After a few more years into the dairy beef (or beef x dairy cross if you want to get particular) market, it’s an excellent time to review what we have learned and where we think the market is headed. This article highlights the 2023 Dairy Beef Short Course at the Central Plains Dairy Expo.

We must all work together. The choices of semen to use on the dairy do not match what the end user is looking for. The calves may leave the dairy on the day of their birth, yet that revenue source may not be sustainable if we can’t produce a consistent, quality product in the feedlot.

We must be better at managing the crossbreds and not just managing them like Holsteins or native cattle. Research from Texas Tech University shows that if done correctly, there is great potential for beef x dairy crosses. The crossbreds, as expected, are somewhere in between Holsteins and native cattle with regards to efficiency (less ADG, worse F:G, similar dressing to native, but high percentage grading choice or better). Yet, with the influence of the Holstein (which has a more flavorful product due to the muscle fiber type and marbling potential), there is a chance that crossbreds can outperform natives on taste.

Consistency is a massive issue in the crossbreds, as there is so much variation in phenotype (how they look). Texas Tech data has shown that no matter what the crossbred looks like (on the spectrum of more dairy or more beef), they grew the SAME; they just looked different. Of course, there is variation in the carcass, including the amount of bone, size, and shape of the chuck and round, etc., yet the potential is there for these cattle to surpass native cattle! One factor we must address is controlling liver abscesses, the elephant in the room with the Packers regarding beef x dairy crosses.

We must take a hard look at how wet calves are raised. Are we pushing them too hard/burning them out? Maybe it’s my bias as a nutritionist, but the presentation on the development of 2 to 5-month-old dairy cross calves was a fascinating take on managing a calf that can be quite a headache for producers (this is sometimes no man’s land for calves).

Calf molars
The molars in young calves have erupted enough to crack corn but not to grind hay. They cannot chew hay well enough to make the particle size small enough to pass through the GI tract (broken mouth cows have the same issue), so there is a significant risk of impaction when we feed them too much high-fiber/low-quality hay.

Rumen development
The rumen needs time to stretch and develop. Grain mixes are more dense than hay, so they help physically stretch and expand the rumen. They also provide a more nutrient-dense package to meet the needs of a growing calf. I have advised for a few years to feed whole corn to these calves. The practice of processing the corn, i.e., chewing, swallowing, regurgitating, chewing, etc., helps in multiple ways. It exposes the starch, allows them to produce saliva (i.e., bicarbonate buffering), and allows the system to utilize the corn instead of the already processed corn running right through them, potentially causing acidosis issues. At this age, they are great chewers; the older animals get lazy and pass the whole corn straight through because it’s “small enough. ”The rumen needs to develop at least 10-15 layers. Any stress or failure to do so is a chance for bacteria to cross the rumen wall and potentially end up in the liver; anyone for liver abscesses?

Particle size and diarrhea
I want to reiterate that particle size is important. Too much bulky feed can cause impactions in young calves by creating a blockage where the stomach meets the small intestine. Sometimes diarrhea may occur because all that gets past the impaction is fluid and the small feed particles. Are calves overeating bedding or too much poor-quality forage? Are they drinking too little water?

Allow calves time to grow and develop. We can push them hard later. Please don’t give them cracked corn until they reach about 400 lbs. These calves will need feed available 23 hours a day to meet their requirement of 3% of body weight intake. While bunk management is crucial in all cattle, it is especially so in these dairy and dairy beef crosses.

There is potential for these crossbreds to have a permanent place in the beef industry, yet much work needs to be done before their place is guaranteed.