For dairy-beef crossbred animals to retain the value that dairy farmers benefit from, the backgrounders and feedlots that feed them out must know how to fit these animals into their systems and help them reach their maximum potential. Due to their dairy genetic influence and the environment they are born into, these calves often have different needs than native beef cattle.

During an Oklahoma State University Extension beef-on-dairy webinar, graduate student Ally Grote discussed two studies she has carried out to analyze how postweaned dairy-beef animals respond to beef production systems. Most of the previous research in this area has been carried out in younger calves, she noted.

One experiment compared dairy-beef steers on pasture for five to six months before entering a feedlot to crossbred steers that entered straight into a feedlot. Grazing for a period before finishing animals in a feedlot saves on feed costs and labor, particularly because dairy-beef animals often arrive to a feeder at an earlier age than native beef animals.

Of course, grazing also takes time. In her study, Grote explained that the grazed animals were 80 days older when they were shipped to slaughter because they came into the feedlot older. However, those animals also spent 144 fewer days on feed in the lot and were 70 pounds heavier at shipping. From the time they entered the feedlot to the time they received their terminal implant, the grazed animals achieved an average daily gain (ADG) of 4.2 pounds, while the straight feedlot group gained 3.4 pounds. Throughout the entire time they were at the facility, grazed animals gained 4.1 pounds per day, and the feedlot animals gained 3.4 pounds.

After slaughter, the grazed animals had a higher hot carcass weight (896 pounds versus 865 pounds) and a slightly bigger rib-eye area (14.2 square inches versus 13.9 square inches). Grote also pointed out that when the meat was graded, more of the straight feedlot steers fell into both the lowest (Select) and highest (Prime) categories. Dairy-beef meat was more consistent and had the most cuts graded in the middle as Choice.

There are challenges with grazing dairy-beef animals as their dairy-influenced environment before arriving at a feedlot may mean they have not been housed in a group before or spent much time outside or on a pasture. Grote recognized that getting these animals used to fencing and water troughs and selecting the right forages to graze is a critical piece of helping them succeed.

They can compensate, too

Another study addressed the industry perspective that dairy-beef animals struggle to gain compensatory weight after being on pasture, Grote explained. They monitored 75 native cattle and 75 dairy-beef animals as they received a growth supplement in the feedlot after being started on grass.

While the dairy-beef animals were lighter at the conclusion of the experiment, they had numerically caught up to the native beef cattle by 87 days, Grote said. The native beef animals averaged 4 pounds of gain per day in the feedlot, while the dairy-beef animals neared 5 pounds. They achieved 115% compensatory gain, where with native beef, Grote said you would expect 60% to 80%.

“The conventional wisdom that dairy-beef don’t compensate is wrong,” she summarized while adding that there were no differences in the morbidity or mortality rates between the dairy-beef and native beef animals.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
June 24, 2024
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