We caught up with Alltech’s Ian Lahiffe, sales and new business development director of Alltech China, to talk about the Chinese cattle industry and what areas he sees for development with animal nutrition.
Initially the country had more interest in swine and poultry production, said Lahiffe, but that has started to change as beef has become a more important part of the diet.
However, efforts to improve cattle nutrition and production started in the dairy industry, he said. Though, attention may now be shifting to the beef cattle industry.
“They’re importing a lot of breeding cows from New Zealand and Australia – they built a better dairy herd and now most of the cows coming in are for beef,” he said. “More than 100,000 cows have come in already.”
There was an expectation that the dairy market would continue to grow in China, but sales have been flat or down as the supply chain has not been completely established, said Lahiffe.
There have been many production changes since the melamine crisis in 2008, where some dairy products were found to be contaminated with the industrial compound, he said. Since that point there has been an increase in consolidation of dairy producers.
Farms now may start at 300 cows and have up to 200,000 cows, he said. Along with the consolidation of farms, there have been changes in management and nutrition for dairy cattle.
“China has made a very concerted effort to learn from best practices around the world in dairy,” he said.
Many dairy facilities are newly built facilities and not tied to past construction, said Lahiffe. And, the industry has focused on bringing in good genetic stock from other countries.
“On the feed side, the dairy sector has gone through a massive transformation since the melamine crisis,” he said. Feed producers now have a good deal of power as dairies can only sell milk in certain regions if they buy from specific feed suppliers, explained Lahiffe.
The rules were designed to reduce the number of small feed mills and encourage consolidation, he said.
Beef production progress
“But on the beef side [there has not been] not as much direction, [the segment is] not really there yet in terms of having a consolidated industry and [added] investment in training people and beef research. But it’s a matter a time,” he noted.
Beef is similar to where the dairy sector was 10 years ago, continued Lahiffe.
There is not the same emphasis on designed nutrition in the Chinese beef sector, he said. Some beef producers even use dairy or swine feed, said Lahiffe.
Beef feed production is almost a secondary business. “It’s not the priority,” he added. And there is not as much support promoting best management practices for beef producers.
“A lot of the feed companies find that they have to bring all these services that are not relevant to nutrition, like hoof trimming,” he said.
Although production may start to see more consolidation, a focus on beef nutrition may take longer and could start with use of products like premixes, said Lahiffe.
“It’s a good way to use unutilized co-products and corn coming into the market, beef is a good location for some of that,” he said. “I don’t know about making compound feed, I don’t see it as a great future, but a leading premix or a concentrate feed would have a great market – farmers would be able to mix on the farm.”
There also may be some regional challenges as beef farms tend to be in the northern part of the country, while finishing operations are in the south and east, he said.
However, there is starting to be an effort made to build the genetics of a good beef cattle herd, he said.
“Australia made a big effort to get a free trade with China and then Australia had issues with drought, which meant their beef herd is declining,” he said. “So now they’re exporting their live cows to build China’s beef industry.”