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Dairy Corner: Is Beef Semen Right for Me?

Some dairy farmers are exploring the use of Angus semen in their Holsteins. While there are several arguments in favor of this practice, it is not a good choice for every farm. Here are a few things to consider when you're thinking outside the breed:

  • “I want to use it on problem breeder cows for an increased conception rate.” With very few exceptions, stale cows with multiple breedings should be milked out and sold rather than bred to Angus semen. Instead of wasting time and money trying to get an infertile cow pregnant, milk her out and replace her with a heifer. Remember that heifers represent your best genetics.

  • “I have a heifer surplus because I’ve been using so much sexed semen.” First, make sure that you have a true surplus. Have you culled out problem cows? You don’t truly have a surplus if you are retaining cows with poor production, high somatic cell, lameness or other structural issues instead of replacing them. This might also be a good time to evaluate the costs of special breeding programs such as embryo transfer, genomic testing, and even the use of sexed semen to make sure that the programs pencil out in the current market.

  • “The black calves will be worth more.” While weaned beef cross calves do usually bring more at the market, few dairies have the excess feed, labor, or housing resources to raise these calves. It is costly to divert valuable resources from your dairy herd to raise beef cross calves. If you have a feed, labor, or facilities surplus, consider increasing your herd size to spread your fixed costs over more cows. Or invest your resources in cow comfort, feed, and other management practices to improve milk production and quality. Most dairy farms would be best served sticking to the business that they know.

With all those caveats in mind, breeding to beef semen can represent a great opportunity to create a profit center for your farm. If you pursue this option, make sure that your dairy needs, especially for replacements, are adequately addressed first. Be sure to discuss a plan for raising and marketing these calves with your veterinarian and other farm consultants before getting started!

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