June 10, 2009

Beef Cattle Breeding: Selecting beef bulls to mate dairy cows

Agriculture, farming, husbandry, animal breeding, beef bulls, for mating dairy cows, breeding dairy beef, need to use top bulls

Background to blog

By Dr Clive Dalton

'Dairy beef' heifers bred by a Hereford bull mated to Holstein Friesian cows
"Dairy beef" produced by mating purebred beef bulls to dairy cows (which are not needed to breed herd replacements), is the main source of New Zealand's export beef. It's also the main source of beef consumed and exported in many other countries such as the UK.

'Dairy beef' in New Zealand started off with a very bad image in the eyes of purebred beef breeders, and I was heavily involved in this debate, researching different breeds of beef bulls for the job. 'Grass fed' dairy beef is now accepted as a quality product in the 'grinding beef' (hamburger) markets of the world,

The late Alastair Reeve was a highly respected NZ Angus stud breeder, and passionate in his drive to get dairy farmers to appreciate the need to use only the very best performance-recorded beef bulls(regardless of breed) on dairy cows to breed efficient dairy beef.

I got Alastair to write these notes below in 2001, and the principles he stressed then are still relevant today. Alastair was a great mentor for young people in farming being a pioneer in setting up the NZ Farm Cadet Scheme in the 1960s.

Beef Cattle Breeding: Selecting beef bulls to mate dairy cows

By Alistair Reeve

Where to start?

  • Go to a registered breeder and ask to see the records.
  • Look for Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for the traits.
  • Go for low EBV for Birth Weight (BW). It can be seen at a glance.
  • The optimum figure should be +3,and certainly below the breed average.
  • Calving Ease (CE) must be a positive EBV, as this indicates an ability to produce calves unassisted. 80% of calving ease is influenced by birth weight.
  • Target minus values for Gestation Length (GL) EBV. Shorter GL is associated with lighter birth weight and easier calving.
  • These three EBVs (GL, BW, CE) are the most important influences in all beef sires destined for dairy herd mating. The aim is to get your cows milking as quickly as possible, with a minimum of fuss and to have them settled again. Trouble at calving will delay all this.

Dealing with your beef bull breeder
  • Know your breeder. Know you can go back to him or her in the event of unexpected difficulties.Ask the breeder for a signed written copy of EBVs and positive ID for the sires you have bought.
  • Frequently crossbred bulls are sold as purebreds and will not breed true to type and may cause problems.
  • If you buy bulls with no EBVs or ID - then there’s no bitching if you strike trouble.Good healthy discussion will resolve most difficulties – don’t blame all your problems on the bull breeder. You the dairyman also have responsibilities.
  • Some dairy sire catalogues have bulls with 73% calving ease. That means there’s potential for 27% problems! Where did that come from? Beef bull? not if you bought right.
  • Some dairy breeds are not recognised as easy calving and need all the help they can get!
  • Use a low BW dairy bulls. BW, CE, GL, are the same three factors as for beef breeds.
Check your management
  • Management also adds to the equation. Extremes of feeding both overfeeding and particularly underfeeding need to be addressed.
  • Monitor cow condition scores diligently, learn how to do it properly.
  • Calves produced under the above criteria will have a built-in premium. More live calves;- reduced stress for both man and beast;- and magically reduced veterinary bills.
  • If you only want cows in calf and calves for the bobby truck, then above criteria are still " fit for purpose"
Profit is in growth rate
  • Selling calves to professional rearers requires growth EBVs to be factored in, to produce calves acceptable for that market.
  • Tap into the highest growth rates compatible with BW CE & GL as above. Most important are 200 day &400 day traits which will target finishing before the second winter.
  • Fleshing and thickness of the bull selected increases the finishing ability of crossbred dairy beef.
  • Extreme growth rates will very often mean cattle will need to be kept after the second winter to finish, and the finisher will not be happy as it adds to costs and delays cash flow.
  • With thoughtful selection you have now produced a premium type calf.
  • You now need to target a rearer who is looking for this premium type of calf.
  • With the bull breeder’s help and EBVs, sale premiums become a reality for these purpose bred calves.
  • Progeny from sires of this type will grow significantly quicker within any given regime, automatically generating 'spin off ' benefits from conception to customer consumption.
  • Benefits are live calf from short GE sire with strong growth rates, shorter time to sale, faster turnaround of capital.
  • Calf rearers should contact dairymen and specify the type of calf they need.The above format will result in a premium type calf being available.
  • Rearers may purchase the type of sire they want and make him available to dairy farmers in return for access to all calves from that bull used in that herd. This could be a cost saving for the dairy farmer. The rearer gets the calf he wants.
  • This is an inbuilt win/win concept that financially benefits everybody in the production chain by producing a premium product.

The figures to look for
As a guideline the following EBVs should be targeted and can be found.
  • B.W (birth weight) +3 The higher these values the greater the potential for problems.
  • Lower values are more ideal for heifer mating.
  • For the best results target values below breed averages.CE.(calving ease- direct) +0.8 The higher this figure the more likely you are to have unassisted calvings.
  • GL.(gestation length) - 0.9 Target minus values. This is the time between conception and calving, e.g. 5 days early calving gives 5 days extra production.
  • 200 day weight + 25 This is a measure of early growth to weaning. Faster growth means earlier turnover of cattle and cash.
  • 400 day weight + 45 A measure of growth up to the time of slaughter. This should be before the second winter if you have done the job right.
  • These figures(+ or -) are above or below the mean average and are expressed in kilogram equivalents.
  • Always remember that half of the values come from the sire and half are from the dam.
  • Time spent on selection of bulls will reap rewards in quality product produced. An increased purchase price will be an insurance premium.
  • Purchasing bulls from unregistered breeders, or buying on the spot market are not likely to carry guarantees such as those that bone fide breeders will stand by.
  • This is very definitely a concept that has balanced benefits for all parties so why not be part of a profitable system?

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