How to "Beef" Up Your Breeding Program

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Less than a decade ago, when a cow came into heat dairy producers could either breed her to conventional dairy semen or sexed. Nine times out of ten, the producer would choose the conventional option. Today, however, research shows that while conventional semen still ranks at the top, it is slowly becoming less and less popular amongst dairy producers.

“Farmers have [more] options nowadays with breeding,” says Victor Cabrera, an Extension specialist in dairy management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “About 40% of the semen [used on dairy cattle] nowadays is either beef or sexed semen.”

So, why the sudden surge in beef-on-dairy popularity? Perhaps it spurs from the low value for dairy bull calves, large dairy heifer inventories and the high cost of raising replacement animals. Though these are all rational reasons to consider breeding select cows in your herd to beef, it is important to not jump into the beef-on-dairy business too hastily.

During a recent Dairy Herd Management webinar titled, “How to Breed Dairy Cows for Profitable Beef,” Cabrera, along with Cheryl Ann Fairbairn, an Extension educator at Penn State University specializing in beef cattle production and management, spoke on how to choose beef semen to produce high-quality crossbred calves while minding profitability. 

Breeding Decisions

Making a beef-on-dairy breeding decision will depend on a number of potential factors, according to Cabrera. Three of the most important include the number of replacements needed for your operation, the economic value of the calves and the overall performance of the semen. 

Additionally, semen strategies should depend on farm reproductive performance. The better the reproductive performance, the better the opportunity to use beef semen, Cabrera explains. Market conditions are also a large factor when it comes to figuring out if using beef semen is a realistic opportunity.

Beef semen offers up better benefits when it is combined with using sexed semen on the top tier of your herd, according to Cabrera.

“When we combine these tactics together, we are improving the genetic progress of the herd. The most progressive farmers are doing this,” he says.