By tara L. Felix and Bailey Basiel
In 2019, almost 6 million units of beef semen were sold in the United States, which is 44% more than what was sold in 2018 (Hoard’s Dairyman, 2020). Over the last two years, beef semen sales have increased by 128% (Hoard’s Dairyman, 2020). During the same period, there has been a decrease in dairy semen sales; therefore, the boom in beef semen sales has been primarily attributed to beef on dairy matings.
Mating dairy cows to beef bulls is not a new concept. Anecdotally, you may have heard of a dairy farmer using beef semen on a tough breeder they were not ready to part ways with. While there is no evidence that beef semen results in higher conception than conventional dairy semen, beef on dairy matings have been increasing popularity for other reasons. Crossbred beef calves have realized a better sale value than their Holstein counterparts in some areas. In addition, by mating cows with the least genetic merit in the herd to beef and sourcing replacement heifers from the best cows in the herd, dairy farmers are advancing genetic improvement in their herds.
As beef semen sales continue to increase, some dairy and beef associations have joined forces to market specific beef breeds, or sires, to dairy producers. In addition, many genetics companies have jumped on the opportunity to market their beef bulls to dairy producers. However, as these crossbreds go to market, packers have been disappointed with the inconsistencies of the beef x dairy crossbred carcasses. Just because these crossbred cattle are all black does not mean they fit the expectations in the packing house. Despite good marketing, more research is needed to determine how beef x dairy crosses can meet the mark. Penn State is currently trying to generate some of that research with funding from the USDA Critical Agricultural Research and Extension (CARE) program.
Penn State has completed the first year of the 3-year trial investigating the optimal genetics and nutrition for F1 beef x Holstein crossbreds. This research is being conducted at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Evaluation Center (LEC) in Pennsylvania Furnace with additional support from JBS and Premier Select Sires. In 2020, about 90 days prior to arrival at the LEC, steers were vaccinated and implanted with Revalor-G and grown on a grain-based diet at a commercial farm. After the initial grow out, the 27 beef x Holstein crossbred steers and 20 Holstein steers were brought to the LEC and fed for 111 days, from April to August. Ages of the steers varied - crossbreds were born between January and June of 2019 while Holsteins were born between March and June of the same year - due to the purchase of commercially available cattle. The initial weight of the crossbred steers entering the LEC ranged from 743 to 1129 lbs with an average of 960 ± 96 lbs while Holsteins ranged from 729 to 1082 lbs for an average of 881 ± 86 lbs.
Daily feed intake was recorded using the GrowSafe Feed Intake Monitoring System for the individuals in both groups. The diet contained corn silage, dried distillers grains, soybean meal, and cracked corn and was formulated to a 63 Mcal NEg to meet or exceed the requirements of beef cattle. Initial and final weights are reported as a 2-day average body weight at the beginning and end of the LEC feeding period, respectively. Average daily gain was calculated as the difference between final and initial average body weight divided by the total days on feed, 111 days.
Growth and carcass performance
Regardless of breed, steers gained an average of 4.3 lbs per day (Table 1). However, crossbreds consumed more feed than the Holsteins, with an average intake of 25.4 lbs of dry matter (40 lbs as-fed) compared to 24 lbs of dry matter (38 lbs as-fed) by the Holsteins. Despite this difference, feed efficiency was not different at about 6 lbs of feed intake for each lb gained in both groups. Average backfat thickness for the crossbred steers was 0.34 inches while Holsteins averaged 0.25 inches. Crossbreds also had a greater rib eye area, at 14.2 in, when compared to the Holsteins, at 11.8 in.
Table 1: Growth and performance of crossbreed and Holstein steers.
|Initial body weight, lbs||960||881||*|
Final body weight, lbs
|Average daily gain, lbs||4.30||4.27|| |
|Dry matter intake, lbs/day||25.4||24.||*|
|Feed efficiency, lbs feed/lbs gain||5.95||5.64|| |
|Hot carcass weight, lbs||840||756||*|
|Back fat, in||0.34||0.25||*|
|Rib eye area, in2||14.2||11.8||*|
1* denotes a statistically significant (p < 0.05) difference between beef x dairy crossbreds and Holsteins for the given trait.
While the group represents only a small sample size, the crossbreds graded more consistently than the Holstein steers (Table 2). While 75% of the beef x dairy crossbreds graded choice or above, only 35% of the purebred Holsteins graded choice or above. While there are several factors that may have influenced these differences, chief among them may be age. On average, the Holsteins were 5 to 6 months younger than the crossbred steers. More data are necessary to validate these observations in USDA Quality Grade between the crossbred and Holstein cattle.
Table 2: USDA Quality and Yield Grade assigned as proportion of breed groups.
|USDA Quality Grade, %|| || |
|USDA Yield Grade, %|| || |
Despite the increased consistency in quality grade, crossbred steers had more yield variation than the Holsteins (Table 2). While most of the beef x dairy crossbreds had a USDA Yield Grade of 2 or 3, the majority (75%) of the Holstein carcasses achieved USDA Yield Grade 2. The difference in yield grades between the two groups was consistent with the thicker backfat observed in the crossbred carcasses. Again, part of the variability in crossbred yield scores may be due to the wider age range than that of the Holsteins. The older crossbreds may have had more time to deposit fat.
It is important to recall that the growth and performance data are from a small sample of steers. When data is collected from additional cattle, better recommendations on genetic and nutritional management can be made regarding beef x Holstein crossbreeding.
This research will continue for the next 3 years at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Evaluation Center. Over the summer of 2020, 92 crossbred calves were procured at birth and are being commercially grown in anticipation of their arrival at the LEC in April 2021. In addition, thanks to the generous support of Premier Select Sires and participating dairy farms throughout the state, 900 units of semen have gone into dairy cows around Pennsylvania to generate steers of known genetic merit for 2022. As additional data are added to this set, Penn State researchers hope to have better recommendations for dairy farmers choosing to use beef semen in their Holstein cows.
This work is supported by Critical Agricultural Research and Extension (CARE) [grant no. 2020-68008-31411] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.Source : psu.edu