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Your Dairy has a STEAK in the Beef Business.

Posted: January 22, 2008

Galen Kopp, Lebanon County Extension Agent - Dairy/Livestock
April 12, 2002

Most dairy producers think of their income as only coming from the white gold they send down the farm lane. Dairy producers benefit when they view themselves as important contributors of valued beef products, and approach culling as a positive, productive and profitable function of dairy herd management.

About half of all beef produced from cull dairy cows is processed and merchandised as whole muscle cuts for value added food favorites like fajitas, Philly steaks, deli and fast-food roast beef, marinated specialty items, economy steaks, and more. Lean non-fed ground beef, when mixed with fed beef trimmings, accounts for 43 per cent of all beef consumed in this country.

Marketing cull cows below a 2.5 body condition score is too low. Cows below a BCS of 2.5 are too thin. Timely culling decisions increase producer revenues in two ways, by weight (pounds) and by value (per pound). The double benefit makes a difference of $144 between the early, voluntary decision and a forced decision 30 days later. Most dairy producers think of things related to milk sales. Think of it this way. That $144 in beef value on condition alone is equivalent to 1,100 pounds of $13 milk. Add the cost to keep her milking, and she would have to make 60 pounds a day for those 30 days to offset her declining beef value.

Every dairy producer should make every effort to produce high quality beef just like they do to produce high quality drug-free milk. Surveys from processing plants show that 58% of all dairy cow rounds have injection site lesions. That costs the producers approximately $4.2 million annually.

Drug residues in meat are the responsibility of the dairy producer just like they are for milk production. Antibiotic meat residues violations are very small and are declining in dairy cows and beef calves but still have the highest rate of violative residue among all classes of cattle.

Culling and treatment decisions are not just about producing milk anymore. It is a human health issue both in reality and public perception. Dairy producers are accountable for ensuring the safety of their product. Ultimately, the final product of the dairy animal is beef. In some cases where animals were treated and the withdraw period cannot be met the best option is euthanasia.

Producers should consider the industry’s public image and trust when making decisions to keep, treat, or cull dairy cattle. Making a decision to cull a cow is never easy emotionally, but should always be made on a sound management criteria with the safety of everyone in mind. All of which will improve beef quality, consumer confidence and dairy profits.