Beef on Dairy: Developing a Profitable Calf

Using beef semen to breed dairy cows has become very common in the United States. Some dairies are using up to 50% beef semen in their herds, according to semen companies. Dairies usually select the top 30-50% of cows to breed for replacement heifers, often with sexed semen. The lower 50-70% of cows still need to be bred to continue producing milk, and more frequently, farmers are electing to use beef semen. While a dairy’s main goal might be to get milk out of their cow, those beef dairy crosses can be marketable for a profit if they are developed correctly.

Semen selection
The first step in creating a profitable calf is choosing the right beef semen. High quality bulls with proven carcass traits and genetic potential for efficient growth will yield the biggest success. These calves need to grow muscle mass rather than frame. Bulls selected should have expected progeny differences (EPDs) for good birthweights, positive weaning weight, and positive finish weight. Selecting EPDs for greater ribeye size can also contribute to a more profitable calf. Holstein cross calves should have a target finishing weight between 1400 and 1500lbs. Feed efficiency is also essential to feed yard buyers and should not be overlooked in the semen selection process. Many buyers also prefer a black-hided calf, which should also be a part of the selection process. Dairy bull calves have been going to the beef market for years, but a high-quality beef cross can maximize traits to create a superior product.

Youngstock development
Every calf needs the best start to ensure profitability down the road. Like replacement heifer calves, these beef crosses need high-quality colostrum in the first 6 hours of life. Colostrum allows for the transfer of passive immunity to the calf and sets the calf up to be healthier and grow better. Beyond colostrum, value can be added through vaccines, dehorning, castrating, implanting, and tagging. Having a conversation with potential buyers to determine what they want to be done to the calf before it arrives at their feed yard can increase profits for all parties involved. Keeping good records of everything the calf receives early in life can also be valuable to potential buyers. But most importantly, keeping the calf healthy and growing will lead to better feed efficiency and a higher finishing weight. Part of this is feeding calves high-quality milk replacer. Beef calves get the benefit of staying with the dam and receiving whole milk throughout calfhood. Conventionally many dairy bulls are fed a 20-20 milk replacer, but that may not be enough to maximize growth. Feeding a higher quality replacer or whole waste milk to beef dairy crosses can lead to more gain in the early months and a more marketable calf.

By focusing on semen selection and early development, dairies can create a more marketable feeder calf. Beef dairy crosses solve the issue of getting more milk out of lower genetic potential cows while creating an opportunity for increased profit when selling calves. These calves need to gain and grow efficiently, and dairy producers can set these calves up for success. Beef on dairy is an excellent option for farms with enough replacement heifers and are looking for ways to improve their profitability in selling calves.