By following a few quality assurance management practices, dairy producers can boost their revenue from the sale of their animals for beef. And doing so helps ensure that higher quality beef reaches the meat case.

“The sale of cull cows and bull calves accounts for only 4 percent of a dairy producer’s gross revenue, but that number could increase by at least 2 percent,” said Gary Smith, professor of animal science at Colorado State University (CSU). “Dairy producers can capture that extra value by eliminating injection-site lesions in the rump and hindquarters, reducing bruising and adding proper conditioning to cull cows before sending them to market.”

Not all meat from dairy cows or dairy steers is processed and sold as ground beef. In fact, nearly 50 percent of dairy beef is merchandised into higher-value whole muscle cuts from the loin, rib, round and “flat” portions of the carcass. When injection-site lesions do occur, it not only costs dairy producers money but it costs meat packers or processors money when they must trim and discard damaged tissue.

The 1999 National Market Cow and Bull Quality Audit, which was partially funded by checkoff investments in the Beef Quality Assurance Program, showed that dairy producers lost about $70 on every cow that year because of product defects, including lesions and bruising.

While injection site lesions do not pose a health threat, they can affect consumer confidence in beef. A simple solution is to follow the Beef Checkoff’s Beef Quality Assurance recommendation of administering all injections in the animal’s neck instead of hindquarters.

Injection-site lesions in the round are an industry-wide problem for dairy beef. A 2000 CSU study showed that of animals evaluated in the Midwest, 47.5 percent of the dairy cows had lesions found mostly in the lower two quadrants of the hindleg or outside round compared to 32.5 percent of beef cows with lesions found mostly in the upper two quadrants of the hindleg or the sirloin and upper portion of the outside round. “Producers need to be aware that wherever a needle hits the meat, that area will be tough,” said Smith.

Smith suggests the following to help reduce injection-site lesions:

  • Avoid giving cows injections in the lower hindquarters, shoulder, upper hindquarters or the rump.
  • Avoid giving baby calves a shot anywhere in the shoulder, rump or hindquarters.
  • Give all injections subcutaneously in the neck.

“Giving a one- to three-day-old calf a shot in the round guarantees a lesion that shows up 12 to 24 months later when that carcass is in the cooler,” said Smith. “Quality defects continue to cause substantial losses to higher-value cuts from the round and other areas.”

To obtain more revenue when selling cull cows, dairy producers should have an effective monitoring and a comprehensive culling plan in place. Selling the marginal dairy cow before she becomes too thin benefits the dairy producer, the beef packer and the consumer.

Smith said feeding cull dairy cows a concentrated diet for 56 days prior to slaughter has tremendous economic benefits, including:

  • Increases muscling and fat-free lean yields.
  • Turns fat color from yellow to white, which is preferred by consumers.
  • Improves muscle firmness.
  • Increases value by $60.84 — $52.58 due to weight gain over feed costs and $8.26 due to improved ribeye value. 

Smith noted that since dairy cows are traditionally fed higher-quality feed, dairy producers’ profits for selling properly conditioned cows aren’t as high as those seen with British and Continental beef breeds. “However, dairy producers can reap additional income beyond the added costs of feeding by sending properly conditioned cows to market. Overall, following proper beef quality assurance practices is important because dairy producers play an important role in delivering beef that meets consumers’ expectations for taste, tenderness and color,” said Smith.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Assocation press release