Breeding low-enders to beef bulls a win-win
Breeding your low-end genetic potential cows to proven AI beef bulls offers the rare opportunity to save costs and improve revenues.
You save dollars by turning over slots in your heifer raising facility quicker and at higher rates of gain. And you gain $150 per head more revenue for animals bred specifically for the beef feedlot.
There are a number of reasons why breeding your low-end cows to beef bulls now makes sense, say Don Niles, a Casco, Wis., dairy producer, and Tim Timmons, marketing manager for ABS Global’s INFOCUS genetic management system for the production of premium beef.
"We’re doing a better job of keeping every calf alive," Niles says. In the past, dairy producers had to raise every heifer calf they could because of low cow pregnancy rates and high rates of calf mortality—both at birth and through rearing.
That’s just not true anymore. "Now we can make the choice of which calves we raise," he says.
There’s now a $600 per head rearing gap between the cost of raising a heifer to calving ($1,800) to the cost of purchasing a replacement ($1,200). If you find yourself short of replacements, it’s often cheaper to buy them than raise them.
The market has strengthened considerably for cross-bred dairy beef steers. Over the past three years, with the decline in beef cow numbers due to the drought and high feed prices, the beef calf crop has declined by a total of 1.7 million calves, Timmons says.
"This void is something you can leverage to your advantage," he says.
Because of their better rate of gain and carcass quality, dairy beef steers command a 40¢ per pound and $150 per head premium when they enter a beef feedlot at 400 lb. That’s particularly true if the feedlot knows the beef sire of individual animal, Timmons says.
When exploring the dairy-beef option, you’ll need to answer three questions.
1. Which cows? Niles ranks his 3,000 cows and 3,000 replacements on his own productivity index, which emphasizes protein, butterfat and reproductive performance. The rankings are based on sire and maternal grand sire.
"The bottom end of the milking herd is at a disadvantage and will never catch up with the top performers," he says. So the bottom 10% of his list are candidates for beef semen.
2. Which bulls? It’s a myth that every Angus bull will give you calving ease and every Charolais bull will be a disaster, Timmons says. There is a wide range of performance.
"Using generic products will result in generic results, which can be all over the board," he says. The key is to use AI-proven bulls.
3. Which markets? For years, dairy producers who bred to beef bulls were simply selling beef and not marketing it. By using proven bulls and then teaming up with a feedlot, which then tracks performance, you can establish a track record. That feedlot owner will more likely be willing to pay a premium because of the performance advantage, Timmons says.