How Dairy Producers Can Make More Money

By taking some cues from beef checkoff recommendations, dairy farmers can get better returns for their beef.

Published on: Sep 27, 2006

Dairy producers can make up for smaller milk profits by following several quality assurance guidelines that boost the money they make selling their animals for beef. "The sale of cull cows and bull calves accounts for only 4% of a dairy producer’s gross revenue, but that number could increase by at least 2%," Smith said.

Dr. Gary Smith, animal science professor at Colorado State University, outlines some key practices: "Several ways dairy producers can capture that extra value are by eliminating injection-site lesions in the rump and hindquarters, reducing bruising and adding proper conditioning to cull cows before sending them to market."

Many dairy producers give their animals injections in the rump or round, causing lesions at the injection sites, because they believe that the meat from all dairy animals is only sold as ground beef. In reality, nearly half of dairy beef is sold as higher-value cuts, and lesions in those cuts cost dairy producers money.

A 2000 Colorado State University study showed that 47.5% of Midwest diary animals evaluated had injection-site lesions in the hind leg or outside round, whereas 32.5% of beef cows had the lesions.

The Beef Checkoff's Beef Quality Assurance program recommends the simple solution of giving all injections subcutaneously in the neck. Smith advises avoiding injections in the hindquarters, shoulder or rump of not only adult cows, but also calves.

"Giving a one- to three-day-old calf a shot in the round guarantees a lesion that shows up 12 to 24 months later when that carcass is in the cooler," said Smith. "Quality defects continue to cause substantial losses to higher-value cuts from the round and other areas."

Smith also points out the importance of conditioning cows prior to slaughter. With an effective culling plan in place, a dairy producer can sell a poor milking cow before she becomes too thin.

Feeding cull cows a concentrated diet for the 8 weeks prior to slaughter can yield great returns, Smith says. This practice can result in better muscle firmness, fat-free lean yields, and improving fat color. Not only will the cow put on more weight - Smith estimates $52.58 worth of weight gain - but it will also have a better ribeye value.

The 1999 National Market Cow and Bull Quality Audit showed that dairy producers lost around $70 per cow sold for beef due to product defects.