Milk Replacer

Better together: How to minimize dairy-beef profit leaks across the value chain

Calf : Dairy-Beef Cross

Troy Wistuba, Ph.D.

Vice President Feed R & D

Raising dairy-beef cross calves is far from simple. It’s more than just buying calves, feeding them milk replacer, getting them started and converted over to a starter diet and then sending them down the market channel. Several factors, especially during the calf’s early life, contribute to the animal’s success. When not managed correctly, profit leaks can perpetuate from the system which can negatively affect all stakeholders in the value chain.
Proper calf care and nutrition in the preweaning phase and beyond are the foundation of a successful dairy-beef cross program that produces a high-quality product for the beef supply chain. Below are considerations for each stage of production to help maximize growth and performance and minimize potential profit leaks of the calves.

The dairy producer 

 When raising dairy-beef cross calves, maximizing calf health should be the number one priority. These calves are an asset, not a byproduct, to your operation and ultimately your bottom line. Inadequate early-life care can lead to higher mortalities and morbidities, and greatly impact calf performance, efficiency and quality grade later in life. Feeding at least one gallon of high-quality colostrum within the first hours after birth will provide the antibodies necessary to help protect the calf from disease early in life. Good hygiene practices and reducing stress during transportation are also key for helping the calf off to a strong start and reducing future losses in calf performance and profit.

The calf ranch or nursery 

Administering on-arrival solutions and offering a high plane of high-quality milk nutrition and starter ration in tandem sets the calf up for the greatest potential for optimum growth and performance efficiency, including proper rumen development and digestive health. Research conducted during the preweaning phase has repeatedly shown a low plane of nutrition at this growth stage often results in a higher cost per pound of gain and increased health incidents. All of which can lead to cattle that have a decreased feed efficiency rate as they move down the value chain, ultimately equating to lost profits.

The feedyard

Understanding the history of dairy-beef cross calves arriving at the feedyard is extremely important for maintaining calf health and efficiency and reducing potential performance loss. The dairy-beef cross value chain lends itself to complete traceability. By understanding the history, cattle feeders can capitalize on the early care, nutrition and health interventions calves received. This means a reduction in the number of unnecessary vaccinations and health treatments that contribute to a greater value leak from the system.  

The packer

 It’s important for the industry to work together to provide high-quality dairy-beef cross calves to the packer. A focus on this will bring a consistent, highly valued source of high-quality protein for the beef supply chain. Currently, packers are experiencing high incidences of liver abscesses in dairy-beef cross animals. This leads to reduced processing line speeds which in turn leads to decreased packer efficiency and, ultimately, a huge value loss from the system. In many cases, this may also hamper market access.

Better together

It’s estimated the supply chain could be leaving as much as $700 per head on the table when evaluating the impact of calf management throughout a dairy-beef calf’s life. Therefore, if all segments of the dairy-beef industry work together to provide proper calf care, nutrition and management from preweaning and the postweaning stages of life, there is a tremendous opportunity to help contribute a more high-quality product, that packers and consumers already know and expect from the U.S. beef supply chain.
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