Day-old Jersey bull calves aren’t worth a lot, but if you add some beef genetics, their value can increase tenfold.
Purebred Limousin cattle helped put Wulf Cattle on the map in the 1970s. Since 1995, Wulf Cattle has been partnering with Riverview LLP, a neighboring dairy and crop operation in Morris, Minn.
With that partnership came the idea of adding value to the Jersey bull calves that were raised by Riverview. It led to an interesting cross between Jersey and Limousin to create a calf that gains well in the feedlot and grades better in the packing plant.
Jerry Wulf, president of Wulf Cattle, shared his experience breeding, buying and feeding Limousin-Jersey cross calves during a recent seminar at World Dairy Expo.
In the past 18 years, the U.S. has lost 6.3 million beef cows. That is the equivalent of losing two-thirds of the dairy cow herd. It means the beef supply is short, while global red meat demand has been high.
Those losses have led to more bunk space needing to be filled in feedlots and fewer packing plants running at capacity. “If we can pull more high-quality beef cattle out of the dairy supply, that is going to be a win-win,” Wulf says.
In the summer of 2010, Jersey cows at the Riverview dairies were AI’d to Limousin bulls. The resulting calf was called a Beef Builder, and a study was conducted with the University of Minnesota to see how the animals would perform.
The research showed average daily gain almost doubled for the Beef Builders compared to a straight Jersey steer. On the rail, Beef Builder calves had a 192 lb. advantage in hot carcass weight and nearly a 3" increase in ribeye area.
“We’ve been feeding these Limousin-dairy cross cattle now for over three years. They are very predictable and consistent,” Wulf says. He adds the extensive use of AI in the dairy industry has led to a narrow genetic base that is uniform and makes it easy to forecast performance.
Before the first calves started hitting the ground in March 2011, there was concern about the impact Limousin genetics would have on calving ease. The results were a pleasant surprise. The first 6,000 calves averaged 78.7 lb. at birth, and 98.8% of births went unassisted.
As part of Wulf Cattle’s program, Breeding To Feeding, calves are bought back from producers who buy bulls or breed with semen from the program. It adds up to 60,000 fed cattle marketings per year through the Wulf Cattle feedlots. Beef-dairy crosses make up 25% of the fed cattle capacity at the yards.
“I can drive some pretty astute cattlemen past my pens of Beef Builders, and if I didn’t tell them they were out of Jersey cows, they would never guess it,” Wulf says.
Several companies are selling semen from Limousin bulls under the Breeding To Feeding program. Wulf Cattle has purchased back those Beef Builder calves back at a competitive price.
Traditionally, day-old Jersey bull calves have been sold for low prices. Wulf has recently seen calves sold for $30 or less, but when adding Limousin, the price goes up significantly.
Through Wulf Cattle’s buyback program, Jersey-Limousin bull calves were purchased for $325 apiece as of Sept. 21. The market topped off earlier this summer at $500 per bull calf on June 1.
Holstein bull calves are bought cheaper than beef cattle for several reasons such as poor feed conversion and undesirable carcass traits.
The discounts on straight-bred dairy cattle are passed down when the calf makes it to a packer, too. Fed Holstein calves start with a $6 cwt discount compared to beef counterparts when it is time to enter the processing plant.
Wulf Cattle has been working on determining what an optimal cross would be for Holsteins. Along with Limousin sires, Wulf Cattle’s bull supply includes purebred Angus and LimFlex—a cross between Limousin and Angus.
Angus bulls have been used on Holstein cows before, but the outcross hasn’t been that great, Wulf says. He thinks using a LimFlex bull with a 75% Limousin and 25% Angus heritage might be the best terminal cross, but more research similar to the Breeding To Feeding program will need to be done.
Sustainability is another reason to look at breeding with beef genetics. The increased efficiency from the heterosis witnessed in a dairy-beef crossbred helps put less strain on limited land and feed resources by speeding up the time it takes for a calf to go from pasture to plate.
A dairy producer could implement a beef breeding program by AI-ing top producing females with sexed dairy semen, and then using beef semen on lower production cows. Recent advancements in genomic testing could help determine which females should be bred to the higher priced dairy semen.
Riverview’s breeding program currently involves three services with sexed heifer dairy semen followed by breeding to Wulf Cattle’s beef semen.
“We see this whole program as being really sustainable. As we move forward in the next decades, more of our beef is going to come from dairy cattle,” Wulf says.