In the early AI days, 1950s and 1960s, before the generation that expanded from stancion barns to open corrals and milking parlors, it was a typical breeding practice to service yearling heifers with beef bulls.
The reasons: heifers were in surplus. No one needed more heifers per year than their cows produced.
Matured cows gave more milk than first calf heifers, so dairymen tried to keep old cow numbers higher.
Deacon beef calves brought a premium price over deacon dairy calves, a valued second income.
The herd expansion years of the 1970s and the cattle export years of the 1980s changed this greatly, as a market developed for all the dairy heifers we could raise. These decades corresponded with the ascent of “index” philosophies in genetic selection, seeking faster maturing milk production and adaptation to a corn-based ensiled feeding regimen. An unintended consequence of this was losses in cow fertility that took another decade to identify as genetic in origin (industry blamed hotter feeds, higher production and younger cow ages until large numbers of dairymen just abandoned purebreds for dairy crossbreeding).
Now we have processor choppers, TMR feeding concepts returning fiber to cow rations, also Ov-Synch reproduction and Gender-selected semen to keep cows bred and heifers coming. Finally, we have this Genomic testing to tell us earlier in an animal’s life if they possess the genetic background to compete.
So we are back to breeding dairy cows to beef bulls…
It is the same scenario (create second commodity income streams) but applied differently, as everyone now wants to milk first calf heifers, and any cow who remains productive into maturity is nonetheless assumed “genetically obsolete” (although they milk 30% more than heifers)-- so get bred to beef bulls.
Meanwhile, we are to Genomic test every heifer (approx $50 cost) and breed the “better ranked half” to elite sexed semen (approx $100+ cost) to produce the majority of future heifers from the latest genetics.
The “lesser half” we are supposed to sell to unconcerned heifer growers for sale barn replacements.
Applied technology is producing all the dairy heifers the industry needs to meet milk consumption, but at a cost that may now be $300 greater than the cow auction market recovers. Breeding less desirable cows to beef sires to create premium market calves, and only raising the dairy heifers you expect to need from your most profitable cows will have a positive effect on your cashflows.