Beef-On-Dairy Crossbreeding Helping Beef Industry Answer Demand, Reduce Environmental Impact

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As the dairy climate continues to evolve, the practice of crossbreeding dairy cows with beef genetics is becoming increasingly common. Experts are finding that beef-on-dairy crossbreeding can benefit the entire beef industry by providing high-quality beef with less environmental impact. Mark Sustaire of the Cattlemen's Beef Board shares his perspective as a dairy producer.

By working together, beef and dairy producers can continue to uncover greater efficiencies that will benefit both industries while providing consumers with more of the high-quality products they want and need.

Over the past few decades, the dairy industry has experienced many changes, from larger operations and fewer small, family-owned dairies to computerized milking technology and evolving consumer preferences. However, one of the most significant changes is how dairy cattle have become a regular part of the mix in today’s beef marketing chain. In fact, since 2002, dairy beef – including finished steers, cull cows and finished heifers – has contributed anywhere from 18 to 24 percent of the total U.S. beef supply.

“Most consumers don’t realize that the dairy and beef industries have been working together for years,” said Mark Sustaire, a dairy producer from Winnsboro, Texas. “To help the dairy industry benefit from the Beef Checkoff’s promotion, research and education efforts, dairy producers – myself included – serve on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB), currently holding 12 percent of the seats.”

As the dairy climate continues to evolve, the practice of crossbreeding dairy cows with beef genetics is becoming increasingly common. It’s estimated that between 2.5 million and 5 million beef-on-dairy cross calves will be born this year, and those numbers will likely continue at the same level in 2023.

“Some beef producers are concerned that beef-on-dairy crossbreeding has the potential to take market share away from ‘traditional beef,’” Sustaire said. “As a dairy producer on the CBB, I understand that concern. However, the U.S. dairy herd remains consistent at around 9.3 million head, and dairy producers need a high number of replacement heifers on a regular basis to keep their operations up and running. For those reasons, it’s unlikely that the number of beef-on-dairy cattle will grow to the point that they would impact traditional beef’s dominant position in the marketplace.”

While the crossbreeding trend is not significantly changing the number of calves and feeders in the feedyard, what is changing is the quality of the beef these cross-bred cattle provide. Dairy producers are getting higher market value for those calves, and consumers both here in the U.S. and abroad benefit by having more Choice- and Prime-graded beef available for purchase.

Furthermore, beef-on-dairy crossbreeding can benefit the entire beef industry while also reducing beef production’s environmental impact. Researchers from Cargill and Nestle have recorded these findings:

  • Beef-on-dairy calves provide high-quality beef without impacting milk production efficiencies.
  • Feedyard operators enjoy greater access to value-based marketing opportunities because they have more higher-grade beef carcasses available.
  • Beef-on-dairy calves require less feed to achieve marketable size, producing more beef with the same herd sizes while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, land use, feed and water per pound.

“I personally believe crossbreeding can be a win for both dairy and beef producers,” Sustaire said. “These crossbred cattle can help the beef industry provide a more consistent supply with even better carcass quality. And with drought and other factors continuing to decrease beef cattle numbers across the country, we need these beef-on-dairy crosses to help answer growing consumer beef demand. Furthermore, the producers I know who have launched their own beef-on-dairy crossbreeding programs tell me it is a positive influence on their cash flow with an animal that is more marketable than the traditional all-dairy breeds.”
Dairy producers who sell cattle and calves end up paying two checkoffs – the Dairy Checkoff and the Beef Checkoff. Their contributions help further dairy and beef promotion, research, education and information, driving demand for both products. Ensuring the dairy perspective is represented on the CBB is important, because dairy cattle are a significant part of the beef industry.
“Dairy farmers and beef producers are neighbors, and we share the same values, challenges and many of the same opportunities,” Sustaire said. “By working together, beef and dairy producers can continue to uncover greater efficiencies that will benefit both industries while providing consumers with more of the high-quality products they want and need.”
To learn more about the Beef Checkoff and its programs, including promotion, research, foreign marketing, industry information, consumer information and safety, visit DrivingDemandForBeef.com.
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ABOUT THE BEEF CHECKOFF:
The Beef Checkoff Program was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States may retain up to 50 cents on the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.

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Lynette S. Von Minden

Sarah Metzler