Beef genetics, the use of genomics in dairy herds has made it possible to speed the advancement of herd genetics. Now producers can identify the best genetics in their herd, which should be in their heifer crop. That makes the genetics from older cows obsolete, so heifers from these cows will not be needed as replacements.
However, generally speaking, mature cows are the best producers and the most profitable, so they should stay in the herd. Breeding these cows to beef bulls helps them stay in production, and the beef-cross offspring gain a premium when sold.
Just like any management practice, implementing a breeding program that includes beef genetics may not be beneficial for everyone. Dr. Victor Cabrerra, professor and extension specialist in dairy management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Dairy Science Department, offers three factors to consider when making the decision to use beef genetics:
- How many replacements are needed. Dairy farms need a certain amount of heifers born each month to either maintain herd size or grow. If more heifers are produced than what is needed, that adds extra expense to the business. In general, beef semen is a good alternative if there are adequate amounts of replacements to avoid producing more heifers than what is needed.
level of reproductive
- What is the level of reproductive performance. On dairies where beef semen is used, sexed semen is used on heifers to get replacements from the best genetics in the herd. Conception rates for sexed semen are usually lower than services where conventional semen is used. Reproductive performance will need to be optimized in order to get the most from the use of sexed semen without sacrificing pregnancies.
- What are income and expense opportunities. When deciding on whether to use beef, conventional or sexed semen, it’s important to understand a few cost parameters. First, what will be the value of the crossbred animals? Also, what will be the additional costs of sexed semen? If the value of the crossbred animals is more than the cost of the sexed semen used on heifers, then beef semen may be a viable option.
Each dairy has a unique breeding program, and any dairy considering using beef and sexed semen should take into consideration their own management situation. Using beef semen can add revenue to calf sales and allow older, more productive cows to stay in the herd. This also provides the opportunity to use sexed semen on heifers, significantly increasing genetic progress.
A recent Bovinews webinar discussed the use of beef genetics on dairy operations in great detail. To hear more from Dr. Cabrerra and other beef-on-dairy experts, watch the webinar here.