Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Nutrition Specialist
Dairy and beef producers are pressured by low profitability and external forces such as consumer’s negative perceptions of animal handling and welfare, and animal agriculture’s impact on the environment. Historically, the value from the sale of bull calves in dairy enterprises has represented a small percentage of their total revenue. Reproductive technologies allow producers to select replacement heifers from only their best cows. For dairy cows with lower genetic merit, sires from beef breed can be used for the pregnancy needed to start new lactations. The resulting dairy x beef crosses offer superior genetic merit for beef production such as finishing performance, efficiency, and immune function compared with straight-bred dairy steers, adding value to both the beef and the dairy enterprises.
It is perceived that dairy and beef x dairy crossbreds will not function in normal stocker production systems, where light weight calves are grown to heavier weights on pasture. We are conducting research to find the effects of management of beef x dairy crossbred steers for beef production on economic and environmental sustainability.
Our objective is to determine the effect of calf-fed or yearling finishing systems on the performance of dairy-beef crossbred steers. Dairy-beef hybrid steers were acquired from Land O’ Lakes Calf Milk Research Facility at Grey Summit, Missouri at 12-wk of age and transported to Willard Sparks Beef Research Center (WSBRC) in groups of 70 to 72 steers. Alternating groups of steers were placed either directly on a total mixed ration feeding program for finishing (FIN) at 280 pounds (FIN) or were put out on high-quality pasture and supplementation for 5 to 6 months before returning to WSBRC for finishing (GRW/FIN). Once GRW/FIN steers reached 675 to 750 pounds, they returned to WSBRC for finishing.
Steers placed directly on feed in FIN treatment took 312 days to finish and weighed 1427 pounds when harvested at 406 days of age. These steers gained 3.65 pounds per day and consumed an average of 22 pounds of dry matter per day with a 5.9 pounds of feed per pound of gain feed conversion. These steers were over 80% USDA Choice and Prime quality grade.
Steers placed on grass gained 1.75 to 2.25 pound per day during the stocker period. During finishing, the GRW/FIN steers gained 4.23 pounds per day for 189 days on feed and were harvested at 1485 pounds. These steers consumed an average of 28 pounds of dry matter per day and feed conversions were 6.5 pounds of feed per pound of gain. Possibly due to increased age at harvest the quality grade of these steers increased to 94% USDA Choice and Prime.
We found you can’t just turn these calves out on pasture. Just like any set of new cattle, there is training required to get the calves to stay in a group, adjust to coming up for supplements and understanding fences. In the right circumstances beef x dairy crossbreds can thrive in a stocker program and be integrated into our beef production system.
This work is supported by AFRI Critical Agriculture Research and Extension award no. 2022-68008-37102/project accession no. 1028272 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.