As a beef guy I see a lot of potential for dairy producers to incorporate beef cattle into their operations, but there are several factors to consider. Whether you’re selling weaned calves to another farm or raising market ready cattle it’s important to determine where you’re going to market the beef cattle. For example, market-ready animals can be sold to a variety of different sources, from a small packer plant to a farmers’ market. Location and demand are big factors in your decision. Once the market has been established then you can start producing beef, right? If it only was just that easy, but at least now you have to plan.
The next factor to consider is housing, and this is dependent on how long you plan to raise them. If the plan is to sell weaned calves, the question is do you have enough calf hutches or barn space? With limited space for additional cattle, one thing to consider is using sexed semen on your best cows and using beef semen for the rest. Sexed semen is sorted into X or Y chromosome semen. This will increase the percentage of replacement females from the cows with the greatest genetic potential. If you’re raising the calves to market weight there is technology available that will increase average daily gain (ADG) and feed efficiency.
Two products that can be utilized are anabolic implants and ionophores. Anabolic implants are a cost-effective tool that increases ADG of cattle raised for beef. A Journal of Animal Science article by researchers at the University of Georgia reported a 15% increase in ADG and an increase in value of $25.20 per animal for a stocker calf (raised on pasture) that has been implanted versus no implant. For a feedlot or a finishing steer, they reported a 20% increase in ADG and a $51.34 per animal increase with implant versus no implant. These results suggest a very good return on investment and should be considered if you plan to raise cattle for beef. Ionophores help to increase the feed efficiency of cattle by increasing the proportion of propionate produced in the rumen. Propionate is the gluconeogenic volatile fatty acid. The liver can combine two propionates to produce one glucose molecule that can be used for energy. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Animal Science by the University of Guelph and Elanco Animal Health summarized the effect of monensin (ionophore) on feed efficiency and ADG. They reported a 2.5 to 3.5% increase in feed efficiency and 2.5% increase in ADG for cattle fed monensin versus no monensin. Again the results support the use of an ionophore to help reduce input costs and improve performance.
Incorporating beef cattle into your operation takes planning, but if done correctly could lead to another source of income for your farm. While this is just an introduction on this topic, there is definitely much more that should be considered. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me.