Beef On Dairy: A Producer’s Perspective
Availability of technology and need for economic return drive beef-on-dairy trend.
DES MOINES, Iowa (June 22, 2021) — It’s not a new phenomenon. For many years, some dairymen have used beef bulls to breed their cows by artificial insemination (AI) or natural service. However, use of “beef on dairy” has increased dramatically in recent years. Reportedly, 2020 saw nearly 5 million units of beef semen sold for use in U.S. dairy herds. That’s more units than were used in beef cows domestically.
Sharing a dairyman’s perspective regarding the growth of beef on dairy, Larry Boadwine of Boadwine Farms Inc. spoke to an audience gathered for the National Association of Animal Breeders (NAAB) Symposium, hosted in conjunction with the 2021 Beef Improvement Federation Convention in Des Moines, Iowa. According to Boadwine, increased use of beef bulls on dairy cows is driven by the availability of technology and the need for improved economic return.
Boadwine shared his own experience of growing his Baltic, S.D., operation from 42 cows in 1986 to its current 3,700 cows. He explained how in the early stages of growth, buying other small herds from retiring dairymen left him with a hodge-podge herd.
“We faced what I call the credibility crisis of Holsteins. That included cull rates of 35% to 40%, poor fertility and limited reproductive tools. When sexed semen became available, I was an early adopter. I learned it was possible to change your herd pretty fast,” said Boadwine, explaining that improvement was made to the quantity and quality of replacement females, as well as the reproductive performance of the herd.
Another challenge he had to face was the low value of Holstein calves — a result of beef packer discounts for dairy type. Boadwine cited an example price of $260 for a beef-cross calf, compared to $90 for a Holstein. Now, about 80% of his cows are bred to beef bulls — and not just something black. Boadwine uses Angus and Sim-Angus bulls, and emphasizes quality matters.
Today, Boadwine genetically tests every female born to his operation and makes extensive use of AI, including sexed semen. Conception rates for heifers — once as low as 15% — average near 58% when using Holstein semen to produce replacement females. Conception rates run at about 68% for heifers bred with semen from beef sires. Among mature cows, conception rates are 49% when using sexed Holstein semen and 47% when breeding to beef sires.
“This is not a fad,” stated Boadwine, affirming his belief that, in the future, practically all dairies will be breeding cows to beef sires.
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