Dairy-beef crosses are not the same as native beef animals, emphasized Casey Maxwell of Cactus Feeders. But that doesn’t mean they do not add value to the beef supply chain.

Maxwell, a nutritionist with the Texas-based feedlot business, described how dairy-beef animals have performed in their system during an Oklahoma State University Extension beef-on-dairy webinar. The first benefit is that they are available; Cactus Feeders operates 10 feedyards in Texas and Kansas and ships 20,000 head of cattle every week. They must procure animals to refill those feedbunk spots, Maxwell noted.

They began feeding dairy-beef animals in 2019 and have had a range of performances. Maxwell outlined both benefits and some challenges they have worked through, explaining that the most critical piece of success with these animals is being able to accurately project their value. “As you feed them, it’s important to understand the genetics so you can value them appropriately,” he continued, recognizing there are differences between dairy-beef crosses from Holstein and Jersey dams. A half-Jersey calf still has value; it is just different, he said.

There are also many genetic programs dairy farmers use to create dairy-beef crosses, and Maxwell said it is valuable for them to know that so they have some background on the animal. Still, he admitted that it is difficult to get that information.

A dairy-beef animal’s value also depends significantly on the age and weight at which the feeder receives them. It helps for feeders to be aware of the prior care an animal received, Maxwell said, especially because they are often bringing these animals in at 150 to 180 days old when they don’t have much immunity developed. This is younger than the age they bring in native beef animals. Maxwell said they aim to get dairy-beef calves to 400 pounds before they start pushing them for gain.

Providing carcass value

Cactus Feeders has now collected data on several thousand head of dairy-beef animals that have gone through their pens, and Maxwell highlighted their ability to grow and to grade.

In one of their feedlots, they conducted a study of more than 2,500 Holstein-Angus steers. At 204 days on feed, the steers were randomized to be on feed for a total of 326, 347, or 368 days. The final weights for those animals were 1,559 pounds, 1,608 pounds, and 1,638 pounds, respectively. “These steers, they just keep growing,” Maxwell said.

A similar trial of dairy-beef heifers produced the same linear trend. There is a heavyweight discount to discourage very large animals, Maxwell noted, but the genetic potential to gain is there. They usually feed dairy-beef animals for 320 days and finish them at a weight around 1,470 pounds. With an in-weight of about 435 pounds on average, dairy-beef crosses gain roughly 3.15 pounds a day.

“One of the big benefits of the dairy crosses is their ability to grade,” Maxwell continued. They usually see at least 80% of animals grade Choice or better. Quality grade is a driver of the animal’s value, he stated.

The influence of the beef genetics has done a great job improving what was the biggest challenge with straight Holstein steers — rib-eye weight. “We’ve really done a good job of improving the muscling in these cattle,” Maxwell further described, noting that the crossbreds now have rib eyes similar to native beef cattle.

As they raise these animals, Maxwell recognized that their team must take some extra effort to train them to the feedbunk, manage rations properly to help limit sorting, and control heat stress. They have experimented with grazing animals before finishing them in the feedyard, and the dairy-beef animals need extra attention to learn that behavior, he added.

Overall, he recognized the value these animals bring to the business and said that with the right genetics, they can make large quantities of high-quality meat. “I do think these cattle are here to stay,” Maxwell summarized.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
April 29, 2024
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