With beef in short supply and prices rising drastically, the beef industry is starting to get a little help … from the dairy industry, according to Richard Williams, ABS Global general manager for North America.
"Quality beef crossbreds from dairy cows offer benefits throughout the supply chain, from dairy farmers, to beef cattle feeders, meat processors, retailers and consumers," said Williams, while speaking at the 67th Reciprocal Meat Conference. The American Meat Science Association conference brings together commercial, academic and government segments of the meat industry. This year's event celebrates the 50th anniversary of the formal incorporation of AMSA, which was founded at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.
"Demand for beef is outpacing supply, and all indications point to beef prices remaining high," said Williams. According to the USDA, the U.S. beef calf crop has declined in 14 of the last 16 years, from a high of more than 35 million in 1996, to less than 30 million in 2012.
"Because of drastic reductions in the beef cow herd, dairy cattle bred to beef bulls may help offset shortages in the beef supply chain. Dairy cull cows and bull calves have long found their way into the beef supply chain. Now, quality beef crosses from dairy cows are hitting the market and proving they can compete for growth, efficiency and quality with conventional beef product," he added.
"Dairy industry changes, economics and advanced artificial insemination technologies – such as sorted semen – are increasing interest in cross breeding high-quality beef bulls with dairy cows," said Williams. "The dairy industry is waking up to the opportunity."
Since 2002, the number of dairy herds has fallen by 27 percent, to 47,000, but milk per cow has increased by 17 percent, to 21,822 pounds per year. The increases can be attributed to several factors, including genetic improvement, animal health practices and better feeding.
However, volatility in the marketplace has focused more dairy farmers on profitability than ever before. Cash flow and working capital have become more important metrics following an extreme downturn in 2008/09, and again in 2012, when a nationwide drought drove feed prices to levels that drove many dairies out of business.
In the U.S., more than 70 percent of dairy cattle are bred through artificial insemination, mostly with genetics from within dairy breeds. Typically, they produce a 50/50 mix of male and female offspring. Only a small proportion of female offspring are needed as replacements for aging milk cows, with the remainder raised for beef.