Dairy Beef Market Strong with Crossbred Genetics

Published on Mon, 07/26/2021 - 9:49am

Dairy Beef Market Strong with Crossbred Genetics.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

 Aided by ever-advancing reproductive technologies and tighter margins, dairy producers continue to invest in beef genetics to increase the value of their bull calves. This new trend in the dairy sector has brought about a notable increase of beef cross animals in the feedlots and at the markets.

While even straightbred Holstein steers (and to a lesser extent, Jerseys) make decent feeders, beef crossbreds are opening even more opportunities and greater profitability. This is to the benefit of feeders and backgrounders looking to capitalize on efficiencies and gains with a reasonable upfront cost.

According to what limited statistics are available, dairy beef animals have been a significant force in the beef industry since at least the early 2000s. Some estimates are they make up between 18 and 24% of the entire U.S. fed beef supply.

No matter what route you go – straightbred dairy calves or beef crosses – there is not a surefire way of guaranteeing a successful end product. But, with a good strategy and the proper resources, both can lead to notable revenue streams with a quality and efficient end product.

Fed dairy steers can find a place in most beef markets. They can be especially attractive to custom processors and retailers who are catering to local retailers or branded products if you live in an area with a sizeable dairy presence.

Despite their challenges in terms of yield and energy requirements, dairy animals have quite a few markers of high meat quality. While still having relatively lean meat, dairy beef carcasses are known to marble quite well while packing quite a bit of flavor.

And while Holstein and Jersey animals pose some inconveniences to the packer – such as size, dressing percentage and feed conversion – those crossbred with beef animals have been able to gain additional efficiencies. Recently the Angus Association even came out with a new dollar index ($Index) specifically for selecting bulls with Jersey and Holstein matings. While these calves may be a bit more expensive up front, the benefits they offer in terms of feed efficiency, muscling and marbling could indeed well be worth the bit of extra splurge.

Are straightbreds worth it?
Starting with a solid and healthy foundation is one thing, but the true profitability factors for dairy beef feeders all come down to management and nutrition.

According to an article by Dr. Francis Fluharty, head of the University of Georgia’s Animal and Dairy Science Department, the feeding differences between beef breeds and Holstein dairy steers ultimately come down to the age and weight at which they enter the feeding stage. Beef cattle typically enter the feedlot stage between 500 and 850 lbs. In all, their feeding period is about 140 to 200 days on average gaining 3.4 to 3.9 lbs/day. Holsteins alternatively tend to sit in the 2.8 to 3.4lbs/day range.

According to Fluharty, straightbred Holsteins also require up to 12% more energy to meet their maintenance requirements, which is due to several factors. They are also more susceptible to performance variation based on environmental and climate stressors. Data from the University of Minnesota shows Holsteins will also consume approximately 7% more during the feeding period compared to their beef counterparts.

But this does not disqualify straightbred Holstein steers from making it in a traditional feeding setup if done correctly. With their frame and requirements, a high-energy diet is recommended throughout their entire life. For maximal impact, long-stemmed forage should be as minimal as possible. A more digestible than forage by nature, grain-based diets are ideal for Holstein steers as it provides more nutrients needed for muscle growth and fat accumulation.

Another study from 1995 found that steers fed a high-forage diet had 21% greater maintenance requirements compared to high concentrate diets. With the already present concerns about Holstein feed efficiency and dressing percentages, forage-based diets have an even bigger impact, allowing them to grow in size and stature but not developing the desirable muscling and marbling.

What about Jerseys? This breed certainly doesn’t have quite the same issues with frame size compared to Holsteins. They also don’t have quite the same muscling and growth. This makes Jersey beef crosses by far the most desirable in terms of this breed.

The real meat: Jersey beef crossbreds?
Given the disadvantages of the Jersey breed as a beef animal, some research has been conducted to maximize their carcass characteristics while capitalizing on their marbling.

A research study looked specifically at Jersey x Limousin crosses harvested in 2012. It found that over 90% had Yield Grades of 1 and 2. More than half of the group made Choice (nearly 20% being Upper 2/3rds) and 2% even hit Prime.

A similar effect has been seen when Angus sires are used. One study at Ohio State examined Jersey x Angus crossbred animals and found that, given greater retail value and a lower cost of feeding and raising, the breakeven purchase price was $0.50 a pound greater with these crossbreds compared to purebred Jersey steers.

Holstein beef crossbreds are also on the rise, but frame size needs to be taken into consideration. The Angus Association’s new dollar index for Holstein x Angus matings addresses this concern and will likely be used more by dairy producers moving forward.

Worth the effort?
While upfront purchase price may make feeding dairy bull calves an affordable option, the success of the end product is extremely dependent on the management and feeding skill of the cattleman. Fortunately, the growing movement of blending beef genetics into dairy herds is certainly making this easier and more profitable.