Changes on Dairy Farms Are Wins for Beef, Too

Technology advancements and economic necessity have changed breeding practices on dairies, creating more calves that are fully functional in the beef industry and higher quality beef with Choice and Prime grades.
calendar icon 1 June 2020
clock icon 2 minute read

This development can be a win-win situation once beef and dairy producers bridge the economic, business, and cultural gaps between the two industries, according to the RaboResearch report, “Dairy Calves Get a Beef Makeover.”

The practice of breeding a share of a farm’s dairy cows with a beef-breed bull provides dairies with an additional income stream, and using genetic selection enables dairies to be much more efficient in developing desired herd replacements. Moreover, beef-on-dairy crossbred cattle are creating high-quality carcasses with the improved muscle conformation desired by meat processors.

“Careful management and experience are driving success, and performance is starting to explode, as the industry improves its understanding of the best genetic matches and how to manage and feed beef-on-dairy calves,” says report author, Don Close, senior animal protein analyst with Rabo AgriFinance. “But, the relationships between buyers and sellers will be crucial.”

According to the report, there are still some gaps between dairy producers and cattle feeders in their opinions on what are the most important aspects to be breeding and managing for, as well as on pricing. “Success will require cattle feeders and dairy producers to form relationships and communicate expectations,” Close says. “I expect the supply of beef-on-dairy calves to increase significantly in 2020 and continue to climb over the next three to five years to a level where more than 10 percent of cattle in U.S. feed yards will be beef-on-dairy crosses.”

The report also notes the sustainability benefits of the changes. Close explains, “Compared to conventional dairy calves, beef-on-dairy animals are more efficient feed converters, reach full weight three to four months earlier, and have a higher percentage of red meat yield. This system reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the cattle industry.”

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