The triple play of sexed semen, genomic tests, and beef semen on dairy cows is earning all-star honors as a replacement management strategy on many of our dairy farms. One doesn’t have to look further than record beef semen sales and the one million genomic tests run on dairy cattle in the past eleven months for further proof.
This triple play was born when sexed semen happened upon the scene. Armed with the ability to create more replacements from the farm’s best genetics, virgin heifers have been bred to sexed semen in droves. Having smaller heifer calves born from these first-time calvers was an added bonus as many a burly bull calf has ruined a once promising herd replacement.
Raising replacement calves to full grown herdmates is an expensive endeavor. Genomic testing arrived in 2008, and dairy farmers began using the DNA-based science to sort through the heifer crop as if culling bad cards from a poker hand. The strategy has caught on so widescale that two million of the nation’s six million genomic tests were run in the past 23 months.
Given this newfound ability to learn 70% or more of a heifer’s genetic potential via a DNA test while it is still drinking milk, farmers began to realize that a group of cows could be bred to beef semen because they just didn’t need that many replacements. The strategy ultimately creates calves destined for instant careers in the beef sector.
It took some time for this strategy to unfold even though sexed semen was commercialized in 2003 and genomic testing came along five years later. During this window, and through 2013, beef semen sales hovered between one and two million units, according to sales data from the National Association of Animal Breeders (NAAB). In 2014, domestic beef semen sales pushed past two million units.
However, the rocket-like ascent soared to the skies in 2018, when beef semen passed four million units; 2019, 5.8 million units; 2020, 7.2 million units; and 2021, 8.7 million units. While we don’t know exactly how many units of beef semen are going into dairy cattle, we are unaware of any movement to corral beef cows on Western ranches and artificially inseminate those animals.
This seismic turn of events could very well hold back the growth potential for milk production. It’s pretty hard to chase record milk prices by purchasing calving dairy heifers when those inventories are at a 16-year low.