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Beef-on-dairy: First things first

Chrissy Meyer for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 April 2019
dairy-beef cross calf

Have you chosen to put your breeding strategy in high gear? If so, that means beef semen may be a part of your genetic planning process.

Creating those black, beef-looking calves can generate a premium on the day-old animals you sell. However, in this process, don’t forget to focus on the first things first. Have you asked yourself the important questions: the ones that address your farm’s current situation and future goals and the ones that will drive the profitability from your decision to implement beef-on-dairy?

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Don’t let anyone pretend they have all the answers for you on this approach. It’s important not to get swept up in this newest strategy before you address the first things first as you consider these three questions and all the possible scenarios.

1. Which animals will I breed to beef?

You have a few different methods to separate out which animals should be the mothers of your next generation of replacements versus which animals should create those beef-dairy crossbred calves.

Genomic test results can certainly help you segment which animals should be bred to each semen type. Yet, if genomic testing your females is not part of your budget, you have a few other viable alternatives to determine which animals should be bred to beef.

First, one of the simplest approaches to segmenting your herd is to sort by lactation group. In this case, it’s generally your second or third lactation that you’ll designate to receive beef semen, simply because of their older genetics. The remainder of your milking herd and heifers, because of their newer and higher genetic levels, would balance out with a combination of sexed and conventional dairy semen.

Next, a cost-effective option for segmenting your herd is to work with your trusted genetic adviser to rank the females in your herd based on your own customized genetic plan using two-generation or three-generation parent averages. The top-ranking females on your own index will be bred to sexed or conventional semen to create herd replacements. Lower ranking females will parent the beef-dairy crossbred animals.

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2. How much beef semen should I use?

You can supplement this question with “How will I manage my herd inventory to create the right number of replacements for my milking herd?” The current market dictates that it’s not effective to feed and raise too many replacements, but you also don’t want to fall short.

You can develop a fairly accurate plan accounting for various factors, including conception rates by semen type, DOA rates and death loss, cull rates and more.

In addition, you’ll need to know your long-term vision to determine how much beef semen you use. While the current market dynamics may not entice future expansion plans, if that is a possibility for you down the road, you’ll want to adjust your semen usage to ensure you have enough replacements later on.

Whether you segment your herd by genetic rankings or lactation groups, it’s important to monitor and continually adjust the percentage of beef semen you use accounting for any seasonal or management changes in conception rates, cull rates and changes in DOA rates or death loss.

3. Which beef bulls should I use?

Our parents or grandparents may have used beef semen as a last resort to get a favorite cow pregnant. We’re willing to bet the straw they used was cheap, clean-up beef semen for that cow’s one last chance.

Today, we can take a more targeted approach to beef-on-dairy semen selection. Not all breeds are the same, and not all bulls are created equal. You also get what you pay for in terms of a genetic investment.

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As with dairy sire selection, it’s imperative to consider your current situation and future goals. If your lone goal in using beef is simply to create a pregnancy that results in an easy calving, a high fertility beef bull with good calving ease will probably do the trick. Yet, if your calf buyer only offers a premium for the black calves with an actual beef appearance, you will benefit most from considering additional traits like birthweight or ribeye area.

Or are you in a situation where you’re able to raise your beef-dairy cross calves past weaning, or even to finishing? If so, carcass and growth traits should be part of your plan, so you can capture the optimal premiums for those animals when you sell.

Regardless of your herd’s breeding strategy, it’s important to address the first things first. Progress and profitability should be a goal now and in the future. So work with your trusted genetic adviser to determine if you should include beef-on-dairy in your breeding program. Ask yourself these questions and weigh your options to align your breeding program with your current situation and future goals.  end mark

PHOTO: Black, beefy-looking calves can add value to a dairy's bottom line when part of a business strategy. Photo provided by Diana Henschel.

Chrissy Meyer
  • Chrissy Meyer

  • Marketing Manager
  • Alta Genetics
  • Email Chrissy Meyer

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