by Sally Colby

Dr. Dan Schaefer, emeritus professor, University of Wisconsin, said there’s money to be made with dairy and dairy cross steers.

Schaefer described the ideal Holstein steer as just over 1,400 pounds liveweight, with 61.5% dressing percentage estimate, yield grade 3, high choice and a muscle score of 1 to 2 – a steer that dairy steer harvesters and native cattle packers are interested in. Desirable steers are smooth over the ribs with some fat accumulation around the tailhead, levelness in the flank and fullness in the brisket.

“The Holstein steer production system begins with the bull calf,” said Schaefer. “We recommend dairy bull calves receive colostrum similar to the program for replacement heifer calves. We don’t have long-standing research on the effects of the absence of colostrum in bull calves on health or performance, but implications are severe.” Calves may have respiratory issues at weaning and post-weaning, which Schaefer attributed to lack of colostrum or receiving milk replacer instead of milk. To ensure optimum health, he recommended bull calf purchase contracts stipulate colostrum feeding. Proper castration is also important – stags are deeply discounted. Calves should be dehorned to prevent bruising of pen mates.

Holstein steers typically have higher marbling scores than U.S. native fed cattle. “In recent years, there’s been an improvement in the proportion of native cattle that grade Choice and Prime, so the advantage held by Holstein steers is not as large now as it used to be,” said Schaefer. “With regard to eating quality, there are no breed differences in taste panel or tenderness attributes in comparing Holstein to Angus.”

The availability of good quality sexed semen has resulted in surplus dairy heifers. “Years ago, Holstein heifers sold for $700,” said Schaefer. “The technology of sexed semen allows more rapid genetic progress.”

The dilemma becomes “What to do with surplus cow matings?” Solving this issue can start with adding value to surplus calves. Schaefer said there’s substantial financial advantage to Holstein matings resulting in F1 (first generation) crossbreds that would quality for the Certified Angus Beef (CAB) premium. CAB qualification begins with an animal that is at least half solid black hair coat, which can be accomplished with the right bull. The CAB program requires animals that grade average Choice or higher, with modest marbling and superior muscling.

“Sexed semen may be having an effect on the valuation of Holstein bull calves for 2021,” said Schaefer. “It appears that there may be some supply reduction occurring in the Holstein bull calf supply in the prime weight range of several-day-old Holstein bull calves, which has resulted in an increase in calf valuation to $80 per hundredweight to up to $160 or more per hundredweight. With the advent of high-priced corn, there’s been some pullback in these calf prices, but Holstein bull calves will command a slightly higher price because of the shortage in supply and the availability of a market for those cattle as finished cattle.”

The ideal outcome for half-blood dairy steers is a consistent product. “For sire selection for dairy matings, the aim is to produce an F1 that is more than simply a black calf,” said Schaefer. “If it won’t qualify for CAB, it’s just a black Holstein or a black Jersey – there’s no reason to value it greater than a straight-bred Holstein or Jersey bull calf.”

Beef sires should be homozygous black and homozygous polled with a frame score to moderate the frame score of the progeny compared to the Holstein dam. Sires should have a ribeye area EPD in the top 20%. With no EPD for muscle-to-bone ratio or ribeye depth, which are two important characteristics of muscling, Schaefer advised selecting on the basis of ribeye area until better muscling indicators are available.

Marbling as well as muscling or muscle-to-bone ratio are fairly highly heritable traits, which means there won’t be a hybrid vigor response for those traits. However, F1 generation calves may have better respiratory health as a result of crossbreeding.

“Select for marbling in the top 20% of the breed,” said Schaefer. “Both Jersey and Holstein have a great marbling characteristic; we want a beef sire that does not diminish the genuine value those two breeds already have for marbling.” Calving ease direct (a prediction of the percentage of unassisted births in first calf heifers) should be in the top 50% of the breed.

The Simmental Association teamed with the Holstein Association to create a HOLSim™ index by which they choose Simmental x Angus sires for recommended matings on Holstein cows. The Angus Association has generated the $H value index, which is the application of their selection principles on Angus sires suitable for Angus on Holstein. The Angus Association’s $J index applies Angus selection criteria to identify bulls suitable for Angus on Jersey. For Jersey matings, Schaefer said the sire should be homozygous black, homozygous polled and have a larger frame score (6 to 6.5) to add frame score to the F1 progeny.

A typical dairy steer begins with a 25% modified wet distiller’s grains base, 5% supplement (minerals, vitamins, salt) with a variable amount of corn silage – between 10% and 50%. “As corn silage concentration increases, NEg (net energy for gain) value decreases because the offsetting ingredient is high-moisture corn,” said Shaefer. “As high moisture corn increases, NEg value increases. For finishing Holstein steers, the industry recommendation a diet of at least 0.62 Mcal of NEg for pound of diet dry matter. That means the corn silage inclusion rate should not exceed 20% of the diet dry matter formula.”

The finished Holstein steer should weigh around 1,400 pounds, with a dressing percentage between 58.5% and 61.5%. Steers should have less than 0.3-inch backfat with ribeye around 12 square inches, 3% kidney, pelvic and heart fat and yield grade 3.

Schaefer said all estimated results assume the use of an anabolic implant program. For Holsteins, Revalor XS® for 200 days is a good choice, or Revalor S® for the last 100 days in Holstein crossbreds and natives.

For maximum profit, Shaefer recommended selling F1s as calves or finished cattle, not as feeder cattle. “My interpretation of the situation is that the market for Holstein bull calves will persist as long as there are packers with a market for Holstein beef,” he said, “and they do have that market for the foreseeable future.”

Despite Holstein steers’ deficiencies in respiratory health, growth rate, feed conversion, efficiency and dressing percentage, Schaefer said carcass yield and quality of Holstein beef is consistent. “This is a mature market in contrast to the Holstein x beef bull calf market, which is an immature market,” he said. “The easiest profit for one who’s doing beef on dairy is probably realized by selling the 100-pound calf. This market will become more discriminating as finishers and packers gain experience with these bull calves and as cutting tests occur.”