12 CALF News • February | March 2022 • POP QUIZ: If there’s one thing a dairy cow is good at, it’s __________. Producing milk, of course. But as the beef business has learned over the past few years, there’s another answer that’s becoming more and more important. A dairy cow is good at producing beef-sired calves that, in turn, produce high-quality beef. Getting to that point, however, has been anything but easy. “We worked for years on developing it. But we weren’t getting along very good,” says Tom Jones, manager at HyPlains Feedyard, Montezuma, Kan. “We were getting really inconsistent quality grade results, and the red meat yields and shape of the cattle and conformation wasn’t happening the way we wanted it.” That’s because, Jones says, not just any beef bull has the genetics to fix the issues a dairy calf brings to market; the kind of things that keep packers frustrated and reduce the value of a straightbred dairy steer. “We started off trying several different bulls,” he says, “but we’re feedyard people, not geneticists. So we weren’t getting our genetics lined up the way we needed to really make a big difference.” Indeed, they quickly learned that you can’t put just any black bull on a dairy cow and get the feedyard performance and characteristics you’re looking for. At roughly the same time that HyPlains was experimenting with the beefon-dairy cross, bull studs such as ABS were looking to tap into the trend – and learning the same lessons. They were pulling Angus semen out of the tank almost randomly and using it in dairy cows. “But we found out real quick that wasn’t working. It didn’t fix the problems,” says Dan Dorn with ABS. Trouble in Dairyland Dairy breeds, Holstein primarily, have a different body type and carcass characteristics than beef-type cattle. The ribeye is shaped differently; it’s longer and more angular than the round shape consumers are used to. “We talk about spring of the rib. There’s a lot more rib length on that Holstein,” Jones says. Then the round is less pronounced in Holstein cattle. Beyond the shape, dairy beef tends to be softer, without the firmness typical of a steak from beef-type steers. And the color of a steak from a dairy steer is more pink than red. “You can’t put Holstein beef and native beef in the same counter for the consumer,” Dorn says. “They’ll pick the native beef all day long because it has a darker red color.” Those traits present problems for retailers. “We seem to fix that with the right genetics,” Dorn says. How they did that, beginning in 2014 with a program called New Era Genetics, was to focus on hand selecting 30 to 50 Angus and SimAngus “super cows” to create hybrid bulls. All the bulls were performance tested and the top 10 percent were selected. Then the bulls were tested for fertility, calving ease, gestation length and other factors important to a dairy producer. That eliminated about half of the bulls. “So now you’re down to the top 5 percent, and that’s the bulls that go into stud,” according to Dorn. Continuing this process year after year has refined the genetics to the point that the beef-on-dairy cross is a viable and potentially profitable part of the beef business, Dorn says. Given the parallel paths that ABS and Hy-Plains Feedyard were on, it was only a matter of time before the two hooked up. The partnership has been a win all the way around. “We’re focused on feed efficiency first, which is the No. 1 profit driver in the feedyard. And then carcass after that,” Dorn says. “It’s really focused on terminal genetics. You don’t want to keep these [heifers] as cows.” Numbers Tell the Tale With the ongoing effort to refine the genetics that make the beef-on-dairy F1 cross a winner, Dorn says that now, packers are asking for the cattle rather than spurning the straight Holstein steer. “Retailers are starting to look at it because it’s beef with a story.” According to Jones, the feedyard shipped more than 4,000 beef-on-dairy crosses in 2021. Here’s how they performed:  Choice or better – 91.5 percent  Dressing percentage – 62.6 percent  Yield Grade 3 or better – 76.4 percent  Average hot carcass weight – 866 pounds  Fat at the 12th rib – 0.58 inch  Ribeye area – 13.84 square inches  Average marbling score – 552.5 Even better, ribeyes from the F1 cross are now averaging 13.84 square inches on the crossbred cattle coming out of Hy-Plains. “That is absolutely center-ofthe-plate preferred,” Jones says. “It’s just exactly what they want. It’s a big deal, actually.” COVER STORY Market Drivers Beef With a Side of Dairy By Burt Rutherford Contributing Editor Continued on page 16 