Optimizing dairy beef production

Crossing breeding dairy females to produce dairy/beef calves

Beef production from dairy breeds nationally represents 15-20% of all U.S. beef produced. In Michigan, the ratio is almost opposite with nearly 80% of all beef production coming from dairy breeds. For this reason alone, dairy beef production is of significant importance to our bovine industries in Michigan.

Over the past 15 months, dairy fed steers have been discounted significantly in our Midwest market due to one packer’s decision to not harvest Holstein steers. This one change in the market reduced market competition and lowered fed Holstein steer values in excess of $250/head.

Several changes in the dairy industry are causing dairy managers to rethink how they produce replacement heifers and deacon/feeder calves. First came the roll-out of sexed semen for the mating of cows to produce calves of a specific sex. This allows for selection of replacement dairy females from the top 30-60% of the milking herds, leaving the remaining cows to be bred to produce non-replacement calves that will never be needed for milk production. The lower end cows could be bred to produce calves that would be marketed to the deacon/feeder calf market for eventual feedlot beef production. To add value to these deacon calves, farm managers are breeding them to beef breeds to produce a dairy/beef hybrid.

The primary focus for producing these non-replacement calves should be to develop a breeding program that efficiently produces a consistent calf crop that hits key carcass targets for yield and quality grade. Below are three breeding programs that dairy producers could consider to generate more income from non-replacement calves. Each may have merit for your specific production goals.

Current crossbred breeding systems with dairy/beef

                -Limi x Jersey

                -Lim-flex x Holstein

                -Angus x Holstein

As dairy farms begin to select beef bulls, key EPD (Expected Progeny Difference) values should focus on increasing carcass yield in the progeny. The best indicator of carcass yield would be to focus on the rib-eye carcass EPD value in the specific beef breed you choose. Rib-eye is used because it’s the best indicator for overall carcass cutability. Other factors like calving ease and growth EPD’s should also be emphasized. Talk to your bull stud sales representative or your MSU Extension Beef Educator for further details.


As dairy farms begin to produce these calves, the quantity and regularity of calves in the marketplace should increase. This should offer an opportunity for both dairy farms and beef feeders to increase beef production and carcass values for calves in the Midwest market. The key will be to have a plan! Simply producing and marketing these dairy/beef calves may not result in significant premiums over dairy feeder prices.

Cattle feeders buying dairy/beef feeder calves should expect them to be priced somewhere between beef and dairy type feeders of similar sex, size and condition.



Dairy breeding technology has increased the pace and ability to produce more and higher quality replacement females. This in turn has opened the door to manage calf production from lower producing cows that can now produce higher quality hybrid calves and subsequently higher value beef carcasses. Dairy beef hybrid cattle can be fed and managed to produce carcasses that meet minimum beef carcass quality standards for marketing to more packers in the Midwest and possibly internationally.

Cattle feeders may consider contacting dairy farms that may be interested in producing calves in this crossbred model. Over time, this system segment should help increase production efficiency and beef yield for a portion of our dairy beef production in Michigan.

Did you find this article useful?