Growing use of beef semen in dairy herds noted

Breeding: News Roundup from the October 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Dairy producers are using beef semen to breed more cows in their herds, saving sexed semen for only the top-producing cows, writes Stew Slater in Farmtario.

Slater cites data from the Canadian Dairy Network that shows the breeding of dairy cows to Holstein bulls is at a low, which clearly indicates a shift to using more beef semen. The Canadian Dairy Network, which is now part of Lacanet, has records dating back to 2000. Before 2005, 98 per cent of Holstein cows were bred with Holstein semen. In 2018, that number had dropped to 92 per cent, and so far in 2019, the number is 89 per cent.

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Genomics and sexed semen are driving the beef-dairy trend. Barry Potter, an economic development specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, notes that increasing profitability through a beef-breeding program is not a new idea. But, he explains, genomics allows dairy producers to breed their best dairy cows with sexed Holstein semen.

If fed and managed properly, dairy steers are comparable in quality to beef steers, according to a University of Wisconsin article. Dairy producers may want to select beef sires based on ribeye, carcass weight and frame size, rather than marbling, Slater notes.

The inbred nature of dairy breeds creates a consistent carcass in the cross-bred animals. Potter notes that the U.S. and Europe have branded dairy-to-beef products, and sees potential in a Canadian dairy-beef brand.

However, the University of Wisconsin article notes that choosing beef sires without prioritizing carcass traits and improper management negate carcass consistency.

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