CONCEPTIONS Beef Cow-calf route newsletter March-April 2020
Individual national dairy AI marketing systems are reporting gains of a million or more straws of beef semen sold per year the last two years—to “dairy” herds!!
Does this help you financially? Not at all – unless you have semen collected on a bull that any neighborhood dairy herds will buy from you.
They are not buying elite breeding quality bull semen: they are mostly buying “calving ease” Angus at more commercial level prices. The calves born mostly go to the deacon sale rings, bull or heifer. Someone buys them to feed up to feeder size, then they enter that market, possibly competing with beef-breed feeder steers you have raised to sell.
In a recent issue of Progressive Dairyman magazine, Dr Dan Schaefer, professor of Animal Science at University of Wisconsin, challenged this trend, based upon research he has been doing since 1982 on fed Holstein steers. He says Holstein steers make up 14% of the fed beef supply, and provide 33% of the USDA-graded “Prime” carcasses in the USA. He thinks packers wish to stay with Holstein steers for now… due to their predictability.
Yes, as we already know from crossbreeding to create composite and club-calf cattle, you may not get uniform results (he calls it “predictable” lots of cattle) desired by packers from Holstein x Beef breed crosses. But does the fault of this lie with the “beef” side of the cross? Never said in the article, nevertheless the tone of his comments implies it.
As a dairy-trained animal scientist, he may be struggling with the economics that have driven dairymen to use beef semen in quantity. (I was on a dairy in NE Indiana recently that breeds ALL his cows to Beef bulls, due to lack of space and labor to raise replacements, intending to take advantage of the currently depressed market values for springing dairy cows should he need to replace any of his current milking herd.) The promotion of sexed semen for dairy heifer inseminations has created a glut of dairy heifers in many herds and depressed the sale market for replacements. Some find their way into the kill pens to be sold for beef, beyond the usual flow of culled dairy cows, and may compete with fed beef.
Can a Holstein x Beef cross compete with straight Holstein fed steers? Of course—as many of you already know from individual experience. The dairy industry has a different concept for “feeding efficiency” than the beef industry, equating growth rate and frame size with success. The percentage of “prime” grade Holstein steers he quotes is dependent on full-corn feeding for over half their life, and is based upon a layer of white fat external to the muscle tissue that consumers increasingly tend to trim off before broiling (a waste of resources and an additional cost to the consumer). The majority of beef eaters today are quite satisfied with a “choice” grade, preferring intermuscular marbling over outside fat layers. In this our market grading system is due for some revision—especially as it views the “grassfed” carcass from breeds and cross combinations that are selling for a strong premium over commercial auction chain beef.