May 21, 2024

Beef-dairy cross steers add value for producers

Melanie Pimentel-Concepcion

DUBUQUE, Iowa — Dairymen are using more beef semen for breeding their cows to add value to the calves.

“From 2017 to 2022, beef semen sales increased by around 5 million units and dairy semen sales decreased by 6.2 million units,” said Melanie Pimentel-Concepcion, graduate student at Michigan State University.

“Based on that data, CattleFax estimated the beef-on-dairy calf crop in the U.S. increased by around 7%,” said Pimentel-Concepcion during a presentation at the Driftless Region Beef Conference, presented by University of Illinois Extension, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and University of Wisconsin Extension.

“By 2026, the estimate is we will see this increase to 45 million head, or 15% of the fed slaughter,” she said. “However, packer demand is questionable for the crossbreds because we don’t know if they will be more dairy or beef type, so we don’t know what their carcass value might be.”

Therefore, the graduate student decided to evaluate and compare finishing performance, carcass traits and the economics of beef on Holstein cross steers to Holstein steers.

For the study, the calves came from one Michigan calf raiser who sourced the calves from multiple dairies.

The calves were 4 months old and weighed around 430 pounds. Sixty calves from each group were placed into 20 pens with six steers per pen.

“Since the steers were at the feedlot at such an young age, we fed them a starter diet until day 21 of the study and then transitioned them to a common finishing diet composed of high moisture corn, corn silage, dried distillers grains with solubles and supplements,” Pimentel-Concepcion said.

“We weighed the steers every 28 days to get a better understanding of their growth and we implanted them on day 56 and 140,” she said.

The steers were given ultrasounds to get an idea of when they would be ready for harvest. On day 245, the beef-on-Holstein crossbreds went to slaughter, the Holstein steers were harvested on day 266 and carcass data was collected on all the steers.

“To finish them on a similar basis, we decided to use empty body fat and we targeted 30%,” Pimentel-Concepcion said. “We used an equation that took into account ultrasound measurements of fat thickness, ribeye area, quality grade and hot carcass weight.”

As expected, the graduate student said, the Holstein steers were on trial 21 days longer than the beef-on-Holstein cross steers.

“The average daily gain was greater for the beef-on-dairy cross steers, but the dry matter intake in pounds per day was not different between them,” Pimentel-Concepcion said.

“Because the Holsteins were on trial longer, they ate more than the crosses,” she said. “The final weight tended to be greater for the Holsteins because they stayed on feed longer so they kept growing and eating.”

The hot carcass weight was similar for the two groups of steers and the dressing percentage was not statistically different, the graduate student reported.

“However, the crosses had almost a 1% greater dressing percentage,” she said. “The average we see for beef cattle is around 63% and it was 59% for the beef-on-Holstein cross steers.”

For ribeye area, the beef on Holstein crosses had almost a 20% greater ribeye area, which resulted in a lower yield grade.

“That shows how much muscular they were and the crosses had more fat thickness, but the marbling score was not different,” Pimentel-Concepcion said.

“The Holstein ribeyes are more triangular with a flat shape and the ribeyes for the crosses have a more round shape, so you can see the differences not only in the animal, but also in their ribeyes,” she said.

For the economics of the project, Pimentel-Concepcion said, the purchase cost of the beef-on-Holstein cross calves was $310 per calf greater on average than the Holstein calves.

“Because the Holsteins stayed on trial 21 days longer than the crosses, their feed cost was $100 greater,” she said. “Overall, the cost for the crosses was 7 cents per pound lower than the Holsteins.”

When the researchers priced the carcasses, the Holsteins were priced as a dairy-type animal and four pricing scenarios were used for the beef-on-Holstein cross steers.

“All the carcasses received premiums and discounts for yield grade, quality grade and if they went over or under the hot carcass weight,” Pimentel-Concepcion said.

“To add more value to the crosses, they need to have a more beef-type conformation, which is why you need to be intentional about the selection criteria,” she said.

“The breakeven feeder calf value was greater for the crosses on all the scenarios compared to the Holsteins so these crosses can add more value to your operation,” the graduate student said. “The crosses were $102 to $173 per calf more than the Holsteins.”

Overall, Pimentel-Concepcion said, the beef on Holstein cross steers had a lower cost of gain, a greater carcass value and higher breakeven compared to the Holstein steers.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor