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Selecting Beef Bulls for Dairy-Beef Crosses Not Easy

Jim Dickrell

As dairy farmers increase their herd pregnancy rates and use of sex-sorted semen, breeding the bottom end of the herd to beef bulls is becoming more common.

But determining which beef bulls to use for this purpose is no easy task since little data is yet available on how beef genetics work on dairy cattle.

“While it may be tempting to go straight to indexes for growth and carcass characteristics that are listed on [beef] pedigrees, caution should be taken when attempting to apply these indexes as a selection tool in beef sires used for dairy cows,” say Cheryl Ann Fairbairn, a beef cattle production and management Extension educator and Tara Felix, an Extension beef specialist. Both are with Pennsylvania State University.

“Terminal indexes are based on beef breeding programs only and research has not proven these indexes will correlate to beef on dairy carcasses,” they say.

The problem for dairy farmers run into with producing a terminal beef cross is that these cattle typically do not fit the “box” packers want. Beef packers have a box for native cattle and for Holstein steers. “The beef on dairy crosses are adding another genetic combination in the commodity beef system, creating a problem for the beef industry as it determines what to do wither these carcasses—what box they fit in,” they say.

“Unfortunately, the answer is not clear on this issue because research on the topic of beef on dairy cattle is limited,” say the specialists.

Do not fall for the fads that promote tons of marbling. “Rather, focus on the muscling and growth aspect of prospective sires so that your beef cross will have a better chance of fitting the beef box and contributing to the high-quality beef that consumers are looking for,” they say.

Some AI companies have done research on which bulls work best on Holstein genetics to produce a beef carcass. Consult your AI rep for information on the beef sires they have for such use, but don’t be afraid to ask for proof as to why they are promoting a specific bull, say the specialists.

“If you can get beef on dairy carcasses to resemble native breeds by selecting for high growth, carcass-type bulls, your calves will realize more value in the market. Making sound decisions, based on available data, will assist you in attaining buyer attention,” they say.



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