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With the current state of the dairy industry many producers are looking to earn extra money by selling animals into the beef market. However, it is important to remember that not all animals are created equally. It is important to spend some time selecting either the beef bull or beef semen you are going to breed to, if you want to get the most out of your investment.

The goal of a dairy-on-beef breeding system is to make a dairy calf look as much like a beef calf as possible. This is not a new concept, producers have bred to beef for a number of reasons in the past. However, the goal in the past was to end up with a lactating dairy animal, and the value of the calf was not of primary concern.

With a difference in goals there should also be a different mindset utilized when selecting the bull you are breeding to.

Generally speaking with a beef-on-dairy breeding system the less valued cows and heifers are being bred to beef. This is because we do not want to keep the genetics of these animals in the herd, but we do want to keep the dam’s milk production in the bulk tank. First-calf heifers and repeat breeders are also candidates to breed to beef. 

When breeding to a beef bull we are trying to eliminate the dairy looking head, add muscle to the rear end, and eliminate the black and white, or brown hide of the dairy animal.

Beef breeds that have been utilized to accomplish this goal are: Angus, Limousin, LimFlex, Simangus, and Wagyu. While Angus it the predominant breed used, because of the Black Angus brand it is important to note that Holstein-Angus crosses often develop more dairy characteristics as they age.

Working with a bull stud to select beef semen that is right for you is advantageous.  Several bull studs have developed marketing programs that allow participants to capitalize on higher market values.

The programs have identified bulls that should be used when breeding to dairy. The marketing program usually includes the use of special tags that indicate the calf is part of the specific program, and that certain protocols and procedures have been followed.

It is important to keep in mind that you want to select a bull that has fast growth rate, good muscling and increased ribeye area. In order to select a bull that fits these criteria it is important to understand how to read the sire summary books. 

While dairy bulls are ranked using Predicted Transmitting Ability or PTA scores, beef bulls are ranked on Expected Progeny Differences. These values tell you the degree of difference between the progeny of the bull you are looking at and the progeny of the average bull of the breed.

For example if a bull has an EPD for yearling weight of +65 then his progeny should average 65 lbs. more at 365-days of age then the progeny of the average bull of the breed.  A large number is not always better, it depends on the trait you are looking at.  Therefore, it is important to understand what each number is really telling you.

Realizing that breeding dairy to beef can improve your herd’s profitability is critical.  However, also realizing that breeding dairy to beef is not a good way to transition your herd to beef is just as critical.

If you are thinking of exiting the dairy industry and switching to a beef operation it is best to sell all of your dairy animals and buy beef animals. Work with your bull stud to make sure you are maximizing your profits and breeding to bulls that will give you the “beefiest” looking dairy-beef animals.

Schlesser is the dairy agent for Marathon County University of Wisconsin-Extension

 

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