5 tips to create a successful beef on dairy programme

With increased instability within the dairy industry, more dairy producers are turning to beef to drive extra profits. But coming up with a successful beef on dairy program isn’t necessarily straightforward. There are several considerations farmers need to consider. Beef on dairy breeding decisions are based on factors such as:

–       The number of replacements needed

–       The economic value of the calves

–       The overall performance of the semen

The better the reproductive performance of the herd, the better the opportunity to use beef semen. After ensuring their replacement heifers for dairy production, dairy producers can use beef semen to breed beef cattle to be sold. Here are 5 key pillars to creating a successful beef on dairy program.

1. Genetics

Dairy farmers are already further ahead in using genomics for breeding. The jump that will need to be made is in understanding beef breeding terminology, and the characteristics that are important to the beef market, such as:

–       Yearling weight

–       Rib eye area

–       Carcase weight

–       Marbling

–       Calving ease

It is possible to use the same genetics provider that supplies dairy genetics, so long as they have a specific beef on dairy program. It’s crucial that the beef genetics provided aren’t “bottom of the tank” genetics or last chance bulls. A good beef genetics provider will be able to provide real fertility and calving experience data on dairy dams – conception rate, calving difficulty, stillbirth, and gestation length.

It’s also important to check that the breeds they are marketing fill a demand in the beef market. If they can connect you with a beef buyer for those breeds, that’ll give you the best assurance that you’ll be able to sell the calves for a good profit.

2.  Breed choice

To create valuable beef on dairy calves, it’s necessary to use breeds that are going to add muscle, add marbling and have growth and feed efficiency. That can’t be done just by looking at the cattle, it requires knowing and understanding the genomics that are available.

Choosing the right breed is partially market specific. Understanding what calf buyers are looking for is important, as well as checking on the niche market longevity for more auxiliary breeds. It’s also important to consider the current dairy breed on the farm. This will impact which beef breeds are most compatible. Holstein and Jersey’s present different opportunities in a beef cross and therefore the calves benefit from different sires/ breed.

The least disruption to the dairy operation is the goal. Hence, it’s helpful to look for a breed with similar gestation length, stillbirth, and calving ease as current dairy production, so maternity management is similar. Gestation targets of around 270 days are ideal. Wagyu and Limousin tend to have longer gestation periods. In this case, farmers would need to weigh up the potential financial gains from these breeds with the operational disruption.

3. Breeding to beef

A successful beef on dairy program produces replacement dairy heifers from the best performing dairy cows in the herd. Then, it uses the lowest performing cattle to breed to beef, removing their genetics from the herd and improving the genetic merit of the herd substantially faster.

Beef semen offers the best benefits when combined with the use of sexed semen on the top tier of the herd. Combining these tactics will ensure that the best genetics are used to create new heifers. When efficiency is key for dairy farmers, using Sexcel® sexed semen is a way to make sure the breeding process results in female calves early in the season, so that replacement healthy heifers are secured. 

Farmers can ensure genetic improvement by creating these female replacement heifer calves from the best dairy cows in the herd. They can focuse on the heifers with the best milk production, reproductive health, and fertility levels. Once replacements have been bred from the top performing heifers, farmers can then switch their focus to the lower performing cows and turn them to profit by breeding them to terminal traits. 

4. Price

It’s difficult to predict if the price of beef x dairy will hold. But currently, a dairy beef cross calf can be sold for around $100 more than a Holstein dairy calf. When you apply a beef on dairy strategy to your herd, you drive profit from cows that wouldn’t otherwise have been profitable. And by removing those genetics from your herd, your overall average performance and profitability rises.

Using Sexcel® sexed semen alongside Genus ABS’ NuEra Beef Genetics gives dairy farmers the best options for creating a successful, profitable dairy beef strategy. Sires are bred and ranked for their profitable traits such as fertility and calving ease. This is done by using our Real World Data (RWD) to ensure only the calves that meet our threshold for these traits are offered for NuEra Beef Genetics. Then still birth and gestation length RWD are added, to create the BeefAdvantage index. This gives dairy farmers the most reliable beef genetics to maximise calf value. 

5. Retaining value

It’s crucial to develop a good calf management plan to increase calf value directly post-birth. Understanding the criteria for beef on dairy animals is key to developing the right newborn calf care. Buyers are looking for healthy calves that have been fed high quality colostrum. Ideally, this is two standard 2l bottles within the first 4-6 hours of birth to achieve optimal passive transfer. Impacts the longevity of the calves and the first and second lactations. If a colostrum replacement is needed, be sure to use a replacement rather than a supplement. And also make sure the product is licensed.

Moving your new-borns to a dry, clean environment makes a difference too. When they move out of the maternal pen, make sure they are moved into an environment that is protected from the elements. Pay attention to naval care – use a 7% iodine tincture umbilical dip. This accelerates the drying process of the umbilical cord and prevents infection. All of this extra care in the first few days of the calf’s life is, of course, good for your calves. But it also has a positive reputational impact.

Starting a beef on dairy programme

For producers looking to breed dairy beef, genetics is the place to begin. Using Genus ABS’ NuEra Genetics gives the insights needed to understand your herd and the best sires to use with your herd. Our NuEra Beef Genetics sires are specifically created for dairy cows to maximise dairy and beef supply chain profitability.

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