Dairy cattle represent a significant source of the United States beef supply. Twenty percent of all beef comes from dairy cattle, including cull cows and dairy steers. This equates to 1.5 billion pounds of meat every year. In the western states alone, more than 800,000 head, worth $500 million, go to slaughter every year.
One of the most common misconceptions in the dairy industry is that all market cows become hamburger. "This is a misnomer," says Ryan Ruppert, director of quality-assurance programs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Only a small percentage goes to ground beef, while the majority goes to whole-muscle cuts that are purchased by restaurants and casinos across the country. Whole-muscle cuts include rib eyes, New York strips, and tenderloins. In addition, 90 to 95 percent of the jerky marketed in the United States comes from cow rounds.
Beef from dairy cattle plays an important role in the food chain. Approximately one out of three cows currently in your milking string could be on a consumer's plate in the next 12 months.
Could impact demand
Arguably, dairy producers are in the business of milk production, not beef production. The milk check constitutes 96 percent of a dairy's income, and the sale of market cows contributes around 4 percent.
However, the day comes for every cow when she makes a career change from a milk producer to a beef producer. And, that 4 percent income from market cows can be raised to 15 percent with proper care and marketing. Most dairy producers underestimate the value that this secondary profit center could bring them.
"We need to start thinking of ourselves as food manufacturers specializing in the production of both milk and beef," says Keith Carlson, executive director of the Milk and Dairy Beef Quality Assurance Center in Stratford, Iowa.
The safety and quality of beef produced is critical not only to the consumption of beef, but also milk.
A perfect example of this is the incident at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. in Chino, Calif., earlier this year that led to the recall of more than 143 million pounds of beef. Video footage showed non-ambulatory dairy cattle being abused prior to slaughter. Hallmark/Westland, now shut down, was the USDA's second-largest supplier of meat to the federal school-lunch program.
More recently, the Humane Society of the United States released video footage of market dairy cows at auction yards in Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas. Cows filmed were in very poor condition, mishandled, and in some cases died during filming.