A drive through a Wulf Cattle feedyard reveals a scene common to most large-scale, commercial feedlots. As far as the eye can see, pen after pen of healthy, heavy-muscled, colored cattle calmly alternate between eating and resting. Eventually, they will reach the packer in uniform groups that will produce high-quality beef cuts for the consumer’s plate.
But there is a secret about these cattle that is not readily apparent to the observer: several thousand of these animals are half Jersey.
Their presence in the feedlot is the result of a new movement emerging in U.S. dairy genetics programs — breeding a percentage of the herd to beef sires to accelerate the top end of the herd’s dairy genetics, while capturing a premium for the calves on the lower end.
A groundbreaking experiment
The half-Jersey animals at Wulf Cattle, headquartered near Morris, Minn, are the result of an idea that germinated in early 2010.
Jerry Wulf, President of Wulf Cattle, says he and his team were brainstorming possibilities to secure a more steady supply of high-quality feeder calves and keep their combined 30,000-head feedlot sites operating at continuous capacity. At the same time, their neighbors at Riverview Dairy, who were milking 8,000 Jerseys just a few miles away, were searching for ways to add value to their Jersey bull calves. Their collective idea: cross Jersey dams with Limousin sires and send the offspring — steers and heifers — to the feedlot.
“The value of Jersey bull calves is virtually zero,” says Adam Zeltwanger, Beef Team Manager at Riverview Dairy.
“We were keenly interested in trying a strategy that would generate some profit from those calves. With the availability of sexed semen, we are able to produce more than enough purebred replacement heifers for our herd, so we wanted to increase the profitability of the rest of the calves.”
The crossbred calves started arriving in March of 2011. After being reared on a Texas calf ranch for 18 weeks, they entered the Wulf Cattle feedyard in Minnesota and finished in an efficient timeframe of 15 to 16 months of age. As the first group of finished steers were marketed starting in June 2012, the Wulf team followed them to the rail at Tyson Foods, Dakota City, Neb. The results were impressive: 92 percent Yield Grade 1 and 2; 61.5 percent Average Dressing Percentage; 50 percent Choice grade; and all carcasses graded Beef, with no yellow fat or small ribeyes. “The cutout data confirmed that we had a winning strategy going,” says Wulf. “The packer told us to keep sending as many as we could.”