“You were promised an update on the Holstein beef project,” said Dr. Tara Felix, a PSU Extension Beef Specialist, speaking at the recent Cattle Feeder’s Day at Lancaster, PA Farm & Home Center. She then described a demonstration carried out at the Sam Hayes Livestock Evaluation Center in Pennsylvania Furnace in 2016.The demonstration centered upon showing calf-fed Holstein beef eating. “I’m talking about targeting young males for beef,” she said. Why dairy beef? “If you think about the supply and demand, we have a tremendous demand for the high-quality beef we produce in the U.S. We were short on supply, high on demand, and in order to fill that niche there was a re-emerging focus on feeding dairy beef (in the U.S. beef market).” Felix, however, points out a traditional scenario which has been in place for years which is now undergoing modifications. “We would take these baby bull calves to a good market to be raised for veal. What happened to veal consumption in the U.S.? It took a nosedive.” Consumer preference, she says, is driving the market. “We’ve lost our veal industry.”
The project began in April 2016 when 45 calves were supplied — calves who went through 209 days of high energy feed at the Hayes Center. “Those calves were implanted about 80 days prior to arrival at the LEC. They were subsequently re-implanted 28 days after arrival, and then re-implanted again at day 133 on feed,” Felix says.
University of Minnesota Ag Extension, citing a PDF from Fort Dodge Animal Health, says “The benefits of implants, and more specifically the trenbolone acetate (TBA)/estrogen combination implants, may be more pronounced in Holstein steers than beef breeds… Holstein steers tend to marble well at an early age relative to beef breeds with less external fat… The negative of the Holstein steer is they are less muscled than most beef breeds of cattle… have a higher maintenance requirement and are more prone to environmental stress than most beef breeds.”
One of the benefits of the calf-fed Holstein program, Felix says, is their genetics. “We have 80 percent of the dairy cows in the United States coming from three sires, or something ridiculous like that… And these calves prove that throughout the feedlot.” These particular calves exceeded everyone’s expectations including Felix’s — weather conditions were right, and they were doted on at the LEC. Somebody checked on these calves six times a day. Fresh feed was always in front of them. “In our selection for milk production in a Holstein cow,” Felix notes, “we have inadvertently selected for tremendous intra-muscular fat deposition. So, if you put a Holstein up against an Angus, and feed them identically, I’ll bet on the Holstein to grade higher every time just because of their genetics.”
The history of implants is not so old. Implants for hormones began around 1950. “Anytime we establish a drug for the animal industry it has to go through a regulatory process, and technologies used in animal agriculture have to go through an FDA process. At the end of the day,” says Felix, “they have to be proved safe and effective.” It doesn’t matter if it is merely safe; it must also be effective. Implants are increasing on a daily average by 10 to 20 percent. And a 10 percent improvement in feed efficiency is huge because feed efficiency is the main economic driver. “How many of you have seen in recent weeks or months at the grocery store ‘hormone free chicken’?” Felix asked. Setting the record straight, Felix raised her voice to stress the certainty, “everything that you consume has hormones. Hormone-free does not exist! Every living thing in nature produces hormones. Beef cattle produce hormones. Dairy cattle produce hormones.”
The Holstein market has taken “a bit of a hit,” Felix said. “How many of you have heard that Tyson has announced that they weren’t going to kill Holsteins anymore?” Furthermore, Felix said, Tyson made the announcement three times. Not being quite sure of the context for making such an announcement, and then repeating it twice, I phoned Tyson’s public relations office. I was referred to Caroline Ahn, “the meat person who is handling this since we have been getting a lot of media questions about it.” Caroline Ahn promptly responded, not addressing the three-time announcement, but reassuring those concerned, saying, “We continue to harvest Holstein cattle from existing long term supply agreements. Meanwhile, customer demand continues to drive the direction of our procurement needs.” Markets fluctuate, Felix reminds us. “Markets go up and markets go down. I don’t know where the Holstein market is going.”