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Look to beef embryos for increased profitability

Special to Progressive Dairy from Katie Coyne Published on 02 September 2020
Cow and new calf

As a producer, you understand the importance of discovering practical and profitable approaches that ensure the future of your operation.

You recognize the need for new and unique ideas that create value and provide solutions that ultimately maximize profitability. With the increased use of sexed semen producing more heifers in a herd, as well as the ability to utilize genomic testing for assessment of genetic potential, the use of beef bulls has increased.

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Another alternative gaining popularity as dairy managers continue to seek new ways to realize profitability is the purchase and implanting of beef embryos. This is a low-cost tool that can utilize the lower-end-genetic animals in your herd as recipients while adding value to the offspring produced from these embryos. This reserves the superior end of the genetic makeup of your herd for the use of sexed semen for heifer replacement while gaining a substantial profit from the rest of the herd.

Why switch from dairy-beef cross to beef embryos?

There are several factors that contribute to the overall profitability of your herd. Calving ease, fertility, yield, health and longevity all contribute to that long-term stability. Because beef embryos have a higher fertility rate and produce smaller calves, the health and longevity of your recipient will therefore increase, adding profit to your bottom line.

While the market for the dairy-beef cross has gained popularity in the past several years, the potential to produce a straight beef animal using your low-end-genetic heifers and cows as recipients will increase your profit even further. You will have the opportunity to capitalize on the straight beef market which produces superior carcass traits. While the beef-on-dairy cross has its place in the bull calf market, by increasing profits as much as $20 to $40 per calf, a straight beef calf will ultimately produce a carcass with more rib-eye area as well as an overall better carcass, adding even further value to the feeder calf.

Where to start

Select the recipients, either cows or heifers, in your herd that are not meeting your genetic standards such as milk production, type traits or reproductive health. For example, you may have a Jersey-Holstein cross that is too small to breed to a desirable dairy bull, and the next-generation cross will not be able to be bred to a dairy bull and maintain calving ease. The use of a beef embryo implanted in her will ensure calving ease and produce a highly marketable, profitable entity in contrast to a large calf that could potentially be a detriment to her longevity, efficient return to the milking herd and overall health. It is important to develop a clear strategy for which heifers and cows will be best used for recipients to allow for your superior genetics to supply replacement heifers.

Embryo acquisition

Most A.I., embryo and IVF companies can acquire straight beef embryos for implanting in your herd. As you select the embryos, you will want to have some knowledge of the most desirable traits for beef, such as weaning weight, yearling weight, rib-eye area and carcass merit.

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While we are looking for straight beef embryos, it is common to find that beef crosses are extremely profitable and produce a highly regarded carcass. For example, an Angus-Hereford cross will produce a calf with increased survival rate, weaning weight, post-weaning weight and feed conversion. Not to be overlooked for optimal profitability is the black hide that will be produced by this cross. Beef breeders may offer embryos as a niche market for their herd and could serve as a potential source for your embryos.

Recipient management

As with all embryo transfer protocols, proper recipient management will pay big dividends to the reproductive success for both the recipient and calves produced. Once you’ve acquired the beef embryos that meet your standards, be sure to follow good practices for successful implant and birth. Recommendations for a proper ration include superior nutrient management and a diet that will maintain rumen function without excessive weight gain.

A recipient that is too heavy or too thin is difficult to manage through pregnancy and calving. A strict shot protocol with shots given at the same time each day, as well as an advanced heat detection system, will increase pregnancy rate. Beef embryos tend to have a higher rate of fertilization and therefore will decrease your days open for both heifer or cow recipients. Be sure to work with your nutritionist, embryo transfer veterinarian and your herd management team for a successful beef embryo program.

Bottom line

In your quest to remain profitable and innovative within your dairy herd, new markets and new opportunities will contribute to those areas. After a volatile and unpredictable springtime of the markets in both the dairy and beef industries, we once again look to new ways to increase our bottom line.

Here are five current trends to consider when moving to produce beef calves:

  • Surplus milk you are asked to dump could be fed to beef calves for rapid weight gain.

  • Purebred beef or crossbred beef feeder calves will realize a monetary gain of $20 to $40 more than dairy-beef cross calves at market.

  • Excess feed can be fed until calves reach 270 to 340 kilograms, which is a weight that can make feeder calves more appealing to beef finishers.

  • Beef growers are more likely to purchase beef calves as the overall carcass quality is superior to the dairy-beef cross.

  • If your facility allows, raising beef to provide for farm-to-table restaurants or to direct market the meat has become increasingly popular. This provides additional income to your farm or even opens a new avenue for young people to return to the dairy.

Straight beef embryos may be an option for increased revenue, along with adding longevity and health to your dairy herd through this innovative reproductive technology.  end mark

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Katie Coyne is a freelance writer for TransOva Genetics.

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