But Steers Don’t Milk …

March 21, 2014 10:47 PM
dillon sparks

Dillon Sparks

Sparks Ranch, Hennepin, Okla.

A breeding system that uses a terminal sire to produce feeder steers and heifers can be effective and profitable. Great strides have been made within each breed to develop EPDs that give ranchers tools to select bulls and females that will hit the desired targets in a terminal system.

These terminal sire traits include rapid growth, marbling, muscling, cutability and feed efficiency, depending on the endpoint and method of sale. Most other traits are ignored because no daughters will be kept, and those traits offer no direct value for feeders. However, there might be one trait overlooked in terminal sires that can make the difference in your bottom line—milk production, even though steers don’t milk.

Got milk? In my November 2013 column, I addressed the inefficiency of milk production in a cow herd. Higher milking cows have larger visceral organ mass to support their increased production. For the cow to maintain her bodily functions and produce high levels of milk, it requires more energy year-round, whether the cow is in lactation or not.

Why does this matter if you’re not keeping replacement heifers? The answer is simple. Heifers, steers and bulls out of higher milking cows require more energy to maintain body weight and have decreased feed effici­ency than those out of lower milking cows.


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Milk production studies

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) study compares three groups of cows of similar size and growth rate but different levels of milk production (low, medium and high). The 494 calves out of these cows were fed to a common endpoint based on marbling. Energy requirements for calves in the high and medium milking groups were 11% more than calves in the low milk group.

Another study at UNL was conducted in similar fashion with three groups of low, medium and high milk-producing cows. After weaning, calves from each group were placed in an intensive or extensive growing-finishing production system. Steer calves from lower milking cows had significantly better feed efficiency in the intensive (7%) and extensive systems (5%) than calves from the high and medium milking groups.

What matters. Whether you’re selecting bulls to produce calves that will hit a grid target or to produce heifers that will bring a calf to the pens every year in rough country, not every EPD will matter. Milk production does, though. Steers don’t produce milk, but they do carry the genetics of the milk production of their ancestors all the way to the feed bunk. If you use high-milking terminal bulls, you might decrease the steers’ feed effi­ciency, all while increasing your feed bill. By selecting bulls with the high milk EPDs, you could be chasing dollars out of your pocket—and that’s what matters.

steer chart

Dillon Sparks of Sparks Ranch in Hennepin, Okla. is:

  • The 4th generation on the ranch, founded in 1921
  • Ranches with his parents, John and M.J.
  • Originally a Hereford operation but now uses Hereford, Angus and Charolais genetics
  • 10,000 acres in the Arbuckle Mountains

Contact Dillon:

Email: dillonsparksranch@gmail.com

Twitter: #SparksRanch


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