6 tips to integrate beef embryos into your dairy
The market for full beef calves from dairy farms has steadily increased in recent years, offering farmers a more profitable option than the traditional dairy-beef crossbred or straight-bred dairy calf markets.
Driving this trend are:
- Rising demand for high-quality beef
- Advances in genetics allowing dairy farmers to produce calves that meet demands for beef production and marketing
- Historically low beef cow inventory
“Beef embryos have huge potential to positively change the economics of a dairy farm by increasing calf value, maximizing return on investment and offering a consistent profit stream in addition to milk production,” says Brady Hicks, Simplot Animal Science manager. “However, adopting this reproductive tool oftentimes requires a shift in mindset, employee resources and animal marketing.”
Use these six considerations to help smooth the way for adopting a beef in dairy program.
1. Use embryos strategically
Embryos fit well in a strategic breeding program. On average, you can expect to achieve pregnancy rates similar to artificial insemination (A.I.), and sometimes even better. As with A.I., conception and loss rates can vary by farm and production or management systems.
Dairies adopting HerdFlex® beef embryos report:
- Conception rates similar to those for the herd’s A.I. performance
- Higher conception rates during the heat of summer
- Summer embryo conception rates for cows and heifers may increase as much as 15% above a herd’s AI performance
Heat-stressed cows often show an improvement in pregnancy rate with embryos over A.I. because the implanted embryo circumvents fertility-related challenges and starts with the placement of an already viable embryo.
2. Choose recipients carefully
Select the correct recipients to increase success. Selecting only first-, second- or third-lactation cows with no more than three services is recommended. Maintain a mandatory 70-day waiting period for dairy cows. Heifers are slightly better recipients than cows. Cows should be in adequate body condition; those with histories of reproductive problems or infertility are not good candidates for use as embryo transfer recipients. Anestrus cows result in much lower conception rates following synchronization.
3. Invest in training
Embryo transfer is an exacting procedure, so proper technician training and continuing education are essential. A combination of classroom sessions and hands-on training produces the best results.
Embryo transfer can be a more time-consuming process than insemination. Successful programs incorporate embryo transfer as part of their overall dairy management system to help avoid disruption to cows’ and people’s routines.
4. Choose sires to manage calving ease
Sire calving ease must be monitored and selected for when making all mating decisions, including the use of embryos.
You can and should analyze embryo sire selection before implantation. Proper pre-fresh cow management can help overcome concerns about calf size at birth. Dairies incorporating beef embryos correctly into their programs achieve birthweights similar to those of dairy breeds.
5. Follow accurate animal ID practices
Traceability back to the farm gate and early health and nutrition are important distinctions for these calves. These benefits are expected, valued and rewarded by the beef marketing chain.
Dairies are strongly encouraged to manage these full beef calves the same way they do replacement females, using health protocols and managing procedures that are already in place. No additional time or effort is necessary to manage beef calves. Simply identify, feed and care for these calves as you would dairy replacement animals.
6. Become a price maker, not a price taker
Carefully consider marketing options and develop a strategic plan to ensure the best sale price for your calves.
For example, local partnerships with restaurants or locker beef to end consumers could be a marketing pathway as these cattle possess high genetics and desired carcass/marbling traits. Marketing day-old calves, weanlings or feeders are further options to consider. Retaining ownership or entering into a marketing agreement with a cattle feeder are additional routes to explore that can lead to larger profits.
Dairies may receive a significant premium for full beef calves versus straight-bred dairy calves. However, these rewards are the result of deliberate marketing plans and the development of trusted relationships within the value chain. Ultimately, the right marketing plan is critical to getting the most out of your beef embryo investment.
To learn more about incorporating beef embryos into your dairy’s breeding program, visit HerdFlex.com.