in Spring and Autumn.

Pāmu works towards increasing the percentage of non-replacement calves reared on farm to reach their goal of 100 percent reared. From the 19 farms, over 11,000 non-replacement calves are born each year. Currently 3,500 of these calves are being reared at Exeter calf rearing, and another 2,000 spring-born calves are reared through external rearers.

Photo credit: Pāmu

Key lessons

  • The success of the dairy breeding program is positively reflected in the performance of the beef farms. This is because strong and desirable early-born dairy-beef calves born on the dairy farms result in increased growth rates before the first winter on the beef farms.
  • Early-born calves are a significant advantage.
  • To create space in the calf shed for the next group of calves as quickly as possible. Pāmu aim to get a calf out on pasture at around three weeks, weather permitting, to optimise the use of the calf shed.
The journey so far and future aspirations


A brand-new dedicated calf rearing facility built at their Wairakei farming estate in Taupō.


A significant milestone achieved when 56 percent (goal was 55 percent) of calves born from dairy were reared across the whole portfolio. This figure includes just under 9000 dairy heifer replacement calves.


The ambitious goal is to have 75 percent of all calves born reared or raised by Pāmu.


The ultimate aim is to rear 100 percent of non-replacement calves by 2030.

Pāmu’s number one goal is to produce more desirable calves across all their animals.

Steve Tickner

General Manager – Livestock Commercial

Mating programme: Balancing traits for dairy-beef and genetic gain

The mating programme aims to strike a balance between desirable traits for dairy-beef rearing and adequate genetic gain for dairy replacements. By focusing on high-quality replacements, the herd’s genetic merit is increased. Generating replacements from a smaller proportion of the herd leads to more beef calves by mating lower genetic merit animals with beef sires.

Pāmu mating programmes incorporate Stabilizer, Angus and Simmental beef semen

The data collected from Pāmu’s own breeding company, Focus Genetics, provides valuable insights into sire selection, and they breed and select bulls for desired traits. Specifically selecting for dairy-beef specialist sires with unique traits for a dairy-beef operation is crucial. These traits include short gestation, ease of calving, and progeny that suckle well, have high growth rates and superior meat quality.

At the end of the programme, Hereford bulls are used for tail-up mating

The Hereford breed is easily recognisable due to its distinctive coat markings at birth, making identification easier. While Pāmu continues to use Hereford bulls, and other breeds, in the short term, over time the use of other breeds will be more prevalent as selective breeding increases desirability, phasing in Focus Genetics sires over the herd.

Pāmu is also taking a phased approach to sexed semen

The farm teams have experienced high costs and low conception rates associated with sexed semen. Pāmu’s strategy is focused on increasing their six-week in-calf rate before fully optimising the benefits of sexed semen.

Photo credit: Pāmu

Calf rearing process

Early-born dairy-beef calves are more valuable because they allow more time for growth on high quality feed before the first winter. For Pāmu farms, these calves are typically born in late July or August.

Dairy heifer replacements

  • Dairy heifer replacements are reared on the individual dairy units. They remain there until weaning, after which they move to a dedicated grazing block.
  • Pāmu maintains a 22 percent heifer replacement rate.

Dairy-beef calves at a week old

  • At one week old, calves are carefully selected based on Friesian or beef characteristics and overall health. They are then transported to the calf rearing facility.
  • During the first three weeks, they are kept indoors and fed a diet of milk and meal. They then move to small outdoor paddocks across the 87-ha Exeter property.
  • As they continue to grow, the calves are gradually weaned off milk and transitioned to grass and meal.

Projected growth rates

  • Calves are expected to gain 800 grams per day on 225 litres of milk and 65 kilograms of pelleted meal, before reaching 100 kilograms.
  • Whole milk and milk powder are used as needed, and calves are fed once a day once they arrive at the rearing facility (4-7 days of age)

12-week-old calves

  • Once calves reach 100 kilograms (around 12 weeks old), they are transferred to Pāmu’s sheep and beef units, until 18 to 24 months of age, at which point they are sold for beef.
  • Breed, sex, timing of birth and feeding, alongside genetics will determine if they are sold at 18-months or two-years of age.

18-month-old stock

  • Rising 1 year cattle target between 200 and 250 kilograms by May 1st, before the first winter.
  • During summer, it’s essential to provide them with ample high-energy feed as pasture quality declines. For this reason, Pāmu is exploring different options, including using lucerne, to meet these summer demands.

2-year-old stock

  • Two-year finisher animals do not need expensive winter feed during their first winter because they have more time to reach their growth targets.

Reaching 100 percent calves reared

To optimise breeding decisions and calves born from these decisions, Pāmu considers all cows, including Jerseys. As they work towards the goal of having 100 percent calves reared, there’s a need to manage less desirable calves – such as Jersey calves born later in the season.

Pāmu is carefully analysing the true cost to the business associated with these calves. In their dairy-beef sire programme, Angus plays a crucial role. Angus bulls are known for easier calving and superior growth rates. Pāmu are committed to making this system work effectively.

Pāmu is actively working towards increasing the number of calves reared on their farms while simultaneously investing in infrastructure and prioritising profitability. They navigate the ebb and flow of the commercial market, always seeking improvement. Each year, Pāmu aims to enhance its capacity to rear more calves.

Last updated: Jun 2024
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