Beef on dairy may drive sustainability, profitability
Cargill’s Dairy Beef Accelerator is a collaboration between the meat packing company and industry partners. The three-year producer-led program focusing on what has become known as “beef on dairy” crossbreeding has, according to Cargill, the potential to advance efficiencies of the supply chain and address climate change, while continuing to provide consumers with high-quality protein. The program is designed to support producers in better understanding the opportunities of beef on dairy.
According to Cargill, an early outcome of this project is research conducted by Texas Tech University, which provides additional insight into the sustainability impact of the practice, as well as benefits to beef and dairy producers. The study demonstrates promising benefits for producers, the environment and consumers. For example, initial research indicates that compared to purebred dairy calves, beef on dairy calves can provide higher-quality beef products without impacting current milk production efficiencies; beef on dairy calves show greater feed efficiency (compared to purebred dairy calves), which lowers the environmental footprint associated with their production; increased feed efficiency significantly reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; the practice benefits meat quality. ‘Beef on dairy’ delivers increased volumes of higher-grading beef carcasses, providing feedyard operators more access to value-based marketing opportunities as well as pass-back — beef on dairy calves are more valuable in the marketplace for dairies than purebred dairy calves.
Dr. Dale R. Woerner, Cargill Endowed Professor in Sustainable Meat Science, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech University with expertise in the area of meat science. Woerner, who earned his Ph.D. in Animal Science/Meat Science from Colorado State University, focuses his research and teaching efforts on meat quality—the sensory properties of meat, meat composition and meat grading—as well as the effect of animal production systems on meat quality, food safety and sustainability.
“Producers are at the forefront of leading the industry as whole, advancing both the efficiency and resilience of the food system,” Woerner said. “The beef and dairy industries have the opportunity to work together to produce even more efficient beef animals. Crossbreeding dairy cows to complementary beef sires can advance sustainability by reducing the environmental impact and improving profitability.”
Over the coming years, the Dairy Beef Accelerator will provide resources to help interested beef and dairy producers begin their journey to ‘beef on dairy,’ as well as create opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and sharing of experiences with the practice.
Heather Tansey is the Sustainability Director for Cargill Protein & Salt and Animal Nutrition & Health. Tansey has nearly 20 years of experience in the sustainability field. Currently, she leads Cargill’s Protein and Animal Nutrition sustainability teams to develop and execute Cargill’s Sustainable Animal Protein Strategy which addresses sustainability challenges and opportunities throughout the animal protein value chain.
“Connectivity across the beef and dairy supply chains is critical to further understanding the potential impact of beef-on-dairy crossbreeding,” Tansey said. “We have a role to advance understanding of the practice by investing in research, while providing support to remove barriers for interested producers.”
In a 2020 interview with The Fence Post, Troy Marshall, who was then the Director of Commercial Marketing at the North American Limousin Foundation said historically, dairy feeders have been severely discounted from a retail yield standpoint because they weren’t competitive from an efficiency or quality standpoint. With the increased use of beef bulls on dairy cows, he said that’s no longer the case and the resulting calves are good quality. The majority are being bred to Angus bulls but he said some dairies are electing to use Limousin or LimFlex, Charolais, Simmental and SimAngus to make a product competitive with conventional beef, maybe even more so given the uniformity and consistency of the dairy cow base.
Beef on dairy producers, he said, have the advantage of traceability and the year-round calving adds up to the advantage of a supply advantage. Marshall said the efficiency of increased product tonnage without adding females to the nation’s cowherd is a boon to supply and to the seedstock industry supplying the terminal trait-focused genetics.
The majority of these beef sired cattle are being fed, he said, in the central Plains region. While they still are remaining on feed longer than beef cattle, most of the major feeder complexes and packers have beef on dairy programs in place to assure market access with a premium. From a quality grade and yield standpoint, the beef on dairy carcasses are competitive, he said, though disadvantages in feed efficiency remains but it is improving. From a uniformity and consistency standpoint, they have an advantage.
The Dairy Beef Accelerator is connected to Cargill’s BeefUp Sustainability initiative, a commitment to achieve 30% greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity reduction across the North American beef supply chain by 2030.
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