Research shows mating using better beef genetics may be a win-win

By Dr Vicki Burggraaf, AgResearch scientist.

Seventy percent of New Zealand’s beef production originates from the dairy industry, yet despite this, few dairy farms use beef bulls of known genetics.

The five year Beef + Lamb New Zealand Dairy Beef Integration Programme is looking at the impact of using good beef genetics in a dairy beef supply chain and early results is showing clear advantage with the use of better beef genetics for dairy beef and a win-win opportunity for both dairy and beef farmers.

The use of beef sires with high estimated breeding values for calving ease, growth and carcass characteristics on dairy farms is not commonplace, but will produce surplus calves of higher value to dairy farmers, beef finishers and beef processors.

Using better beef genetics this mating season: How it may benefit you and how to achieve it.

Review your mating strategy:

  • How did calving go last spring? Did you have to pull any calves? Could changing what bull you use reduce this?
  • How much did you get for your surplus calves? Could you get more if you used a better bull?
  • Did you have surplus heifer AI calves? If you used some beef semen during AI on your cows you don’t want replacement from would this improve identification of surplus calves and improve financial returns?

Assess the opportunity:

  • Beef farmers are after better calves from the dairy industry and there is a higher demand for calves sired by beef bulls, usually getting a premium over Friesian bull calves
  • Choose the right sire so that it adds value to both the dairy farmer (calving ease) and the beef farmer – with good genetics for growth and carcass traits
  • Beef semen is cheaper than dairy semen
  • AI sired beef calves are easily identified during calving as not being dairy replacements, so replacements are only kept from the best cows in the herd. This could improve your herds rate of genetic gain
  • Establish relationships with calf rearers and/or beef farmers to get the best return for using better genetics. Ensure they know what value they are getting
  • This strategy can be particularly valuable for farms that combine dairy and beef operations, as there is an established market for your high value beef-cross calves.

Using better bulls for natural mating:

  • There is huge variability in bull performance within breeds. Understand what you are getting 
  • Ask bull breeders for the breeding values for calving ease and growth. It is more accurate than just looking at the bull.

Using beef semen:

  • Tailor mating requires pre-planning to determine which cows and how many to nominate for beef semen, to ensure the number of dairy replacements is not compromised.
  • Determine how many cows you can safely inseminate with beef semen without compromising dairy replacements. Assess six-week in-calf rates from the past few years and what calf losses you may have
  • Determine what cows you do not want to breed dairy replacements from and select these for beef semen
  • Discuss options with your semen supplier.


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