Crossbreeding Jersey cows with a beef sire increases the value of crossbred Jersey calves compared with purebred Jersey steers when raised for beef production

A crossbred dairy beef calf can be more profitable compared with a purebred dairy bull calf.

A Jersey × Angus heifer from The Ohio State University study. Photos taken by: Jerad Jaborek

Dairy cows need to give birth to begin producing milk. The use of conventional, unsexed semen will result in approximately 50% of the calves being heifers, some of which can be raised for replacements in the milking herd, and approximately 50% of the calves will be bulls. These bull calves are a by-product of the dairy enterprise, as very few are left intact to reach sexual maturity and breed cows. For more information on this visit the MSU Extension dairy and beef pages.

Dairy bull calves are commonly sold at livestock auctions, and in some cases, for a loss or very little financial return to the dairy farmer. An Ohio State University study investigated the use of crossbreeding dairy cows to increase the value of male dairy calves for the production of a high-quality beef product.

The ideology behind the Ohio State University study was for dairy producers to breed their genetically superior cows with sexed semen to obtain their replacement females. The remainder of the herd with less genetic potential, could be bred with conventional beef semen to produce crossbred offspring that would be raised for beef production. This strategy would facilitate the addition of elite dairy genetics into the milking herd at a shorter generation interval. The crossbred offspring would be preferred by cattle feeders due to their improved average daily gain (ADG), feed efficiency (G:F), and carcass quality compared with purebred dairy steers.

The research study conducted at The Ohio State University was conducted for two consecutive years with purebred Jersey steers and Jersey beef crosses intended for natural markets without the use of implants or beta-agonists. Crossbred Jersey calves were sired by Angus, SimAngus, and Red Wagyu bulls selected for marbling ability. Feedlot performance was assessed, cattle were harvested, and carcass characteristics, retail yield, and meat quality were measured. 

Crossbred cattle had a greater ADG and dry matter feed intake, with a more desirable G:F ratio, and fewer days required on feed to produce a greater final weight compared with purebred Jersey steers. Crossbred cattle had greater carcass weights compared with purebred Jersey steers, with 20% of Jersey steer carcasses weighing under 600 pounds in this study. Crossbred cattle had a greater dressing percentage, backfat thickness, and marbling score compared with purebred Jersey steers. Total red meat yield was greater for crossbred cattle compared with purebred Jersey steers. Purebred Jersey steers had the greatest amount of kidney fat, with 8%. Instrumental tenderness indicated all of the cattle in the study produced ribeye steaks that were extremely tender by USDA AMS standards.

JerseyxAngus heifer RE
A Jersey × Angus ribeye from The Ohio State University study. Photos taken by: Jerad Jaborek

Finally, a budget analysis indicated that crossbred cattle had a greater boxed beef value, indicating the true value of the carcass, compared with purebred Jersey steers. As a result of a greater retail value and lower cost to raise the cattle, the breakeven price that could have been paid for the cattle in the study was approximately $0.50 per pound greater for crossbred feeder calves (weighing 450 pounds) compared with purebred Jersey steers.

Overall, this Ohio State University study demonstrated that crossbred dairy beef cattle were more profitable compared with purebred dairy steers due to their more desirable feedlot performance, carcass yield, and carcass quality. The use of growth promotants, such as implants or beta-agonists, should be given consideration to further promote greater feedlot performance and greater retail yield of these dairy influenced cattle. In conclusion, select a beef sire that excels in economically relevant traits when producing crossbred dairy beef calves.

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