Infusing beef genetics into a dairy operation 

Dairy producers can add value to their herd and more efficiently manage their herd inventory by breeding some of their females to a beef bull. Through the years dairy producers have worked on perfecting the art of producing replacements. 

The result in many cases is a surplus of heifers. Therefore, an option for dairy producers is to breed the females they do not want replacements out of to a beef bull. “The primary reason dairymen are using beef bulls is not necessarily to produce a beef animal, but to control inventory numbers,” Dr. Scott Poock, DVM, University of Missouri Extension Veterinarian, explained.  

Replacement Costs

Dairy producers utilizing beef genetics in their herds choose to create replacements from their elite cows and then breed their bottom end cows to a beef bull. This reduces the number of replacements produced and can lower overall replacement costs. 

“If I look at costs on a dairy, the biggest expense is always feed, next is labor and replacement costs. So, if I can produce just the replacements I need, I can save on replacement costs,” Poock said. “I have the ones I want and not the extra costs of raising all of them.”

Selection Criteria

The replacements that are not going to stay in the dairy herd have more value if they are half beef compared to a straight dairy bull or heifer.  Dairy producers can add even more value by selecting the right type of beef bull. 

“What we know is that you just don’t want to use any beef bull,” Poock explained. “The beef industry, the feedlot and the packer want a specific type of animal. The industry has responded and there are several companies that are producing bulls specifically for this market.”

The ideal beef bull to use in a dairy herd is one that is homozygous black, homozygous polled and possesses good calving ease. Additionally, attention to carcass traits is important. The bull should have good growth numbers but not too high in order to keep the offspring from having too long of a carcass. 

Dairy cattle, for the most part, marble well so that is not as much of a factor. However, the size and shape of the beef bull’s ribeye is a significant factor to consider. Dairy cattle have more of an oblong shaped ribeye compared to a rounded ribeye in beef cattle. “The processing plants can quickly tell a dairy versus a beef because of the shape of the ribeye. So, when picking these bulls, the ribeye area is a big concern,” Poock added. 

Dairy and Beef Cross Females

The majority of females produced as a result of a dairy cow and beef bull cross do not become replacement females in beef producers’ herds. Though the dairy and beef cross females have the potential to be good momma cows, the downside is they produce a lot of milk. 

“They are going to produce so much milk that maybe they don’t get pregnant again,” Poock said. 

There are some of the dairy and beef cross heifers that make it into beef herds. But most go to the feedlot, bringing dairy producers more revenue than a straight dairy animal. 

The two main reasons dairy producers choose to infuse beef into part of their herd are inventory management and added revenue. 


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