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Why beef-on-dairy works for Wulf Cattle

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 31 March 2014
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Cattlemen are leaning on their counterparts in the dairy industry to beef up the supply of quality red meat.

“The beef industry has its eyes on nine million dairy cows,” Jerry Wulf told dairymen at the 2014 World Ag Expo. “Hopefully, you can help us produce high-quality feeder cattle from that cow supply.”

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The president of Wulf Cattle was a featured panelist during Progressive Dairyman’s educational seminars at the event held in Tulare, California, in February, where he shared perspectives from both the beef and dairy side.

Wulf himself has expertise on both sides of fence. He oversees the raising and marketing of more than 40,000 head of Limousin-influenced cattle each year, along with one of the largest Limousin genetic seedstock herds in North America.

The enterprise’s parent company, Riverview LLP of Morris, Minnesota, includes more than 47,000 dairy cows on multiple sites. Early innovators, they initiated a cross-breeding strategy four years ago.

Wulf provided a cattle industry outlook, and he also discussed his experience feeding and marketing the offspring of strategically crossed beef and dairy breeds.

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Why is beef-on-dairy good for the cattle industry?

As cattlemen across the country struggle to keep their feedlots full, reality has set in that they cannot meet the beef demand alone.

“We are all wondering where we are going to get our beef supply,” Wulf said.

The result of decreasing cattle numbers is an “overbuilt industry.” Right now, excess bunk capacity is running at 25 percent, and packing plants are struggling to keep their doors open. Earlier this year, the National Beef Packing Co.’s beef processing plant in Brawley, California, announced plans to shut down in April, citing the “declining supply of fed cattle” as the driving factor of the closure.

While supply weakens, demand remains strong. Wulf cited significant growth in the export market for “high-quality, corn-fed beef” coming from the U.S., and he acknowledged an alternative way of providing it.

“We’ve found we can get high-quality beef out of dairy cows just as we can beef cattle,” Wulf said.

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Can the dairy industry be an asset to the beef supply without cross-breeding?

Feeding out true-blood dairy steers can certainly be done, but the greatest opportunity to capture value in the beef market is with a cross.

“We will never get a packer to pay for a dairy carcass what they will for a beef carcass,” Wulf explained. “They’ve got less cutability [5 to 7 percent less] and narrower ribeyes.”

Red meat yield and feed efficiency are areas where dairy steers lag behind their beef-bred counterparts. To make up for these deficiencies, some feeders aggressively use implants and beta-agonists; however, technology does not come without challenges. Greater use of these tools actually results in more dark cutters and discounted cattle, not to mention a displeased consumer.

Wulf believes breeding to beef is the better solution.

“We think fixing it with genetics is the ultimate answer,” he said. “We can get by with less technology, minimize carcass discounts and improve the deficiencies that are there in dairy cattle with complementary cross-breeding.”

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How are you ‘building the right beast?’

The homozygous black Limousin and Jersey breeds have proven to be a complementary cross for Wulf, who has been selling the resulting all-black fed cattle to Tyson for the past two years.

Wulf shared the following statement of satisfaction from his packer: “These Jersey-Limousin cross cattle are outperforming our plant average for quality, as well as not showing any dairy influence.”

“We really wowed Tyson,” he added.

Just one cross improved the ribeye, giving it more of the desired oval shape. Limousin influence has also upped the Jersey steers’ performance, adding 190 pounds of carcass weight and nearly doubling average daily gain (1.8 pounds to 3.5 pounds).

“I think the lowest-hanging fruit in the dairy industry is adding value to that Jersey bull calf,” Wulf said.

As for the heifer calves, they too are turning into productive members of the fed-cattle population.

“They [heifers] are also going through the feedlot,” Wulf noted. “They grade equally as well as the steers, and we are able to flip 100 percent of them into beef carcasses.”

The better grade means greater profitability. A dairy carcass grade automatically goes back $6 on the regular market.

Wulf Cattle retains ownership of the calves all the way through the feedyard. In addition to those born from their own herd, the company has arrangements to purchase back calves from other dairies that used their beef bulls on dairy cows.

“We are offering Holstein day-old bull calf price in a given region for a Jersey bull calf, then $50 back on a heifer calf,” he explained. “We won’t go any lower than $75 on a bull calf and $50 on a heifer calf on a low market.”

Wulf Cattle markets beef semen to dairymen through Genex and sells some Limousin and Lim-Flex (Angus hybrid) bulls for natural service.

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Is it sustainable?

“I don’t think we need to question whether it is sustainable. Our role is to feed the world with high-quality protein,” Wulf said, referencing global demand.

He sees the bigger picture of sustainability. Filling the pipeline with beef offspring born to dairy cows is a more efficient utilization of resources. For example, selling a beef steer right now may net $2,100, but there is a cost to keeping its dam for another year to produce her next calf.

However, the Jersey cow can produce a quality cross-bred black steer worth nearly the same, then go on to produce $5,000 worth of milk.

“It’s a pretty simple story to tell,” Wulf said. “Let’s run those resources through a dairy cow, sell milk and still get a high-quality beef calf.” PD

peggy coffeen

Peggy Coffeen
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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