Dairy/beef cross discussed
Although creating an industry for crossbred dairy/beef cattle is a work in progress, Dr. Grant Crawford, technical services manager for Merck Animal Health, believes the timing to get involved in the industry is perfect.
During the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association’s virtual conference on April 8, Crawford explains in 2019 alone, nearly 1.4 to 1.8 million dairy/beef crossbred cattle were harvested for beef.
“It is estimated four million will be harvested in the next three to five years, maybe even longer,” he notes.
Profitability is the end game
“In order to take advantage of the dairy-beef crossbred market, the successful cross will have acceptable ribeye shape, a 900-pound carcass, grade in the upper two-thirds of Choice, provide a good yield and have no other discounts,” Crawford explains.
He notes dairy producers, feedlot operators and packers have different priorities when it comes to choosing the right animals.
“Dairy farmers prioritize calving ease, while feedlots prioritize health, growth and efficiency,” he explains. “Packers’ priorities are quality and yield grade, size, predictability and low contaminations.”
However, he also points out all three entities aim for profitability.
Breed differences and challenges
One of the challenges crossbreeding beef and dairy cows may cause, according to Crawford, is that dairy breeds don’t perform as well as beef breeds in regards to rate of gain and efficiency.
“A Jersey cow will have an average rate of daily gain of 2.5 pounds, and a Holstein will average 2.7 to 2.9 pounds compared to a crossbred beef calf at 3.2 to 3.4 pounds,” he says.
He notes Holsteins also tend to be more sensitive to a number of issues, including weather.
“Health is an issue leading to discounts for Holsteins at the packer,” Crawford states. “Dairy cows are likely to have abscesses, largely due to early grain feeding and extended days on feed. This costs the packer money.”
He continues, “Also, Holstein carcasses can be too big for the frames in packing plants. If the Holstein carcass drags on the table or floor, it has to be discarded.”
Another reason dairy carcasses are discounted, is the narrow shape of the ribeye, according to Crawford.
“Improving this component can make the dairy-beef crossbreed more desirable to packers,” says Crawford. “The current discount is $3.6 per hundredweight, which amounts to nearly $31 per head, based on a 900-pound carcass.”
“Crossbreeding to avoid this discount can provide a huge opportunity to add value,” he states.
Revising genetics and management
According to Crawford, there has recently been more talk about using Holstein cows as recipients for beef embryos.
“They could produce a higher-value beef calf and the cost could be about $60 per transfer, including embryo service costs,” he says. “When dairy farmers are thinking of what to do with a lower genetic dairy cow, this might be an alternative.”
However, Crawford notes another challenge is the poorer health of dairy calves.
“There needs to be a focus on colostrum, cattle comfort, ventilation and illness prevention,” he says. “Hoof problems also seem to be a growing issue with Holstein cattle, which won’t just disappear with crossbreeding.”
As for growth, Crawford thinks dairy/beef crossbred cattle producers could benefit from using implants, beta-agonists and MGA for heifers.
“Producers interested in the dairy/beef crossbreed industry need to watch for market signals and use good genetics,” he suggests. “They also may want to retain ownership, partner with a feedlot or participate in buy-back programs.” Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com